For centuries, ambitious young people have gone into law believing they would never be in want of work: the world will always need lawyers, so the thinking went. In the 21st century, amid growing predictions that many human jobs will soon be outsourced to robots, the law is no exception. The hundreds of lawyers who attended the Skolkovo LegalTech event on Friday, however, breathed a sigh of relief: despite the significant opportunities offered by legal tech, experts see no reason for human lawyers to find themselves out of a job any time soon.
Experts discuss the digitalisation of the legal profession at the opening of Skolkovo LegalTech. Photo: Sk.ru.
The robotisation of the law is already under way across the world, as the industry experiments with smart contracts created using blockchain technology and the automation of many mundane legal procedures. In the next two years, 80 percent of legal proceedings will be automated, Dmitry Petrov, director of communications with state organs at mobile operator Megafon told the conference’s opening session, titled New Technologies and the Digitalisation of the Law.
Anton Ivanov, a retired chairman of Russia’s Supreme Arbitration Court, was introduced by the session’s moderator, Skolkovo Foundation chairman of the board Igor Drozdov, as the ideologue of the automisation of Russian courts. He does not foresee a significant reduction in the number of lawyers.
People talk “with twinkling eyes” about the disappearing profession, but in fact there is no sign of this, said Ivanov.
Mechanization dates back to the renaissance, he pointed out, arguing that ever since then, people have been waiting for a deus ex machina that sadly has still not appeared.
Anton Ivanov, a retired chairman of Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court. Photo: Sk.ru.
There are obstacles to the mechanization of the law that have yet to be overcome, he argued.
“The law is sometimes illogical,” said Ivanov.
Russia has a written legal code, throughout which various terms are used to mean different things.
“First we’d have to change the law so that the terms have the same meaning in every law: that’s a huge task, especially considering how frequently the law changes,” the former Supreme Court head told the conference audience, which was almost entirely made up of professional lawyers.
Igor Drozdov, chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation's board of directors and a qualified lawyer. Photo: Sk.ru.
In addition, currently automated systems are unable to identify situations in which humans may choose to make an exception to the law, said Ivanov, such as when a driver is forced to cross into the oncoming lane because their lane is blocked by an accident.
“The full mechanization of the law is not possible until human society changes, because people can act illogically or against the rules of their own free will,” said Ivanov. “Calling for the mechanization of the law is to demand the destruction of society and a move over to a machine civilization.”
Machines, technology and artificial intelligence all have a role to play in jurisprudence, so long as it is not the central role, said Ivanov.
“Mechanization is an auxiliary expedient that helps the law to achieve its aims, rather than a prevailing principle,” he told the conference, tickets to which sold out weeks in advance, confirming the growing interest in legal tech.
“AI can also be used to help people find contradictions in the law, to see shortcomings and illogicalities, but no more. Ultimately the question of how to apply the law should be decided by a person,” concluded Ivanov.
Roman Chyosov presents Flexbby, a Skolkovo resident startup, as part of a pitching battle. Photo: Sk.ru.
Anything that can speed up lawyers’ work is especially sought after during this turbulent time, when there are more and more legal cases, but companies are making cuts to their legal departments, said Alexei Pelevin, founder of Pravo.ru, a legal news and information website.
One of the aspects of technology that could bring about the biggest changes is biometric ID systems that identify users securely by their face, voice, or other factors, said Yury Lyubimov, Russia’s deputy Justice Minister. This will allow bank customers to carry out transactions remotely that they would previously have had to do in the bank, or by using the services of a notary, he said, noting that there have long been predictions that the profession of notary – whose services are routinely required in Russia to meet bureaucratic requirements, such as certifying translations – will die out.
Legal tech can make lawyer’s workflows more efficient, but only if their work is well organised to begin with, said Holger Zscheyge, managing director of Infotropik Media publishing company.
“Processes determine technology, and not the other way round. So first you need to sort out your processes, because they’re a mess, then legal tech won’t help you,” he advised the audience of lawyers.
Legal tech startups presented their solutions at an exhibition on the sidelines of the conference. Photo: Sk.ru.
Russia has some very commendable startups working in legal tech, Konstantin Parshin, head of the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster, told the conference, adding that people are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into this promising field around the world.
Some of Skolkovo’s resident legal tech startups were taking part in the LegalTech event, including in a battle of startups: a pitching session titled Young Guard. Each company presented its project to the audience, who were due to select the most promising project via a vote later in the day.
Two of the startups battling it out in the Young Guard pitching session were Skolkovo residents: Pravoved.ru, an online legal consultation service that is working on a robot-lawyer that will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to dispense legal advice to clients, and Flexbby, which makes software solutions for automating and managing business processes and workflow. Pravoved.ru raised more than $1 million in Series A funding earlier this year.
Other companies due to take part in the pitching session included Platforma, a service that helps claimants to find financing for major commercial disputes, and investors to make a profit from investing in court cases, and PatentBot, a chat bot that finds available trademarks for clients and then registers them in a fully automated process.
Additional Skolkovo startups were exhibiting their solutions in the Startup Alley in the lobby of Skolkovo’s Matrex building, where the event was held, including Flexbby, Oz Forensics, 2Talk, Online Patent and STC Innovations.