Artificial intelligence is merely the new ATM | Russell Alexander

By Russell Alexander

Law360 Canada (November 20, 2023, 11:36 AM EST) --
Russell Alexander
Russell Alexander
It’s impossible to escape the pervasive media coverage of artificial intelligence (AI), and the far-reaching predictions about how it’s going to change the world as we know it. AI has even been famously heralded by computer scientist and Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng as “the new electricity.”

But for some lawyers, this news is not cause for celebration. Instead, it seems like yet another unfamiliar, inscrutable and perhaps menacing encroachment on the practice of law — one that chips away at their sense of stability and familiarity around how things have always been done.  

The truth is, AI-driven technology is simply just another tool in a lawyer’s handy toolkit.

By now most of us are familiar with its broader benefits. We’ve heard the promises that it will improve individual clients’ access to family law. We’ve been assured that extractive AI can take on some of the more tedious work that lawyers do: Document review, data analysis, due diligence. Generative AI is even more robust, we’re told, since it can help lawyers with their case management, legal research and document creation. It can even help with more substantive law tasks, such as contract analysis, due diligence, e-discovery and litigation preparation.

The list goes on.

And the best news of all, is that these collective advancements will no doubt improve access to justice, since family lawyers will be more effective in delivering their legal services to clients. For some tasks, lawyers might even consider switching from an hourly rate to a block fee, which means their clients can simply be charged a reasonable amount for the service provided — not a fee based on the time spent to provide it. This can provide clients with appealing financial certainty, without necessarily impinging on the lawyer’s bottom line.

So, with all these benefits, why are some lawyers still reluctant to embrace AI-driven resources head-on?

The answer is simple: Fear of change.

Law is a highly tradition-based profession, and one that’s not typically stacked with “early adopters.” Admittedly — true to the stereotypes — lawyers can be a stodgy bunch. Past technological advancements have not been embraced without a struggle, usually preceded by arguably excessive critical scrutiny, navel-gazing and the painting of doomsday scenarios. At least in part, some of this is likely driven by a fear of the unknown.

Indeed, some lawyers have already voiced many concerns over the use of AI in the legal realm. They worry about client privacy concerns and data breaches. They admit a reluctance to learn new software, systems and platforms, and say the learning curve is too steep. They complain about the added expense involved with upgrading computer hardware to accommodate greater processing demands. They object that training staff on these new systems is a drain on resources. The more reactionary ones even predict a “robot apocalypse,” where the role of lawyers is wholly ousted by AI-driven replacements.

Of course, this is not surprising. As with any groundbreaking development in any industry, there are always detractors, fearmongers and naysayers. But the truth is that AI is here to stay. We lawyers have no choice but to get used to it, and ideally embrace it wholeheartedly. And as time will inevitably show, it will prove itself to be efficient and less costly to clients and lawyers in the long run.

Not convinced?

It only takes a glimpse into the past: Certain technological advancements have been incorporated into the practice of law, with very good outcomes indeed.

Take the movement towards cloud storage. It used to be that lawyers had to allocate (or rent) large storage rooms to hold hundreds of banker’s boxes of defunct client files. Once it was safe to destroy them, they had to be shredded for privacy reasons, usually through a third-party company at not insignificant expense. All of this file-curating cost money and took up resources, and required dedicated staff time.

Now, many lawyers have adopted a cloud-based storage system; few firms continue to store their client data on PCs. (Here at our office, we’ve been using cloud storage for 10 years, as part of a deliberate shift towards the “paperless office.”)

Another good example is legal research. Full-text copies of case law and secondary materials are readily available online, and this has resulted in a sea change in terms of how lawyers conduct their research. Physical law libraries are still not obsolete; lawyers can still go down to the law library and peruse the books if they wish. But with the prevalence of quality legal resources online, most have opted to access them from the comfort of their office computers. This achieves considerable time savings, which translates into cost savings for clients.

Another example is the use of automated teller machines (ATMs) for personal banking. When they were first introduced, there was widespread concern over things like privacy and the risk of hacking, stolen funds and identity theft. Today, no one bats an eye at using ATMs. They are routinely used by all but a very small number of (mainly older) people who still prefer to attend in person at physical bank branches.

And finally: What about lost jobs and lost work to those in the legal profession? What to make of the common refrain from lawyers who worry about being essentially “replaced” by AI-driven machines?  

In one sense, we’ll admit this fear of being replaced could be valid, but not in the way one might think. Because if you are a lawyer, you likely will be replaced — but not by AI itself. You’ll be replaced by another lawyer who has willingly embraced the benefits of AI. Progressive, savvy lawyers know a good thing when they see one, and have already made strides towards exploiting AI-based improvements and co-opting them into their practices.

In short, we lament the near hysteria that AI will “take over the world” and with it, the legal profession. We think that terror is misplaced and misguided. For those tech skeptics out there, we encourage you to embrace these AI-driven changes fearlessly. And we cannot resist asking: Are you still lining up at the bank teller to do your banking?

And no, we did not write this article using AI. We drafted it using an old-fashioned keyboard — which is a far cry from the now-defunct typewriter. Turns out there will always be work for real live lawyers, after all.

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers, whose focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit He is also the author of the new book: “AI and the Legal Profession.”

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

Photo credit / Juan Ruiz Paramo ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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