The project AI4Lawyers is run by a consortium composed of the European Lawyers Foundation (ELF) and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). The project was awarded by the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, and will run for 24 months starting on 1st April 2020.
Computational science has experienced significant growth since the second half of the last century. However, this growth has not been linear, and has increased at frenetic speed, bringing terms such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain or cloud computing into citizens’ daily lives. The development of computational science was not horizontal either (as it was originally mainly focused on military advancements), but it is now: it affects all sectors of society and of the economy, from improvements in agriculture and farming, to more sophisticated machines used in industry, to a real revolution in the services sector.
Justice is of course also highly influenced by computational science; for instance, blockchain could be used to ensure the legal validity that now is provided by notaries in some legal acts. In general terms, computational science provides many opportunities for the legal sector that could make a significant and positive impact in making justice cheaper and faster and, consequently, increasing and improving access to justice. Nevertheless, this is just one side of the coin, as the use of AI in justice also generates major challenges that could negatively impact citizens’ rights as well as lawyers’ abilities to meet their professional obligations.
A clear example is the safeguarding of professional secrecy, which guarantees the necessary openness and confidentiality of lawyer-client relations. The question also arises how phenomena like access to, and exploitation of, open data regarding judicial decisions, enabling predictive systems and analysis through algorithms, can be governed and then integrated into public policies.
Lawyers and law firms are already using IT back-office tools in their daily practice, tools used in connection with interfacing with governmental bodies, etc.
But there is not a coherent understanding of the “average state of the art” of IT capabilities of lawyers and law firms in the European Union, nor an overview of the opportunities and barriers regarding the use of natural language processing tools in small and medium sized law practices. Indeed, this is also closely linked with ongoing EU policy activities in the field of AI, such as the Communication from the European Commission on “Building trust in human-centric Artificial Intelligence” as well as the “Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI” of the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, which proves the EU’s ambition to set a global standard for trustworthy AI. This project will contribute to engaging lawyers with these important developments.
Needs that the project aims to address
IT advances much faster than law does. This generates some problems (e.g. criminal codes may be under continual revision with the appearance of new IT-based crimes), but also creates a need for legal professionals to be up to date with the development of IT tools in their daily practice. These challenges are clear in relation to AI, and it is for this reason that the EU, in the e-Justice Action Plan for 2019-2023, considers AI “as one of the major developments in information and communication technologies in recent years and should be further developed in coming years. Its implications in the field of e-Justice need to be further defined”.
This need is specifically mentioned in relation to lawyers, as is also clear in the e-Justice Action plan, which considers as a priority (project listed as number 11) the “draft[ing] of a guide on the use of Artificial Intelligence by lawyers in the EU”. AI policy has long been on the agenda of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). Briefly, in addition to the CCBE conference on Artificial Intelligence and Humane Justice held in Lille in November 2019, the CCBE has contributed to the formulation of the European Ethical Charter on the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Systems and their Environment, adopted by the Council of Europe Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) in December 2018. The CCBE is also a member of the Commission’s Expert Group on liability and new technologies, and in 2016 published an e-book entitled “Innovation and Future of the Legal Profession in Europe” which critically assesses and evaluates the opportunities and threats facing the legal profession and justice systems in the coming years.
The CCBE has identified three major needs that have to be addressed without delay, and that indeed constitute the main objects of this project. These three are the following:
- A detailed overview of “average state of the art” IT capabilities of lawyers and law firms in the European Union and a gap analysis using comparisons with other non-EU countries;
- An assessment of the opportunities and barriers in the use of natural language processing tools in small and medium sized law practices;
- Guidance for EU lawyers and law firms on the use of AI in legal practice.
Major objectives to be attained
- To create an overview of the ‘average state of the art’ of the IT capabilities of lawyers and law firms in the EU.
- To identify the opportunities and barriers in the use of natural language processing tools in SME law practices.
- The drafting of a guide on the use of AI by lawyers and law firms in the EU, as specifically mentioned as a priority in the European e-Justice Action Plan 2019-2023.
- To keep European lawyers and law firms, Bars and Law Societies and other stakeholders informed about the state play of the project and its outcomes.
- To promote the guide on the use of AI for EU lawyers and law firms by using the various partners’ communication tools, and by holding an event where the guide will be presented to these target groups.
This project will be determinant in providing necessary help to lawyers and law firms in the understanding of the impact of AI and other novel IT technologies in their daily practice. Taking into account that not all lawyers and law firms in the EU have the same level of IT readiness, the guide may be a key element in changing the behaviour of those lawyers and law firms that see more dangers than benefits in the use of new technologies in their legal practice. This change of behaviour may contribute to a faster and cheaper justice that could be translated into better access to justice for citizens in various EU Member States. In any case, the guide will also be very useful for those lawyers and law firms whose level of expertise in the use of IT tools is more advanced than the average, since the guide will also cover best practice functionalities in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada.
The project includes innovative aspects, as it will be a serious attempt to deal with an issue that has to be addressed without delay and that can best be treated from an EU perspective.