As tech continues to influence every aspect of our daily lives, the future depicted in The Terminator films – where an artificial intelligence network becomes so clever it overthrows human rule – may seem increasingly plausible.
Thankfully, the artificial intelligence we see employed today in anything from healthcare to finance is designed to increase productivity, cut costs and improve accuracy.
And in the legal sector, predictive coding software is doing just that.
John Flint, partner, commercial and private litigation, at Manchester law firm Clarke Willmott Solicitors, explains: “The disclosure of documents remains the bedrock of litigation and it usually makes or breaks a case.
“Finding these case-winning documents – especially in the digital age – is often a long, arduous and costly task.
“As technology has advanced, the volume of disclosable documents – essentially, documents that may be relied on in a court case – has increased exponentially. Emails and SMS sent frequently, and often informally, within a business have taken the place of the traditional letter or memo.
“Documents are usually no longer archived in boxes or files but instead might be stored on a server, a USB stick, in the cloud or other electronic locations.
“This has meant that litigators have needed to adapt and change the way in which they search for documents.”
Keyword searches were the original approach for locating electronically stored information, but the method is not failsafe, and many studies have shown that such searches can miss a large portion of relevant documents.
Predictive coding – artificial intelligence based on a mathematical model that involves some human interaction – on the other hand is deemed accurate.
Though the legal profession has been somewhat suspicious of this technological advancement, meaning lawyers and the courts have both been slow to embrace it, signs of a more collaborative approach between lawyer and machine are starting to emerge.
The software is increasingly being employed to scan vital electronic documents and locate data relevant to a case, cutting case times and litigation costs.
“In a recent court judgment it was held that the parties could use predictive coding or a ‘technology assisted review’ as the sheer volume of documents – over three million – would have made the disclosure process impossible without it,” explains Flint.
“In another case, the court ordered predictive coding be used after hearing that it would cost over £100,000 less in legal fees compared to a traditional keyword search, with nothing to show that it would be any less effective.”
Predictive coding involves a collaborative approach with the legal team.
Case experts will categorise a set of documents and the software reviews a sample cluster.
The predictive coding programme is then given a new set of documents and asked to identify which are relevant and should be reviewed by humans.
The software learns from its mistakes and the legal team checks the software’s decisions at each stage.
This human input continues until the team is confident that technology has learned to appropriately scan the documents.
Accountants and business advisors BDO, who have offices in Manchester, have been advising Clarke Willmott on the use and benefits of predictive coding.
“BDO has worked with John to help educate the Clarke Willmott team on the use of technologies to assist with legal investigation and review, and how these technologies can streamline this processes,” says Natalie Butcher, director at BDO.
“John is particularly enthusiastic about cutting edge technologies, which draw more on artificial intelligence, ensuring that his firm remains forward-thinking within the industry.”
Although it’s still early days and the use of predictive coding in litigation is not widespread in Manchester, Flint believes that change is afoot.
“We are likely to see predictive coding used more in the future and it is certainly something to be embraced,” he says.
“Key documents will still need to be reviewed by a lawyer but technology can help speed this process up, removing the likelihood of human error getting in the way and saving a vast amount of time and money.
“Far from the predictions made in dystopian films such as The Terminator, the future for litigation lawyers is not servitude or extinction but a more collaborative relationship with the machines and technology for the ultimate benefit of our human clients.”