Artificial intelligence is not the future, but the present

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Sofía Larrea
Pérez Bustamante & Ponce, Quito


An artificial intelligence (AI) takeover is not the future but the present. The world economy is living through a digital revolution. Industrial revolutions have been associated with key technological developments. The first industrial revolution was associated with the steam engine; the second with the discovery of electricity, the internal combustion engine and the telephone; the third with computers, the web and mobile phones. The new industrial revolution was born with the digital economy, robots and AI. Given that IBM developed Deep Blue and Google acquired DeepMind, ignoring the importance of the AI phenomenon would be as reckless as stockpiling toilet paper amid the threat of Covid-19. AI is here to stay and lawyers must find a way to go forward alongside it.

The legal profession faces a fundamental challenge. In his book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari questions what the fate of lawyers will be once sophisticated search algorithms can locate more precedents in a day than a human can in a lifetime.[1]The problem of technological unemployment has been a constant concern in the history of the economy. During the industrial revolution, Ludism emerged as a movement of English craftsmen who broke machines in opposition to their work being superseded. Likewise, lawyers can try to compete against machines by writing standard engagement letters themselves or spending time on never-ending email chains between multiple parties who are trying to schedule a convenient meeting date and time.

On the other hand, there are ways in which law practitioners can make sure that technology enhances their productivity.  According to the ‘ALM hypothesis',[2] machines can supplement human work while replacing repetitive activities, allowing an expansion of productivity. That being said, now more than ever the decomposition proposal made by Richard Susskind, who has devoted his career to studying the future of law and the legal profession, should be taken into consideration. Susskind suggests that every legal task, process and activity should be identified and separated into portions of work. The next step will involve structuring the most efficient way of executing each work portion.[3The workflow can be improved by thoroughly defining which tasks should be automatised, as well as how and when.

What will be left for human lawyers once AI – which does not succumb to tiredness and depression – works more accurately than they do? The answer is emotional intelligence. Bring to your mind the best litigation lawyer you have ever seen in cross-examination: you could ask them to explain how they dominated the scene and they might be able to share some thoughts they had while examining the witness. However, they would be very likely to struggle if asked to articulate how their intuition combined with their many years of practical experience to produce their exact words, tone and physical attitude at that precise moment. Although lawyers have traditionally been taught to be sceptical of feelings, emotional intelligence is key to considering and truly understanding the perspectives of judges, the needs of clients and the aims of counterparties. Regardless of all our relative limitations in comparison to machines, my thesis is that lawyers can rely on emotional intelligence.

When legal practitioners take the signs seriously and recognise that AI is not a future challenge but a present-day matter, the decision of whether to be the kind of lawyer who competes with machines or the kind of lawyer who benefits is clear-cut.



[1]Yuval Noah Harari. (2016) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. United Kingdom: Harvill Secker.

[2]Autor D, Levy F, Murnane R, (2001) The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration.10 March 2020, de National Bureau of Economic Research Sitio. Available at:

[3]Susskind, Richard. (2017). Tomorrow's Lawyers. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. Also, see Susskind, Richard. (2015). The future of professions. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.