Machines have long since taken the physical drudgery out of many of the most tedious everyday chores, such as cleaning carpets and washing clothes, but a new generation of innovations is promising to do away with something much more familiar to the average lawyer: menial mental drudgery.

Last year, for example, JP Morgan introduced some machine-learning software that it claims will replace 360,000 hours a year of mundane contract-review work. The program, known as Coin, short for Contract Intelligence, is part of an initiative to get computers to take over tedious jobs.

Computers are well suited to these types of tasks because, unlike staff working on the same mind-numbing jobs every day, they never get bored. In the case of Coin, that also means it makes fewer loan-servicing mistakes. Instead, it uses pattern-recognition to “learn” how to interpret commercial loan agreements and may soon be able to analyse other legal documents, such as credit default swap agreements.

Far from stealing our jobs, this could be good news for human workers. In the same way that vacuum cleaners and washing machines freed millions of people to join the workforce and spur significant economic growth, machine-learning technologies could free lawyers and other white-collar workers to focus on higher value-added activities (which are also less boring).

However, such advances don’t come cheap — JP Morgan spends almost US$10 billion a year on technology, or roughly 10% of its revenue — but the resulting software is likely to end up being licensed to clients and, ultimately, to anyone who is willing to pay for it.

It is of course notable that a bank developed this technology rather than a provider of legal services. No law firms invest anywhere close to 10% of their revenue in technology and it remains to be seen whether they will ever have the capability (or the appetite) to innovate such solutions.

Who will take the lead in innovating legal tech in the future and how it will affect the sector, as well as many other questions, will be on the agenda at the Legal Inno’ Tech Forum that will take place at Espace in Central Hong Kong on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

 

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