By: Andrew Bratslavsky, Member-Candidate, J.D. Candidate, May 2020, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Imagine the following scenario: Mr. C is a repeat offender, having committed several non-violent petty crimes over his criminal career. One day, Mr. C is arrested yet again, arraigned, and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison for violating the newly enacted Federal Repeat Offender Act. Nothing uncommon here, right? Now imagine that every step of the way—from the arresting officer to the attorney assigned to represent him, and to the presiding judge—is automated by way of robots programmed using sophisticated algorithms. Even the legislation the robot judge used to sentence Mr. C was enacted using an algorithm. Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? Well, artificial intelligence doing legal work is closer to reality than one might think. The question is not whether this will happen but, rather, will we let it?

Automation is currently being implemented across the board, and some estimates believe it could soon cost 73 million Americans their jobs. The legal profession seems to be no different in joining this rising trend. Law firms around the country are already seeing the benefits of implementing artificial intelligence in their firms. But what of the scenario described above? What if we allow artificial intelligence to infiltrate the legal profession so deeply that human lawyers, judges, and legislators are replaced by robots? And what happens if the information they produce—information used to make critical decisions about people’s lives—is flawed? What if legislative algorithms begin to impose the kind of harsh sentences described above? Who do humans appeal to? An automated Supreme Court?

These are the kind of difficult but necessary questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later. One thing is for sure: artificial intelligence technology is growing exponentially, and the response from the legal community can no longer afford to be sluggish.