SCC Forecasts: Are we about to be replaced?
I like trying to unpack the legal process of meeting, fighting and making up. Picking it apart to understand each step of the process better.
Since my lens is business development and tech, this often leads to an exercise of what can be enhanced, automated or replaced by a machine. To my great excitement, there is a lot happening on this front.
How does tech affect disputes and their resolution?
Reaching an initial agreement – in many areas the process of entering into an agreement is already greatly enhanced by various tools, match-making mechanisms, digital auctions, and automated contract templates.
- Giving rise to disputes – I doubt that any digital tools are as effective at creating conflict as humans. No digital tool will replace this part of the process any time soon!
- Resolving the dispute – this area is under a lot of development. There are various digital tools allowing for automated settlement, bidding and settlement contract creation.
In addition to these tools aimed at cleverly circumventing dispute resolution, there are also tools targeting the actual adjudication process. Some tools aim to enhance the adjudication ability of the human judge, such as AI assisted document or case law review – and they are getting smarter and more effective every day. Other tools already go as far as replacing the human judge altogether, providing both an outcome in the case and even reasons. This development naturally gives rise to numerous technical and ethical considerations worthy of lengthy debate. So far, automated dispute resolution is available only in certain small, simple cases, and it is unlikely to replace large, complex arbitrations any time soon. But these innovations nonetheless indicate a trend. We as lawyers may pride ourselves on being irreplaceable, but so did the physicians that are now outperformed by AI in certain areas. No expertise is immune to the AI bug.
- Enforcement – for arbitration, the international enforceability of an award has been one of its strongest selling points and success factors. But even this aspect may be challenged by technical development. Blockchain arbitration specifically targets the enforcement aspect of dispute resolution by providing automated enforcement of an award immediately upon its rendering, e.g. through the transfer of a bit currency or a legal right via blockchain. Users can also build in enforcement or settlement already in the contract through various smart contract applications. As with AI judges, full applicability of this technology is not here just yet, but as blockchain gains ground in general, it will likely gain ground in dispute resolution as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that the process of meeting, fighting and making up will look very different in the legal world 10 or 20 years from now, just as it does in the real world compared to 10 years ago (swipe right, anyone?). But it will happen gradually. Even though it may be revolutionary, it is unlikely to feel like a revolution. We will continue to go to work, enjoy our coffee and help resolve disputes, using all the digital enhancement tools the world has provided – without even thinking of it.
So, are we about to be replaced? No, but we are certainly about to be enhanced.
Head of Business Development, SCC