The Coming of Age of Legal Technology
What will be needed to take Legal Tech to a new level?
Many useful applications have been developed over the years for legal research and documentation. Technical opportunities are more extensive than they were two or three decades ago. Legal sources are certainly more accessible now and more diverse. Documents no longer consist of fixed series of characters only but may interact with their users. Computer applications for legal practice, part of the broader ‘Legal Tech’ concept, are gaining popularity amongst lawyers. It is, therefore, interesting to examine what the present possibilities of Legal Tech are now, and also what the future may hold.
Application types can be distinguished by the complexity (‘intelligence’) of the processing involved and by the degree of influence a user has on the output. Decision support systems and programmed decision systems can be quite intelligent but differ in the degree of user input. For the fully intelligent programs that do not require much user input, there is the question of explainability. To ‘feed’ as well as assess these programs, jurimetrics research is necessary. Jurimetrics is the empirical, usually quantitative, study of law. By means of jurimetrics research, legal decisions can be analysed and predicted.
Given all this, can computers already take over decision-making in the field of law? Although building (‘artificially intelligent’; ‘robot-’) applications containing self-learning algorithms is in itself possible these days, that does not mean these programs can match human decision-making or sufficiently explain and justify attained results. As it is a function of the law not only to build on existing legal dogmas but also to keep in step with developments in society, decisions may be needed that are essentially different from those taken in the past. Legal decision-making is a creative process that requires emotional skills. At present there are still technological limitations as well as numerous practical and theoretical problems to really replicate human decision-making. To overcome these, we argue that a new phase of technological development would be necessary, offering fundamentally new possibilities. For the foreseeable future, therefore, the conclusion must be that handing over legal decision-making to computers is not desirable.
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