This piece originally appeared on ReadWrite on April 12, 2017.
Robot lawyers have been getting so much attention lately that AI-and-law thought leaders believe we have reached peak hype. Journalists have responded by toning down their headlines to better manage expectations. For example, last month the New York Times ran an article titled, “A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won’t Replace Lawyers, Yet,” and the ABA Journal gently warned, “The robot lawyers are coming (to help, not to take your jobs).”
The Times article explains that automation generally happens task by task. So, even if AI can scan documents and predict which ones will be relevant to a legal case, other tasks such as actually advising a client or appearing in court cannot currently be performed by computers.
But for readers who are not well-versed in the law, these articles fail to answer some more foundational questions: What is legal research, anyway? And, if a computer can do the research, why would I still need a human lawyer?