A recent executive order signed by President Donald Trump, the American A.I. Initiative, directs federal agencies to prioritize A.I. investments, assist in building a workforce in the A.I. world and set governance standards. It is hopefully to be the catalyst many experts believe will define the future of everything from health care to warfare. While the order sounds promising, there are no funds or plan to make it happen.

Legal pundits feel that this order may open the door to A.I. technology becoming even more prevalent among attorneys.

Given that the Rules of Ethics for U.S. State Bar Associations (Rule 1.1 Competence) state an attorney needs to have this type of expertise to serve their clients, it is startling to find that mostly legal departments at companies are more likely to use A.I. than law firms. IBM Watson Legal co-founder, Brian Kuhn, says in his experience, legal departments are more likely to use A.I. technology than their firms are.

The ABA Rule 1.1 says:

Maintaining Competence
“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

Now, with the hope that there is to be some federal guidance at some point, some attorneys are suggesting law firms may be more likely to find ways to adopt A.I. technology. This is not to suggest that some firms are not doing so right now. It is meant to suggest that due to the non-transparent wording of “including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology” that there are numerous law firms hesitant to wade into an unknown world when the one they function in right now works fairly well.

Jeremy Elman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, of Palo Alto, California, says: “I think that certainly A.I. being more a part of the national conversation, and an increasing share of clients are going to be using it day-to-day, so I think naturally more law firms that will be integrated with their clients will be using it.” “It’s going to be a more regular part of corporate life.”

The rationale behind having possible federal guidance may make law firms more at ease with using technology if there is more regulatory oversight and an experienced A.I. leadership from the White House. Whether or not that is going to happen is not clear as not much has been laid out in terms of how this new initiative is supposed to work.

On the contrary, rather than making attorneys more comfortable with A.I. the executive order may instead generate more concern and caution about possible legal outcomes, glitches, and difficulties with using A.I. Since the order itself is not clear, it is open for speculation as to what it may mean for any industry. Nonetheless, since technology is so prevalent these days, it does begin the conversation in the legal industry about how far to take things, what to use, what it means for clients, what it means for the firm and how much should it be relied on.

While Trump’s executive order may kick-start some interesting A.I. developments, it is difficult to say whether it has the foundation to actually succeed. The order is supposed to improve access to cloud computing/data, educate those working in the field and promote cooperation with foreign global powers.

In July 2017, Chinese unveiled a plan to become the world leader in A.I., aiming to generate $150 billion by 2030. Other governments, including South Korea, Britain, France and Canada also started to make large A.I. investments. It was those developments that prompted former Defense Secretary Jim Matthis to send the White House a memo strongly recommending the United States to begin investing in A.I. immediately.

The U.S. Defense Department has earmarked $75 million in its budget toward a new office to work on and develop new A.I. technologies. However, a fear exists that top tech talent is moving to Amazon and Google, private sector companies, and not toward government agencies. It is also a concern that Canada, China and France have a much wider and more active pool of A.I. talent.

The order did not earmark any funding for A.I. research and development, and there are scant details on how the administration plans to implement its new policy. The White House only stated they would increase efforts to educate American workers, work with the National Council for the American Worker to create educational efforts via academia/industry, and prompt government agencies to create A.I. fellowships.

As A.I. technology evolves and develops, people and industries will become more dependent on it. A.I. is used in multiple industries, from consumer products to national security. While the executive order is perhaps the beginning of the United States leveling the playing field in A.I. one wonders whether or not it will actually get off the ground.

About Author

Kerrie Spencer is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine.

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