Workshop series illustrates LawTech’s broad impact on legal sector

The wide-ranging impact of new technology on the legal services sector was illustrated across a series of workshops organised by the University of Oxford during the Autumn 2019 (Michaelmas) term. The workshops, which are open to anyone interested in the subject, are organised by members of the AI for English Law research team.

The term’s first presentation, delivered by the University of Oxford’s Dr Adam Saunders, Dr Max Ahrens and Dr Matthias Qian, showcased their new “big data”-driven research. This research explores the evolving prevalence of LawTech skills requirements in legal services job adverts, both domestically and internationally. The team’s initial findings suggest that certain specific LawTech skills have become notably more prevalent in these job adverts in recent years. However, the overall percentage of adverts requiring those LawTech skills remains very low, the research also found. Percentages also vary sharply by location, and by specific LawTech capabilities.

During October, a talk delivered by the University of Sheffield’s Dr Nikolaos Aletras explored the challenges of using a variety of natural language programming (NLP) and machine learning techniques to predict outcomes of rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This research aims to predict, given a set of facts, whether the court would find that any human rights articles or protocols had been violated, which specific articles or protocols had been violated – if any – and the overall importance of the case.

Research conducted by Dr Aletras’ team suggested that it is notably easier to predict whether or not any violations had occurred, compared with predicting which – if any – specific provisions had been violated. It was also very hard to predict the importance of a case, based on the facts presented alone. For that reason, Dr Aletras suggested that humans should not be taken out of the loop when making ECHR outcome predictions.

Later in the month, Dr Thomas Hellman from the Saïd Business School spoke about the challenges of promoting AI start-ups, the broader challenges of creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Dr Hellman also outlined efforts to launch a Creative Destruction Lab at Oxford. Creative Destruction Labs aims to bring together start-up companies and investors, with the aim of facilitating scale-ups.

Dan Katz presenting at the Michaelmas term workshop series


One person who is involved in both AI software solutions and academia is Professor Daniel Martin Katz. Professor Katz currently works at Chicago Kent College of Law, and also founded LexPredict – a solution which originally intended to predict the voting intention of the US Supreme Court. In November, Professor Katz shared his insights into the current state of the LawTech market.

Beginning his talk with an overview of the global explosion in the number of LawTech companies around the world, Professor Katz then outlined a number of challenges facing the industry. These challenges included the abundance of “vapourware” – products that do not yet exist – over-inflated LawTech company valuations, product pricing peculiarities, the sector’s tendency towards being “hyper-proprietary”, and the lack of end-to-end software solutions. He also indicated that it was not always cost effective to deploy AI-enabled LawTech solutions, when the up-front costs associated cleaning up data, as a prelude to its analysis, were also taking into account.

Aaron Ceross from the University of Oxford rounded off the Michaelmas term’s workshop series, with a talk that explored his “Adventures and Missteps in Legal Scholarship and AI”. Mr Ceross’ research involved investigating whether it is possible to answer legal theory questions by using empirical and computational methods. Mr Ceross’ research explored how this methodology might be applied to specific provisions of the GDPR, using source materials provided by the UK’s data protection authority, the Information Commissioner's Office.

Richard Parnham WP1



The Hilary term workshop series (January-April 2020) is now live and can be viewed through the events tab on the homepage of Unlocking the Potential for AI in English Law.