AfricaCom 2018: Would You Trust Artificial Intelligence To Be Your Lawyer?

Rufaro Madamombe Avatar
Man next to a human representation of artificial intelligence

So day 1 of AfricaCom 2018 has officially wrapped up and kicked off the Artificial Intelligence Summit which is already proving to be thought-provoking. Some of the talks that were held as part of the AI Summit day 1 were: “Going beyond business – how can AI help to digitize Africa’s communities?”, “Building an autonomous workforce: AI in mining” and one of my favourite of the day: “Innovation & Regulation: AI battles in the legal arena”.

The last topic is what brought up the question in the title: Would You Trust Artificial Intelligence To Be Your Lawyer? We asked the same question over on Twitter in a poll.

Right, before we continue, if you didn’t manage to take part in the poll, please feel free to go ahead and place your vote before reading further.

Seriously, please vote or leave a comment here with the option you choose. I’d rather have you do it now so that the choice isn’t being influenced by the thoughts that we’ll share in this conversation.

Alright, I’m going to assume that you’ve placed your vote and that I can safely continue without feeling guilty. So let’s continue on.

Is artificial Intelligence even capable of being a lawyer?

The speakers that held the talk at AfricaCom made it quite clear that this one of those questions that has a “it depends” answer. Now, why is that the case? Well, the law is mostly black and white. Like murder is a crime and the punishment is often jail time. However, just being able to read and understand the law doesn’t make you a lawyer.

You’ve got to deal with people day in and out, reading your clients as well as witnesses so that you can achieve the desired outcome like having the client take your advice, representing them in the court or finding a middle ground with the opposition when negotiating. It’s this human touch to the law that makes it not easy for artificial intelligence to just waltz in and take the stage from traditional lawyers.

Imagine, if you made a joke that if taken literally would make you seem guilty of a crime. Would the ai then just calculate the odds of success and tell you that there’s no point even though you actually might be innocent? It’s these nuances that make it hard for ai as it’s just not there yet to understand the differences.

Now, not all lawyers are criminal lawyers that have to represent people, there is also contract law which is more about having two parties seal a deal. In such types of law then it’s a bit easier for ai to be capable to take up that job. This is mainly because it is quite repetitive work and after a couple of tries, you’ll know what should and should not be in a contract.

Also, the lack of those nuances really helps.

So should you trust artificial intelligence to be your lawyer?

Time for that obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert so don’t take this as legal advice. Right, I’d say like any program, it can only best serve you based on the inputs that you give it. So if you are able to explain your situation with some legal knowledge then you could trust the ai knows the law and is able to represent you well.

However, for most, requiring a lawyer to ask the right questions is what makes ai not a good fit for them as it doesn’t have that human touch. And as we saw, if all you want is a contract then it’s quite easy for ai to help you create one given the right requirements as there isn’t that much decision making that it needs to do on its part.

Oh if you’ve made it here I can also share the results of the poll so far. The poll has 135 votes and 59% voted “Never” while 41% voted “Absolutely”. I would have thought that the poll would have been heavily tilted towards the never trusting ai to handle your legal like 95:5 needs but it seems like, from this small sample, it’s not that simple.

I think it’s one of those things that you naturally feel like saying never and find hard to instantly say absolutely. Personally, I’d have probably selected “it depends” because even though I think I can help ai be my lawyer by giving it adequate information, I still wonder, should artificial intelligence be allowed to make decisions?

I’d be greatly interested to hear your thoughts on this topic that was discussed at AfricaCom 2018. Would you trust artificial intelligence to be your lawyer? Do you think it is even capable? What other types of law could artificial intelligence be more capable of taking up?

Feel free to leave a comment below and let’s discuss.


  1. Lawer Loya

    I think there is a bot in the states that’s been super effective in helping people challenge traffic tickets. For things that have a relatively simple ‘process’ focus like that, I’d definitely trust them. I think current AI’s (that are out in the open) could probably work at the level of a junior paralegal at specific tasks so i personally wouldn’t trust it it to get me out of a criminal case. So yeah, depends for me

    1. Rufaro Madamombe


      Actually didn’t know about the bot so did a quick Google search and figured that it’s called DoNotPay and yeah you were right it’s been quite effective like 2 years ago it was reported that 160,000 of 250,000 tickets have been successfully challenged by it.

      Oh and seems like the bot has evolved beyond just handling traffic tickets now you can even sue a compare through it plus much more.

      Quite interesting!

      Yeah criminal law is not as straight forward and seems to be a current hurdle for AI in the legal space but who knows maybe soon it’ll be smart enough and more human like to handle such cases.

      So I take it that you would actually be open to trusting AI even with criminal law cases if you believed that it was fully capable of handling them just like a person.

      That’s cool as some people just shun away tech just because it’s tech hey.