A new lab uses artificial intelligence to help individuals and businesses resolve their legal disputes

Originally published in Smith Business Insight

Imagine you have launched a court case against a firm that owes you a pile of money. But you are not keen on paying a lawyer thousands of dollars to represent you. Wouldn’t a better alternative be to tap the power of artificial intelligence (AI) so that you can represent yourself?

That’s the plan for the Conflict Analytics Lab, a new centre that is applying data science and machine learning to dispute resolution. When it is fully up to speed in 2019, for a modest sum you will be able to get legal and negotiation advice and access countless summaries of similar cases, which you can use to be your own lawyer.

The Conflict Analytics Lab a collaborative effort launched last year by Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, along with a number of international universities and central banks and the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is likely the largest consortium of data analytics and dispute resolution experts in the growing AI legal world.

The lab is a response to changes in how court cases are handled. “Ninety percent of cases are settled outside the courts and litigants are self-represented,” says Samuel Dahan, director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and an assistant professor in Queen’s Faculty of Law. “We’re building an AI tribunal for small claims disputes.”

The Conflict Analytics Lab will also serve as an educational hub for future lawyers and an AI-based legal resource for large corporations.

Social Justice

Dahan describes the lab, at its heart, as a social justice project. The idea is to empower people needing legal advice to obtain information about past cases easily and at minimal cost via the AI tribunal. “Legal fees have become outrageously expensive,” he says. “You’re not going to hire a lawyer for $5,000 if the dispute is worth $3,000. You’re going to do it yourself.”

To that end, a team of 25 lawyers and graduate students affiliated with Queen’s Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace and the Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics are collecting legal data and information on negotiations. Currently, information on 3,000 cases has been entered into a database. “Queen’s is taking a leading role in this project and providing the manpower,” he says. “It’s a lot of data to be crunching.”

At the same time, AI and analytics are being employed by a legal data team and a dispute resolution data team from the lab to track patterns and trends in past cases to be able to predict the outcomes of future cases. These teams will then develop algorithms that will enable users to search the data. The resource is planned to be available to users by the end of 2019.

The Conflict Analytics Lab signals a major shift in the legal industry, traditionally one profession that has been slow to embrace technological innovations. It also highlights a movement towards resolving disputes without the direct involvement of lawyers. “Our main focus is no longer law but rather negotiation and dispute resolution,” says Dahan.

The application of AI to law has a particularly significant upside for the business world. As part of its mandate, the Conflict Analytics Lab plans to mine dispute resolution processes used by large organizations — to help other large financial firms solve their own internal disputes.

The team is currently assembling data scientists and lawyers to amass a minimum of 10,000 dispute resolution cases to populate the hub. Dahan hopes that will be accomplished by the end of 2019.

Outsourcing Dispute Resolution

Dahan says that the idea is for large firms such as banks or firms in the hospitality industry to outsource their dispute resolution processes to the lab, managing and resolving their cases online using data the hub has amassed.

“The idea is to track and store this knowledge,” says Dahan, adding that much of the information around handling disputes has traditionally been kept secret. The creation of the lab will break through this secrecy and enable better and faster dispute resolution through access to more information.

The money earned from these outsourcing deals will pay for the AI tribunal that will serve ordinary Canadians seeking legal guidance.

The lab is also positioning itself as an innovation incubator. It will provide key data to legal technology entrepreneurs to launch their own initiatives. One such project, Solvr, an online dispute resolution system, is currently in the works.

“There are millions of disputes resolved daily through online platforms,” he says. “People are becoming more comfortable solving disputes online.”

Anna Sharratt