Robo-Lawyers – the Challenges, Lawyers Are Facing with the New Technological Revolution

Author: Vanya Chichova


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in our everyday lives. Its impact and application are constantly growing and, most probably, it will change our lives as no other industrial revolution ever did. According to Google-CEO Sundar Pichai “AI is a bigger deal than fire or electricity”.

The most common AI device nowadays is the smartphone, being used by approximately 75% of the population of advanced economies. But also AI-powered virtual assistants are already commonplace in many homes – answering questions, playing music or even telling jokes. Virtual assistants are able to interpret human speech and respond to many voice commands via synthesized voices, to send text messages, to make phone calls, to control smart home devices, etc. Further, AI tools can be found in almost every industry, from retail and health care to finance and even legal services.

Currently, the hottest topic for discussion is probably self-driving cars. Most car manufacturers are developing autonomous cars and, it is expected that in 20 years nearly 75% of the cars on the roads will be driver-less.

Robots have also entered a large number of industries. In medicine for example, recently developed nanotech robots are intended to travel through a patient’s blood and into tumors in order to deliver a therapy. The financial industry reports of the so called “Robo financial advisors” offering low-cost, automated investing.

“Chatbots”, which are computer programs that simulate human conversation via auditory or textual methods, are expanding too. The toy industry, for example, has introduced chatbot-based educational toys intended to interact with children for educational purposes.

Even legal services have started to integrate AI applications into their business models. In 2016 a US law firm hired the world’s first artificially intelligent lawyer – IBM’s “ROSS” to handle their bankruptcy practice. ROSS is able to read texts and understand language, to postulate hypotheses, if being asked specific questions, to conclude researches and to generate responses with references and citations supporting its conclusions. And in the next years, Robo-Lawyers are expected to be applied for document searches.

Legal concerns

The more AI becomes integrated into daily life, the more complex legal issues arise that can no longer be solved by the existing legislative and regulatory framework. Different areas of law are affected, such as data protection, tort liability, i.e. product liability, intellectual property, antitrust, criminal law relating to cybercrimes.

For a long time now, data protection has been an intensively discussed topic due to the increasing use of smart devices, which leads to the collection of unimaginable amounts of data. However, in many cases the allocation of liability remains unsolved.

A particularly important legal issue is the liability in case of accidents with self-driving cars. Traditionally, liability corresponds to the possibility to exercise control. However, it is extremely challenging in such situations to assign control to manufacturers, certain device producers or to car owners.

Another hotly debated topic among lawyers is related to the so called “smart contracts” – presumably the next generation of contracts concluded by means of electronic communication. The terms of smart contracts are written into a computer code. They work on a condition-based principle. In case the pre-defined conditions are met, the contracts execute themselves automatically thus the completion of the contract takes place without the intervention of a natural person. An open question is here, if smart contracts will soon be legally recognized as valid contracts.

Legislative initiative of the EU Parliament

In February 2017 the EU Parliament adopted a legislative initiative resolution on Civil Law Rules on Robotics for the purposes of regulating the development of artificial intelligence and robotics across the European Union. The EU Parliament made wide-ranging legislative and non-legislative recommendations to the EU Commission in the field of robotics and AI. Among others, the EU Parliament called the EU Commission to establish a designated EU Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. It also asked the Commission to consider “creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run … possibly applying electronic personality to cases where robots make autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently”.

Actions of the EU Commission

In its follow up to the resolution of the EU Parliament, the EU Commission agreed that “it is important to examine whether and how to adapt civil law liability rules to the needs of the digital economy”. Besides a review of the Product Liability Directive, the EU Commission considers “the opportunity of devising risk-based liability regimes, for instance based on a risk-opening approach (allocating liability to market actors generating a major risk for the others and benefiting from the relevant device/ product/ service) or a risk-management approach where liability is assigned to the market actor best placed to minimize risks or avoid their realization”.

In its Communication “Artificial intelligence for Europe” from April 2018, the EU Commission put forward the EU’s approach to taking advantage of AI and overcoming the challenges it brings. In December 2018, the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence appointed by the Commission released draft AI ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI, which were revised and published in April 2019. A Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Unit was established by the EU Commission whose mission is the development of a competitive industry in robotics and Artificial Intelligence in Europe.

Latest legal acts of the EU

The recent legal acts of the EU are a move in the right direction. In this regard should be mentioned the Directive (EU) 2019/770 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services and the Directive (EU) 2019/771 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the sale of goods. It is highly welcome that personal data is to be recognized as a potential consideration for digital content or digital services and that consumers are, in the context of such business models, entitled to contractual remedies. It is considered a revolutionary step that under the new rules, the provision of personal data by consumers to traders has the same legal consequences as the payment of a fee.


AI will gradually become an inseparable part of our lives. It remains to be seen how quickly regulators will catch up with these new developments – the first steps have already been taken and more regulations are to be expected in the future.  This, however, will prove to be quite a complex and challenging process, as AI will pose multiple new questions and implications where we don’t have an easy and straight-forward answer. The sooner the legal community starts to deal with this complexity, the more we will learn and the better we will be prepared to take advantage of the new developments and advancements coming from AI.

This article has an informative purpose and is not representative of detailed legal advice. If you are interested in receiving advice in the context of a certain situation, we can happily assist you. The law firm is not responsible for any harm caused by acts or omissions undertaken due to this text.

©TBK, 2020