The application of artificial intelligence to legal problems is heralded to be the most significant event expected to hit the legal world. It is seen as the future for the legal profession. Machines will deliver the answer to legal questions and there will be less need for humans to research and advise on the law. And all this within 5 years it has been forecast. Lawyers will be no more than ‘knowledge engineers’ who feed their clients problems into a computer which will diagnose and come up with advice on what must be done.

Whilst this may be fine for basic straightforward legal issues, and should (but may not) bring down the cost of obtaining legal help it raises any number of questions. Amongst them is whether a machine and any software can take into account the ‘human’ element of a legal problem. The skills of a human lawyer come from many years of experience and an understanding of the subtle nuances within the law and how these apply to his client and their case.

A machine may well in time be able to compute the prospects for a particular legal problem and churn out legal theory in support. But where will be the flexibility in the advice to take into account the human element of a problem. Few legal issues are black or white. Wisdom cannot be programmed into a machine and that is what a client should be able to expect from their lawyer.