A proposal sent to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to use artificial intelligence to improve Russia’s legal system made the headlines this week, but this process is in fact already underway. Robot-lawyers, the use of blockchain to create smart contracts, the automation of legal procedures, and other ways in which tech startups are disrupting the traditional legal profession will all be discussed at the upcoming Skolkovo LegalTech event on December 1.  

Artificial intelligence could be used to perform a number of services currently offered by lawyers. Photo: Pixabay.

The head of the government’s planning department, Andrei Slepnyev, wrote a letter to Medvedev arguing that artificial intelligence could be used to make legal rulings in standard cases, identify obsolete or ineffective regulations, reduce the time spent on deciding cases and help stamp out corruption, with the ultimate aim of improving Russia’s business climate, Kommersant reported on Monday.

The Skolkovo innovation centre is already working on such measures, the newspaper noted. Sergei Izrailit, head of Skolkovo’s development and planning department, told Kommersant that he welcomed the government planning department’s support for what the innovation centre has begun.

A centre devoted to regulating the digital economy has been established at Skolkovo, and consists of 14 working groups, each of which is devoted to discussing relevant changes to regulations in on area related to the digital economy, or in several related areas.

“The development of Legal Tech will make it possible in the very near future to digitalise the drawing up and concluding of contracts and recording of payments in various sectors of the Russian economy,” Izrailit wrote in an article published in the Digital Economy almanac compiled by the Skolkovo Foundation ahead of the  Open Innovations forum last month.

“By using the automated collection and processing of big data in the economic sphere, processes of state management are improved, including in the field of regulation,” he wrote.

Skolkovo LegalTech includes conference sessions devoted to blockchain, smart contracts, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence and privacy issues. Speakers include law professors from around the world and representatives of Russia’s Justice Ministry, as well as Anton Bashkevich, the cofounder and managing partner of Simplawyer, a service for automating contracts, corporate regulations and legal work; Anton Pushkov, managing partner of Skolkovo’s intellectual property centre; and Anton Pronin, head of Legal Tech within the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster.

Skolkovo Foundation chairman Igor Drozdov will speak at the upcoming LegalTech conference. Photo: Sk.ru.

There will also be a presentation of Legal Tech startups, with event participants voting for the most promising project. Two of the startups battling it out in the Young Guard pitching session are Skolkovo residents: Pravoved.ru, an online legal consultation service that is working on a robot-lawyer that will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to dispense legal advice to clients, and Flexbby, which makes software solutions for automating and managing business processes and workflow. Pravoved.ru raised more than $1 million in Series A funding earlier this year.

Other companies taking part in the pitching session include Platforma, a service that helps claimants to find financing for major commercial disputes, and investors to make a profit from investing in court cases, and PatentBot, a chat bot that finds available trademarks for clients and then registers them in a fully automated process.

Additional Skolkovo startups will be exhibiting their solutions in the Startup Alley in the lobby of Skolkovo’s Matrex building, where the event will take place, including Flexbby, Oz Forensics, 2Talk, Online Patent and STC Innovations.

Skolkovo Foundation chairman of the board Igor Drozdov, who is also due to speak at the forum, says that machines could perform simple yet specialised procedures such as drawing up claim forms, when the contents are not too complex. Technology can also automate the administration of contracts by introducing smart contracts on a large scale, Drozdov wrote in the Digital Economy almanac.

“The development of smart contracts is capable of upending existing perceptions of the execution of responsibilities, and could have a serious impact on civil commerce as a whole,” he wrote.

Nikolai Averchenko, Skolkovo’s senior vice president for legal and administrative issues, says algorithms could be used to answer a set of simple factual questions that would make it possible to reach a legal decision, and could at least conclude whether evidence is admissible and relevant to the case.

“The creation of an algorithm should not result in the negation of the profession of lawyer,” he wrote in his own article in the almanac. “I believe that lawyers will remain the defenders of humankind, and strive for what is right until the end of time. If necessary, they will protect society from an out-of-control algorithm,” he concluded.

Surveys have shown that Russians are more open to the use of artificial intelligence in their legal affairs than other nations. In surveys in which people were asked whether they would agree to their court case being decided upon by a robot-judge, the highest proportion of positive reactions came from Russia, political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann said at the Skolkovo Robotics conference and exhibition earlier this year. The idea of impartial robot-judges and robot-officials is already being discussed by political scientists, she said. 

Skolkovo LegalTech will take place on Dec. 1 at Skolkovo’s Matrex building from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The full programme can be seen here