In the technology adoption lifecycle, law firms can be laggards. From email and websites to cloud computing and video conference calls, the new technologies that other businesses generally accept quickly were slow to find traction at law firms. However, with clients demanding more efficiency and millennials taking more leadership roles in law firms and in-house legal departments, the legal industry is seeing an increased embrace of technology, even though it may disrupt the traditional method.
Here are some emerging methods of modernizing the world of legal practice.
AI for consumer-facing legal solutions
The latest technology to disrupt the legal industry is artificial intelligence. For example, DoNotPay, an AI-powered interactive computer program, was created to help people fight parking tickets. Since its launch, it’s estimated that DoNotPay has saved its users more than $9 million while disputing nearly 400,000 parking tickets. DoNotPay is now expanding its AI services to legal transactional documents and uncontested divorces.
Bot support for legal professionals
In a similar manner, law firms are also beginning to use AI. Attorneys can now send a copy of an initial complaint to a robotic assistant, which then provides the attorney with a summary of the current law on the specific subject matter raised by the complaint, along with a few key cases from the same jurisdiction.
While the AI revolution is just beginning to take hold in the legal industry, attorneys recognize that the technology is creating better efficiency. However, the limit has not yet been reached. With existing case law and decisions setting precedent, law is pattern based. As more data becomes available and pattern recognition increases, the algorithms will allow AI to become more accurate and precise.
AI-led initial legal estimates
With AI providing an overview of the relevant law and some tailored research leads, the time an attorney needs to become familiar with the foundational principles of an unfamiliar area of law is greatly shortened. Human knowledge and expertise in evaluating cases and strategies is still needed. The AI simply creates a more efficient starting point that is further along than if the attorney had completed the same task.
AI can also estimate the potential award or settlement amount for the case and provide the statistical basis for that estimate. However, again, the attorney is responsible for interpreting the estimate and reconciling it with their client’s needs and desires. The AI can draft the initial set of routine litigation documents, but the attorney must still exercise judgment when deciding whether those documents are ready to file (they typically are nearly 90 percent file-ready). In each of these instances, the portion of the task that requires an attorney’s expertise and judgment is reserved to the human attorney.
Potential risks with AI
As with all new technology, jobs seem to be at risk. This time, the fear is that the role of an attorney, which requires extensive education and rigorous certification, could be automated. However, this fear is unfounded. AI will not replace attorneys, but instead enhance their individual capabilities in ways that benefit both attorneys and clients.
While replacement is not realistic, there are other risks that arise with the legal industry’s adoption of AI, the main being that an attorney can rely too heavily on the AI’s output and stop exercising legal judgment. For example, an attorney that takes the summaries of law provided by AI tools as fact, who fails to review the machine-generated documents before signing off on them or enters biased data to achieve the desired result, would be in clear violation of ethical duties and could potentially be guilty of malpractice. In addition, AI carries the risk of being used for ignoble purposes, which could lead to regulation. However, the benefits that legal professionals and their clients stand to reap from AI far outweigh these risks.
The future of AI in legal operations
From a business perspective, AI allows each individual attorney in a firm or an in-house counsel department to increase their productivity. The integration of AI into a firm’s practice creates a serious competitive advantage and develops an efficiency that provides more value to clients for less cost. Individual attorneys can also substantially benefit from AI, especially those who just graduated law school.
Younger attorneys will require less training and spend less time performing routine tasks. This creates the freedom to perform more cognitively demanding tasks and flex their legal expertise. Associates will have the opportunity to do intellectually challenging work more often, gaining experience and maturing as attorneys faster than before. These attorneys will find the early parts of their career more rewarding, which will, in turn, provide more value to their firms and their clients.
Thomas Suh is cofounder and president of LegalMation, an AI-based legal technology company that produces draft litigation documents.