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Artificial Intelligence and the Practice of Law

27 September 2019|Technology

By Wayne Nitti

When asked, most people imagine artificial intelligence in the form of anthropomorphized robots that eventually grow tired of serving humanity and rebel. While artificial intelligence hasn’t reached that point (well, not yet…), it has come a long way in assisting a wide range of businesses – from scientific research to marketing to law – process and utilize large amounts of data.

Law firms, which are notoriously traditional when it comes to business models, have been slow to integrate AI into their operations. That is changing, however, as clients of all sizes increasingly demand that firms bring down costs and billables. Law firms – BigLaw especially – must become more efficient and employ legal technology in order to preserve and promote client relationships. That’s where AI software enters the picture.

AI simulates certain cognitive processes of the human mind and enables computers to complete basic job functions. When applied to algorithms, AI allows computers to interpret data, recognize patterns, and form conclusions.

AI is changing the way law firms work, from legal research to billing. Where firms once hired per diem attorneys for extended periods of time for document review, AI can process that same information in one-tenth the time. The traditional periods required for discovery can be greatly minimized using AI

The adoption of AI into e-discovery platforms can speed reviews of what can be millions of documents, briefs and case files. In these types of document searches, far fewer contract attorneys at many firms are needed to handle the material, per case or matter, than was the case five years ago at most large firms.

With software that can, for example, sort through thousands upon thousands of pages from prospectuses, a firm’s securities team can assess the potential risks and benefits in corporate mergers and acquisitions without having to hire contract attorneys to perform the requisite due diligence. The same applies for contract review and management.

Litigators can also benefit from the use of AI in their practices.

AI software in development that employs natural language processing could change how firms prepare for big court cases. Some programs can sift through millions of court decisions to find advantageous trends.

Others could transform the jury selection process, through the use of predictive analytics that give more data to attorneys anxious to understand how juries and judges might act. Yet other programs are on tap that could speed and improve court reporter transcriptions.

However, all this transformational efficiency comes with a human cost. Firms that turn to AI to optimize their legal research, discovery and litigation needs endanger staff positions, such as paralegals, legal secretaries, and court and jury consultants, who have traditionally filled those research and administrative roles.

Deloitte predicts 100,000 legal roles will be automated by 2036 and law firms will start using new talent strategies by 2020. . . . Clearly, firms need to start recognizing and refining technology’s role in their hiring approaches.

In fact, AI can even replace tasks normally performed by a firm’s Human Resources department:

Recruiters and human-resources professionals have turned increasingly to tools that make certain inferences based on data, or automate processes previously left to humans. 

However, at least one study did note that while over 30,000 jobs have been lost because of AI, law firms that utilize AI have created another 80,000 higher skilled, better paid jobs, because their newfound efficiencies have generated more work, which necessitates the hiring of additional lawyers and professionals.

For now, AI has proven its worth when dealing with matters involving the processing of massive amounts of data and “tasks” that take lawyers’ time away from client matters. How it affects the industry as a whole, including the breadth of automation and effect on small and medium-sized firms, remains to be seen.