Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Legal Work: Why It’s a Good Thing

AI and the Future of Legal Work: A Good Thing for Law Firms | Insights

A plethora of recent news reports show how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into more and more facets of the professional world each year.

In fact, market research company Statista projects that revenues from AI will grow from $1.62B in 2019 to over $31B by 2025.

The legal field is no exception. AI and machine learning have created ways to save attorneys time and increase the level of accuracy of various legal tasks.

Moreover, the applications that support law firms now offer new insights into productivity — something that is useful for attorneys and clients alike.

Perception vs. Reality

Because of popular media, there are lots of perceptions as to the nature of artificial intelligence. Many of these perceptions have to do with programs that gain sentience and set forth their nefarious agendas.

The reality of artificial intelligence is much less colorful, but much more useful.  In its simplest form, AI is a technology that can mimic human characteristics in order to perform tasks previously only possible for humans. The main crux of AI is data recognition and extrapolation. Put another way, AI can be programmed to notice things and make recommendations based on the data provided to it. 

Pattern recognition makes AI perfectly suited for tasks in the legal space. Moreover, applications using AI can make recommendations based on data to help steer a firm in a more profitable direction.

For example, when deciding what course of action to follow in a particular matter, an attorney will have accumulated skills, knowledge, and experience gained over their career, and the expertise of co-workers and mentors for assistance. Attorneys often spend hours upon hours researching similar matters of the past.  However, computers using AI and machine learning can draw from all relevant data on a matter in less time than it took to read this sentence.

Harvard Law drives this point home by stating:

[B]ecause AI can access more of the relevant data, it can be better than lawyers at predicting the outcomes of legal disputes and proceedings, and thus helping clients make decisions. For example, a London law firm used data on the outcomes of 600 cases over 12 months to create a model for the viability of personal injury cases. Indeed, trained on 200 years of Supreme Court records, an AI is already better than many human experts at predicting SCOTUS decisions.

The beauty of implementing artificial intelligence is not that it can do things that humans cannot, but that it can do what humans can do exponentially quicker and with less likelihood of error.

Current Examples

Artificial Intelligence has already made its way into various aspects of attorney work, such as legal research, contract review, and using analytics to predict litigation outcomes. 

One major example of the effectiveness of AI on the legal profession is in the field of e-discovery. Instead of painstakingly going through each and every document produced or to be produced in discovery by hand, applications can be used to seek out pertinent information without getting bogged down by white noise. 

Not only is this a faster method, but it can also catch things a human may inadvertently overlook.  As noted in a recent Bloomberg Law report:

[AI] helps legal researchers unearth documents that they could not have found previously and more easily identify similarities between court opinions… AI can minimize the number of errors or missed documents that a user might face.

Instead of searching or even with the wisdom bestowed by experience, AI allows attorneys to quickly and accurately gather and organize information contained in thousands of documents, court rulings, or other data sources using specific parameters. 

Beyond applications in the discovery process, these parameters could be the ruling habits of a judge, the tactics of a specific law firm, or the prior legal tendencies of a company. Using this information AI can suggest a litigation roadmap, replete with data-driven cost estimates for various aspects of the case.

The best part is that the humans using the application don’t necessarily even need to know exactly what they are looking for. That means attorneys could find nuggets they might not have considered.

To understand just how much faster AI can sift through large quantities of data, consider a recent New York Times report on an attorney from Florida who wanted to test the research skills of artificial intelligence against his own. It took him hours to find a case precisely analogous to the one he was working on. 

The Ross Intelligence software he competed against found the same case all but instantaneously. 

Data Quality

As noted in a recent article in the American Bar Association, “today, many law firms have digital client files as the primary client file, and every law firm has at least some digital client records, including email, billing and word processing files.”

However, a recent article in the ABA Journal highlights the concern that many advanced technology projects “can be hindered by the quality of data and lack of oversight.”  Similarly, Law.com’s Erin Hichman notes that “most AI initiatives are not ‘plug & play,’ or perfectly functional right out of the box,” and that “as a result, firms need to plan effectively for the development and launch of AI platforms.”

Applications using AI certainly need quality data to function optimally. 

However, the data needed by the application may already be in a firm’s documents, email, call records, and billing data.  Especially as to law firm records that are already painstakingly maintained, corrected, and updated on a regular basis — such as billing data — the accuracy and integrity of this data will almost always already be paramount.

Moreover, AI is capable of effectively doing its own data quality control.  For example, artificial intelligence applications are often already used for detecting data anomalies, assimilating data from diverse systems, automatically capturing and updating data, predicting the future status of a transaction, and eliminating duplicative data.

The automated organization and interpretation of not just documents and court rulings, but also internal business data already maintained within law firms, will help keep firms more efficient and better informed.  In addition, by using AI for data quality control, law firms can avoid being inundated by superfluous information, and apply only what is useful. 

Conclusion

Getting a firm grasp on AI now, while it’s in its relative early days, will give a law firm the leg up when its implementation becomes the norm. 

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to maintain technological competency, including as to “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology”.  In other words, if there is technology that would make an attorney a better advocate for their client, the attorney should be versed in its application and use it efficiently. Such technologies exist in the form of artificial intelligence.

This article was first published in Evolve The Law on 8/7/2019.