In today’s digital world, law firms are seeing increased pressure from clients to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven tools into their law practices. Simply put, clients are being more efficient with how they utilize law firms, and firms, in turn, need to become more efficient in handling client work if they hope to retain those clients.
But what exactly is AI? And perhaps more importantly, how does AI fit into the law firm model? Misconceptions about AI are rampant, due in large part to sensational portrayals on the big screen. We’ve all seen the rise-of-the-machines scenarios, but the reality of how AI operates in our daily lives is much more down-to-earth.
What is AI?
At its core, AI involves complex science that can be difficult to define. The goal is to create machines that can replicate the processes of the human brain. While AI still has a long way to go before we have robots exercising reason and judgment, aspects of AI have made their way into the mainstream through algorithms, processing, and pattern recognition that allow us to analyze massive volumes of data at speeds that far exceed what humans could ever hope to achieve.
In order to understand how AI can make your law practice more efficient, it’s crucial to understand the difference between what we can call commercial AI and institutional AI. Commercial AI has made a big splash thanks to innovations like Siri and Alexa. To most, commercial AI seems sexy and exciting.
Institutional AI, on the other hand, is much more cut and dried. It’s about leveraging data to increase efficiencies, and to aid attorney review and legal processing cycles. It’s about reviewing contracts and creating real-time business dashboards that improve your client communications. Frankly, institutional AI is not nearly as exciting as commercial AI. Nonetheless, it’s critical to increasing efficiency and effectiveness, generating revenue, and retaining clients. Most importantly, it’s something your clients expect you to understand and incorporate into your firm.
Decoding the Jargon
You’ve probably heard a lot of buzzwords floating around related to AI – words like machine learning, deep learning, or predictive outcomes. Because there hasn’t been a lot of public education in this area, the jargon can be daunting.
It’s easiest to think of AI, at least as it applies to the law firm world, as falling into two main categories: 1) legal decision-aiding tools, and 2) legal process automation. Legal decision-aiding focuses on outcomes – I’m taking on this project, what’s likely to happen and how should I handle it? Legal process automation, on the other hand, is about efficiency – how can I do things faster? At the end of the day, regardless of what words you attach to it, legal AI is about automating to either generate revenues or create efficiencies.
What AI Is Not
Reading stories about robots and self-driving cars can lead to a lot of understandable skepticism and confusion, because it’s hard to see how those things translate to legal practice. The short answer is, they don’t.
You may have visions of Alexa or Siri assembling your documents or doing your legal research, but the reality is that we’re decades away from that happening. Again, with institutional AI, we’re looking at programs that incorporate algorithms to help you analyze large amounts of data.
We’re also not going to have a scenario where machines wake up one day and replace lawyers. Regardless of how many functions you’re able to automate, in the practice of law there will always need to be a lawyer in the loop on every project or process you’re undertaking. Human beings are required to ensure that clients receive high-quality, ethical representation in each matter in which they are retained. Providing such representation requires judgment, attorney expertise, and overall quality assurance. Moreover, anything that involves human-to-human interaction, like client relationship management or high-level business development, will never be automated. Similarly, lawyers who possess the legal knowledge to do the work will always stay in the picture. The idea of AI is not to replace lawyers, but to allow those lawyers to acquire a competitive advantage by means of better decision-making tools, process automation, and lower staff leverage ratios.
So, How Can AI Help Your Firm?
We’ve talked about using AI to generate revenue and create efficiencies, but what are some ways you can do that at your own practice? The answer is to focus on the aspects of your business that are truly data-driven and incorporate algorithms into your practice management systems to create concrete business cases that can benefit from AI.
Predicting outcomes is one of AI’s biggest draws, but to fully utilize the available technology, you need to evaluate your specific practice areas and determine what it is you’re trying to predict. For example, if you’re a litigation firm, you can analyze internal data such as prior research and legal authorities, as well as external data and client data to help you determine whether it’s worthwhile to take on specific kinds of cases.
AI is also useful in helping attorneys understand documents and data across various platforms and locations. This descriptive capability can help transform transactional practices by aiding due diligence reviews and reviewing contract language to ensure that the desired contractual terms are applied, or to suggest that the attorney consider adding language based on her knowledge and experience.
Whether it’s a matter of streamlining your contract review project to use three paralegals to do what once took six, or determining which lateral attorneys will best succeed at your firm, you’re likely sitting on a wealth of data that can be analyzed to help you make those decisions. These applications of AI are not a one-size-fits-all exercise; each application needs to be tailored to your specific practice.
In the end, it’s about leveraging data to give the client the best service in the most efficient way possible. And to do that and remain competitive in today’s market, that means incorporating technology into your practice in a way that’s cost-effective.
AI is no longer a luxury for law firms, it’s a competitive necessity. The demand for such technologies is coming straight from the clients. It’s up to you to figure out how best to invest your resources to generate revenue and improve client outcomes while increasing the efficiency of delivering legal services. The technology is out there and it’s not going away. The goal is to figure out how to embrace it and make it work for you.