How can attorneys use AI in their practice?

Just what is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?  Almost two decades ago, Stanford University’s John McCarthy, founder of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), outlined the definition for the layman in his paper, “What is AI?.” “AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.  It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”

People interact with AI on a daily basis.  For example, speech recognition (e.g. Siri), online virtual agents through company customer service departments, and automated stock trading are all supported by AI.  The reason AI has been implemented so broadly is because its capabilities have a broad range, from operating self-driving cars to controlling Netflix’s movie recommendations.  With this technological advancement, AI has the potential to free up professionals from daily administrative tasks and helps to expedite and lower litigation costs.

The Convergence of AI and the Law

AI is becoming integral to the practice of law, especially in the context of civil discovery, with e-discovery being the most common form.  E-Discovery, which stands for “Electronic Discovery,” is the electronic process of identifying, collecting, and producing electronically stored information (ESI) in response to a request for production in a lawsuit or investigation.  Documents that can be produced through e-discovery can include emails, documents, presentations, voicemails, social media, websites, etc.  Contrast these evidentiary materials with the materials produced through regular discovery, such as depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas, and more.  Additionally, law firms are using AI to assist with legal research.  This allows them to gather more comprehensive research at a faster rate, helps with document management, and lowers the cost and time involved with litigation. All of the above benefits enable attorneys to review documents more quickly and proceed through the discovery phase faster.

Leveraging AI through litigation analytics, helps lawyers determine the viability of a particular case.  Indeed, litigation analytics can help the attorney quickly review relevant precedent and assist her in drafting more. All of the above features of AI come together to save attorneys time, increase the firm’s productivity, and create a better client experience.  In the long run, AI allows attorneys to service more clients serviced and increase the firm’s revenue.

Risk Assessment

Another exciting area in which firms are beginning to implement AI is risk assessment.  Technology Assisted Review (TAR) tools, which include predictive coding, can be used to review legal documents in real time.  TAR, thus, allows attorneys to identify potential risks earlier, advise clients more accurately about their exposure, and head off legal problems before they occur.

At this point in time, AI is limited in its ability to perform certain functions within the legal profession.  However, Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corp. in Singapore, says legal work that’s “repetitive, requiring minimal professional intervention, or based on a template will become the sole province of software.”  Attorneys don’t need to worry about their careers, yet.  According to Yuen Thio, AI can’t yet replicate advocacy, negotiate, or structure complex deals.

With monotonous work being handled by AI, attorneys now have more time and mental energy for higher-level work. This time allowance for higher-level work increases creativity and allows attorneys to do work that computers can’t yet do. It affords attorneys the opportunity to add unique value to the firm.  In turn, this increases overall work satisfaction, which again leads to more clients being serviced and more revenue for the firm.

The legal process that seems the most likely to lean on AI in the future is contract review.  Currently, contract review is known for tedious negotiations, human error, and minute mistakes that can delays in business deals. There are several companies that are developing AI systems that can analyze the entirety of both large and small contracts  using natural language processing (NLP) technology and then determine which portions of the contract are acceptable and which portions are problematic.  For now, any company that implements these emerging technologies, will require its attorneys to review the AI’s work and decide whether to implement its comments.  Soon, however, the need for human intervention will most likely be phased out.

When attorneys allow AI to take over mundane and tedious tasks, such as reviewing through thousands of pages of contracts, attorneys are free to focus on larger goals and can help broaden the attorney’s role within the company or firm by allowing them to focus on more strategic initiatives.  When a lawsuit starts, the above-mentioned TAR tools come together to help attorneys accurately assess outcomes and minimize costs and limit risks – all which protect both the clients’ and firms’ reputation.

Final Takeaways

As mentioned above, incorporating AI into legal practice will help improve client relations over time.  By allowing AI to handle all the tedious, time-consuming, low-level tasks, attorneys will have time to engage in higher-level work, converse with clients more frequently, and explore additional strategic opportunities to generate revenue.  Additionally, by taking the potential for human error out of tasks, AI will help attorneys provide better and more consistent results.  All of this leads to higher client satisfaction with respect to handling cases and leads to an overall better-quality experience at work for the professional.

The prospect of having help to carry out the administrative tasks of being an attorney, having time freed up to focus on larger strategic planning, and having more intentional meetings with clients is attractive to those in the industry.  However, for those hesitant or are wondering what all of this means for their career, Associate Professor Harry Surden at Colorado Law, a distinguished scholar in the areas of AI and law, legal automation, and more, says that while AI is likely to replace the above mentioned legal tasks – many of which involve mechanical repetition and underlying patterns – many of the things attorneys do cannot be replaced by AI.  These tasks include advising clients, general problem-solving, formulating persuasive arguments, and interpersonal activity – all of which are here to remain as the core function of an attorney.  Currently, AI is meant to assist many of the day-to-day functions.

People often fear the future and the technological change that it brings.  However, as in the past, the rise of new technology has opened the door to new jobs that didn’t exist before.  (Think: social media managers, digital marketing specialists, etc).  Here, the attorneys of tomorrow have an exciting path ahead of them that might mean new job opportunities that were once not available.  These jobs could revolve around managing the AI, analyzing the data it outputs, and even advocating for regulation against AI in the legal field.

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About Theresa DiCenzo (1 Articles)
Theresa is a third-year student at Campbell University School of Law and is the Managing Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. Originally from Charlotte, NC, Theresa attended East Carolina University and earned a Bachelor's degree in Communication and Public Relations. Theresa enjoys spending time with friends and family, practicing yoga, and running with her Aussie, Lucca. Theresa's areas of interest are crisis management as it pertains to the legal field, data privacy, and artificial intelligence regulation.