Not so long ago, a mention of AI was enough to make lawyers shake in their suits.
“Will lawyers be replaced by robots?” they cried,
“Is this the end of the legal profession as we know it?”
Hype and hysteria ensued.
What was once a concept popularised by science fiction had become a reality; a topic that popped up in almost all legal conferences and publications, generating panic among partners and paralegals alike. For a large portion of senior lawyers, the prospect of AI loomed in the distance like an asteroid on a collision course with their traditional model.
However, in the face of economic downturn, an ever-growing ocean of competition and a drastic shift in client demands, it has become harder for lawyers to ignore the need for change. After all, burying one’s head in the sand certainly doesn’t protect from the impact of an asteroid.
While some firms are now actively making use of AI to increase productivity and in turn, improve client satisfaction, others are still clutching to the processes and practices of a time gone by. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Law Society in 2016, a significant amount of lawyers are still waiting to see what happens with technology, leaving it to the “innovators and pioneers” to take the reigns and lead the way.
Now, as these pioneers make headway into the industry, should lawyers fear AI technology or embrace it as a means to change?
What is Legal AI?
Meet ROSS, Lisa, Cara, Kira and RAVNn. No, they aren’t characters in a new X-Men film – these are the names of the AI bots that have been assisting lawyers with monotonous, process driven work over the last five years. Increasingly, this technology is relied upon to provide legal research, data analysis and project management support.
Some of these technologies involve Natural Language Processing (NLP), a special type of software that is able to read natural language. As you may know, the law is predominantly constructed from the written word and therefore, the ability to read at a high speed makes NLP pretty useful for both lawyers and their clients.
Take CARA (Case Analysis Research Assistant) for example, a piece of software which allows you to upload contracts, briefs, research papers and obtain all the results you need to fully grasp the legal panorama of your document.
Similarly, Kira Systems is used and even trained by lawyers to analyse contracts and agreements to identify relevant clauses, allowing them to provide dramatically faster and more comprehensive advice to their clients. Alongside this technology is RAVN, legal AI software used to identify client names across regulatory bodies’ registers in Europe (amongst other applications).
Then there’s Robot Lawyer Lisa. Lisa (Legal Intelligence Support Assistant) was launched last year as a smart app aimed at helping entrepreneurs to draw up non-disclosure agreements in under seven minutes. Apparently created with ‘code-free’ AI technology, Lisa is described by it’s creator as the first impartial robot lawyer. It’s purpose is simply to facilitate a process for businesses, taking users through a 10 step process to determine the details of the NDA and ensuring the recipient understands and is satisfied with the terms.
Ross, on the other hand, is quite different. Based on the technology of IBM Watson, Ross (or ‘ROSS Intelligence to his parents) uses “cognitive computing.” That means in theory, it learns as you use it. Instead of searching through a mountain of documents, lawyers can use this technology to receive accurate answers to their legal questions. I have to admit, the thought of being asked a question by a client and turning to a machine named Ross to say “I don’t know, what do you think?” does seem a little embarrassing. However, this technology has proved highly beneficial to those using it to save time and therefore, significantly reduces costs for clients. The downside? It’s not cheap!
The Future of the Legal Profession
While this is not an extensive list but a small selection, on the whole, legal AI applications are in effect ‘tools’ used to facilitate certain processes for lawyers. Some of them may have human names, but these certainly aren’t sentient robots waiting to barge in and steal business from law firms. This isn’t iRobot or War of the Worlds: it’s a journey towards improving productivity across the industry. For early adopters, AI is simply the future of technology as the word processor was to the typewriter.
But, if you’re still paranoid about AI, rest assured that the technology is still at a very early stage of development. The tools available are useful, but certainly don’t have the capability to provide tailored and comprehensive legal advice to businesses and individuals. So far, the majority of these tools are intelligent time-savers.
However, the debate runs deeper than this.
The truth is, for those lawyers who want to provide a high quality service to their clients and focus on their needs, technology such as this is beneficial, as it significantly reduces the repetitive work.
On the other hand, those who simply wish to get paid for repetitive administrative tasks without adding value to their service, it’s a different story.
In reality, it’s likely to be these lawyers who fear the introduction of AI to law firms the most.
The legal industry is on the cusp of transformation, with automation promising a reduction to costs, a significant increase in efficiency and more time for lawyers to spend caring for their clients. So, if your goal as a lawyer is to make big bucks from the long and tedious ‘grunt work’, now may be a good time to reevaluate the service you provide.
The Rise of the Virtual Law Firm
The question of whether legal AI will replace lawyers still plagues many traditional law firms; perhaps not because of the potential developments to technology, but due to the fear of change itself. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is still prevalent across the legal industry, despite the fact that it has been slowly breaking for decades.
360 Business Law are currently looking into Legal AI, but we have already taken the steps to increase efficiencies, reduce costs for businesses and retain the high quality of service we are known for.
As a virtual law firm, we don't have to pay the costs of renting out office space: as a result, we are able to use that money to enlist the services of well-renowned, heavy-weight legal professionals across the globe to help our clients. Two birds are tackled with this stone, as we reduce the costs for our clients while delivering a legal service that’s second-to-none.
Since the beginning, we’ve adopted state of the art technology to eradicate the need for secretarial staff and paralegals, allowing our lawyers to dedicate their time to what matters the most: our clients.
So, while AI might be on the horizon, it’s merely one solution to a problem that has burdened businesses and individuals for too long: the outdated nature of the legal industry and its resistance to change.
Now, change is in the air - and 360 Business Law are proud to be leading the way.
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