The rise of AI-powered tools, systems and solutions has undeniably had wide-reaching impacts across all industries. The legal sector is not an exception. Artificial intelligence has transformed and innovated the way that key processes happen, arguably streamlining time-intensive tasks and even freeing up lawyers’ time. At the same time, however, the AI boom has also sparked questions around the legal implications, the impact on the justice system, changing risk profiles, and the need to update and adapt laws and regulations to reflect a new ‘normal’. 

The UK is already home to a ballooning AI sector, with the government keen to capitalise on and encourage continued innovation in this area. And indeed, a report produced by the Law Society examining the impact of AI on the legal profession found ‘compelling reasons why [it can bring] new ways for law firms to do business, simplify how client work is researched, reduce costs and bring the expertise of the legal profession to a wider audience.’ 

The influence and impact of AI is far reaching, so it can be difficult to understand its legal significance. This article offers an introduction to AI and the legal sector, highlighting key ways that it is changing the profession and some of the key discussions around how to regulate its use. 

Quick introduction to AI

Let’s begin with a quick introduction to AI. Though ‘Artifical Intelligence’ or ‘AI’ is definitely a buzzword of the moment, you might not be entirely clear on what it actually is. 

As defined by the Government, ‘Artificial Intelligence refers to machines which learn from data how to perform tasks normally performed by humans’. A recent and probably familiar example is Chat GPT, developed by Open AI. 

Key impacts of AI on Legal Sector

The impacts of AI on the legal sector are numerous. Here’s a quick overview of how its continued uptake and implementation might change the legal services industry: 

  • Reducing costs and overheads, meaning a change in fee structures 
  • Replacing or changing the nature of some legal jobs 
  • Streamlining and innovating the way that key processes are handled 
  • Transforming the client experience 
  • Introducing new considerations around liabilities or risks to law firms 

AI and the Legal Sector

AI has already begun to influence the legal sector in a number of ways. And it’s certain to continue doing so as new tools and technologies are developed. This section offers an introduction to some of the ways that law firms are already harnessing AI: 

Contract reviews

AI tools like ThoughtRiver can speed up and streamline contract reviews. Powered by machine learning, these platforms can scan, review and highlight potential issues far quicker than a human lawyer. 

Document Processing, Classification & Analysis

AI is being harnessed across the legal sector to support and streamline document processing and classification. One use-case for example is using AI tools to help to identify and surface relevant documents for review by human lawyers. 

Public Legal Education 

Legal AI has also been leveraged for educational purposes. As highlighted in the Law Society review, LawBot by University of Cambridge helps regular people to navigate legal problems and jargon. 

Predicting Case Outcomes

Another interesting use of AI is in predicting potential case outcomes. AI tools can help lawyers familiarise themselves with how successful a certain type of claim usually is. It does this by examining court judgement databases. 

Legal Research 

AI can also play a key role in legal research. In fact, some AI-powered tools like Westlaw Edge are already well-established cornerstones of legal research. Westlaw Edge harnesses AI to offer predictive research suggestions, actionable strategy insights, and AI generated reports that highlight potential knowledge-gaps. 

Legal Regulation

As we mentioned, the rise of AI has also sparked discussions around what regulation of AI should look like. The government is also considering how to update and create new frameworks to govern the management and use of these tools. 

In March 2022, the House of Lords published a report on AI technology and the justice system. This report found that AI could have a positive impact on efficiency, productivity and problem solving in the justice systems. However, it also identified a lack of minimum standards, transparency, evaluation and training in AI technologies which could lead to compromises in public human rights and civil liberties. It’s important to note, however, that the government did not agree with all their findings. 

In July 2022, the UK Government released an ‘AI rulebook’ that outlined proposals on how AI will be regulated. Their key priorities are to preserve the public’s trust in these new tools whilst still supporting a healthy amount of innovation. The Government highlighted that the current legislative and regulatory landscape consists of inconsistencies and varying approaches. This means that navigating whether existing laws apply to AI or not is currently rather difficult for organisations and smaller businesses. 

The rulebook announced that the UK will take a ‘less centralised approach than the EU’ when it comes to AI regulation. Whereas the EU’s AI Act creates a dedicated centralised AI regulatory body, the UK will empower different regulators to take context-specific approaches to the use of AI in a range of settings. 

The future of the legal sector? 

Artifical Intelligence will likely play an integral role in shaping the legal sector moving forward. It will also usher in new legislation and regulations surrounding its use and implementation across the board. As new tools and innovations emerge, new questions will also continue to arise around new risks, liabilities, and how AI will interact with civil rights, for example. In many ways, however, we are still at the very beginning of the artificial intelligence era. As a result, it’s difficult to predict how AI will continue to influence our lives and key industries. 

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