With stories of competitions between AI and lawyers making headlines over the past few months (stories in which the robots seem to always win), one might think law firms and their clients should start hiring AI-powered “robots,” rather than human lawyers, to conduct due diligence before acquisitions, determine the risk they face in their contracts, or complete other legal work.
However, before lawyers begin updating their resumes for new careers in other industries, they should take a careful look at how law firms and legal departments are actually using AI today. What becomes clear is that these AI robots are enabling lawyers to work more efficiently, deliver more valuable insights to their clients, create entirely new services and, dare we say, enjoy their work more.
For example, AI robots can help legal professionals spend much less time on tedious manual processes, such as reviewing, classifying and extracting key clauses and other information from hundreds or even thousands of legal documents. However, these AI robots do not just “magically” complete these processes themselves. For these robots to be effective in completing these types of processes, they must first be trained by attorneys in how to correctly review the documents, classify them and extract the right information from them. This training can be completed in-house by the AI technology vendor or by (or in conjunction with) the firm’s attorneys, themselves, where they curate their own AI document review tools in the same way they curate precedents and templates. When it comes to AI robots, one size definitely does not fit all.
When properly trained and then tested, these AI robots can be used to automate these processes – and in doing so, transform how attorneys work by helping them:
Complete projects faster and at a lower cost: Once trained, AI robots are able to accelerate repetitive cognitive document review, classification and extraction processes, completing projects that used to take weeks or months in days. This allows firms to avoid pulling lawyers off other, more strategic work to complete these tasks, not outsource this work to expensive third parties, and reduce the cost of these projects for their clients.
Improve accuracy: Human error can often lead to document review, classification and extraction mistakes. In addition, different lawyers can make inconsistent review, classification and extraction decisions. Properly-trained AI robots reduce human errors, while also applying document review, classification and extraction rules consistently.
Launch new strategic projects: AI does not just improve the speed and accuracy, and reduce the costs, of projects that attorneys have in the past completed manually. It also creates new business opportunities, enabling law firms to deliver new services to clients that might have been impossible or too expensive in the past.
For example, consider a company with tens of thousands of financial contracts. A government changes a law regarding these types of contracts, requiring the company to review and, if necessary, amend these contracts by a set deadline, or else risk non-compliance and large regulatory fines. In the past, this work may have been unattractive for a law firm as it was resource-heavy, with low to no margins and return on investment. Today, however, a law firm can now offer to complete such analysis using an AI robot trained to extract key clauses from these contracts, and flag those which might be risky or have compliance issues. Attorneys can then analyze these flagged clauses and determine which contracts should be updated or revised – a project that, without an AI robot to automate the extraction and initial analysis, would have previously been uneconomical for the firm.
Using AI to Transform the Way Lawyers Work
While AI is not likely to replace lawyers, like online legal databases and eDiscovery technologies in the past, and cloud technologies today, it offers lawyers an opportunity to change the way they work – for example by helping them complete document review, classification and extraction tasks more efficiently and accurately, freeing them to spend more time on more strategic (and satisfying) work. As with other digital technologies, lawyers who embrace AI and use it to transform the way they work will be able to deliver higher value to their clients, creating greater demand for their services, not less. The real threat AI robots pose is to those lawyers who, through inertia or fear, fail to use AI to help them be more productive, smarter professionals. These lawyers shouldn’t fear being replaced by AI robots but instead, by those lawyers who are using AI to deliver services better than them.