Legal circles are abuzz with talk of artificial intelligence and its potential to transform the sector, generate market opportunities, replace lawyers with machines, or simply be the next over-egged technology that fails to deliver on its early promise and marketing hype.
The sad but honest truth is that much of the debate is ill informed – it’s very hard to discuss something if you know nothing about it. While no self-respecting legal professional would give advice on a domain without making sure they had researched the relevant legal factors, many have no such qualms about entering fact-free debates on AI’s potential impact. It’s time to deepen our learning about what’s here and what’s next.
The goal of AI is to replicate a range of functions associated with human intelligence like planning, reasoning, deduction, inference, prediction, language processing, and image recognition. At the core of the most powerful AI systems are machine-learning and deep-learning algorithms. These are effectively trained by observing humans performing specific tasks such as drafting a contract or preparing a court submission.
Once trained, the systems can be deployed and they continue to update their knowledge and rule base as new instances arise. Some argue that there are literally no bounds to what such systems could achieve, and that if AI could surpass human capabilities and become superintelligent, it may well be man’s last invention.
Our view is that superintelligence is some way off and may never happen, but a humbler form of AI is already in use across legal and other sectors and the applications will become ever more sophisticated. The tools will also get cheaper and be available over the internet using the software as a service (SaaS) model – enabling even individual practitioners to experiment by paying a monthly rental fee rather than purchasing the software outright. For example, in marketing, ReFUEL Spark lets organisations create targeted online adverts and marketing campaigns from $99.
The true opportunity with AI lies beyond just what we can do internally. In the client environment, we see industries being transformed and created through the application of AI and a range of other fantastic technological beasts such as mobile, wearable, and embedded devices, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, drones, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, and high-speed communications. These technologies are taking clients into unknown territory, where risks are often unknown, regulations have yet to be written, and insurance frameworks don’t exist.
Indeed, such innovations could help grow the global economy from $78tn to around $120tn within a decade. Further, well over half of this future GDP will come from emerging industries like driverless vehicles, or yet-to-be-launched sectors such as high-street body shops offering chemical, physical, and genetic augmentations of the human brain and body. In this rapidly changing reality, exponential rates of growth will accrue to those lawyers who invest the time to understand the nature of AI and the potential legal implications of this and other emerging technologies.
Within the legal sector right now, we see seven key areas in which a range of firms are starting to deploy AI:
- Automation of legal tasks and processes: Berwin Leighton Paisner uses AI to accelerate mass data processing, while a Linklaters application checks client names on 14 European regulatory registers;
- Decision support and outcome prediction: A Pinsent Masons AI tool reads and analyses loan agreement clauses, guides lawyers through transactions, and suggests precedents. DLA Piper deploys AI for M&A document review, extracting and analysing key contract provisions and providing rapid summaries of key aspects of the transaction;
- Creation of new offerings: Fenwick and West’s AI tool enables online document generation for startup formation. Brexit Connect from Dentons’ Nextlaw Labs provides clients with online education and impact analysis regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. LawPath’s online AI chatbot advises on privacy law and automatically generates client-specific compliance policies;
- Development of tools for in-house legal teams: Kennedys’ KLAiM online litigation platform helps clients manage entire claims processes, from serving court proceedings through to settlement. Riverview Law’s lawyer advisory app Kim helps with tasks like ordering corporate contract negotiations;
- Process design and matter management: Several firms are deploying tools to automate generation of process flows and project plans, with real-time impact assessment of process changes on timeframes, resources, and costs;
- Practice management: AI tools will increasingly help with benchmarking across practice areas for comparable tasks from document production through to completion of key matter stages and dynamic modelling of alternative billing approaches; and
- Fully automated online services: Several direct access AI applications are emerging like DoNotPay and Case Hub for class actions, allowing cases to be conducted online.
Immersing yourself in AI and other emerging technologies should highlight the marketplace opportunities they create and their potential to transform the way you do business.
Small firms have the potential to be nimble and fast moving when going after new market opportunities, and the price of the technology is falling so rapidly that they can also achieve many of the benefits that were previously the sole preserve of larger and better-funded firms.
In both cases, and for large and small firms alike, the key to success is a willingness to venture into new territory and start having some fun evolving the next iteration of your practices.
Rohit Talwar is CEO and Steve Wells is COO at Fast Future Publishing.