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19th February 2019

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – how law firms are adapting for the future

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It has taken me several hours to research and write this article. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the use of artificial intelligence techniques could have helped me to do it in far less time. All I would need to have done is to have given a theme, provided some parameters and……hey presto, an article that would have been maybe 90 or 95 per cent complete. But is this close to becoming a reality, or am I dreaming? It’s fair to say that law firms (in the UK at least) have not traditionally been perceived as being at the forefront of very much that is new or innovative. We are very rarely early adopters of new technology, and, being generally cautious and risk-averse types, we often prefer to let others in the business community take the lead when it comes to significant change or thinking too much outside of the box. With AI though, there is a feeling that that traditional approach needs to change especially as we are starting to see the benefits of what AI can bring to a legal business.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Lawyers are no different to any other businesses when it comes to the need to do our work efficiently and effectively if we are to make a profit. We are also in a crowded market place, so we need to be looking not just at how we streamline our existing legal services, but also whether we can offer new legal services to our existing or new clients. The use of AI can help us to establish, and in the future maintain, a competitive advantage.

The concept that we are having to get to grips with is ‘legal engineering’. This is where the law and our advice on legal matters come together with technology and data to produce a system or process that offers us a better way of doing what we already do or allows us to deliver a new legal service. This is about applying design thinking concepts to the way that we work or the ways in which we think we might be able to work. Capturing data and being able to use reliable data is an essential part of the design process for any legal solution.

Most lawyers need help to understand legal engineering and why it is important. That’s understandable. Most of us did not train as engineers and are not technology experts. However, what we are starting to see now are more individuals who would describe themselves as ‘legal engineers’. They are either people who start with an engineering or technology background and then become familiar with the law and legal processes, or they start out as qualified lawyers before expanding their expertise to a broader understanding of legal technologies and creative design thinking. Whichever path has been taken, these legal engineers are starting to play a key role in helping law firms to design and implement systems that use AI to introduce automation and reduce duplication of effort. The larger law firms are now actively recruiting these legal engineers as employees. Other law firms are looking to engage their services through independent service providers (of which there are quite a few in and around Cambridge).

So what are law firms doing to embrace AI and legal engineering projects? The obvious areas in which innovative use of AI can have an immediate impact are legal services which involve a high volume of transactions or a high degree of repetition. So we have seen AI solutions being introduced for residential conveyancing where the efficiency of the process is the key to increased output and profitability, in the litigation discovery process, and also for commercial property and corporate due diligence where AI is used to expedite the process of client reporting on lease terms and terms in commercial contracts. For firms that are really at the beginning of the journey, the appointment of a ‘Director of Innovation’ may be a step too far just now. However they are at least starting to think along the right lines by working with legal engineers in design workshops that are specific to practice areas within the firm, developing working prototypes for new or improved legal services and engaging in ‘hackathons’ to solve process problems and come up with legal solutions.

So I have no doubt that if law firms embrace AI technology in their business it will help them to meet operational and strategic challenges, both current and in the future, and may even lead to additional revenue streams. I do not see AI technology as a threat to us as lawyers, it will just allow us to make better use of our time and resources, which can only be a good thing for the firm and its clients.

If only I had been able to use AI technology to write this article……….or maybe I did. You decide. 

For more information on the issues covered in this article please contact Andrew Priest on 01223 461155 or click here to email Andrew.

This article was originally posted in Business Weekly on the 7th February 2019.