By Legal Futures Associate SearchFlow 
An SRA commissioned study into the legal sector and innovation revealed that a significant majority of surveyed law firms use technology in general to deliver legal services. However, only 37% use technology designed specifically for legal professionals , such as:
- automated documents
- interactive websites
- artificial intelligence
A further 24% planned to do so in the future.
More than half of firms said Covid-19 had been the catalyst for this increase, specifically with those technologies that helped them process work or interact with clients. 90% felt these changes would be permanent.
Younger firms, those with less traditional business models and those with large volumes of corporate clients were the most likely to embrace new technology.
How are legal firms already using AI?
AI is a tool that helps gather, organise and process information. One subset of AI, very relevant to legal professionals is Natural Language Processing (NLP). There are many others and it’s important to understand the benefits of adoption versus the complexity and maturity of each branch of AI.
IBM defines NLP as  “… the branch of artificial intelligence or AI—concerned with giving computers the ability to understand text and spoken words in much the same way human beings can.”
NLP is already being used across the legal profession. For example:
Information sieve and extraction
- Key terms from contracts
- Title abstraction
- Classifying legal documents
- Identifying legislative amendments
- Linking legal terms to relevant definitions
- Legal texts
- Case and judgement
By automating these tasks, lawyers are freed from the more mundane aspects of the job, allowing them to focus their energy on providing the analysis and advice for those important decisions that represent delivering exceptional client services.
Does it cost too much to innovate?
For both firms who were adopting new technologies and those considered “non-adopters”, the major barrier to innovating is the risk of failure and the fear of excessive cost.
58% of adopters and 51% of non-adopters cite a ‘lack of financial capital to invest in technology’.
This is an understandable concern but the important thing about modern technology is that it should deliver operational cost savings and business performance benefits, the best solutions are those that clearly deliver value faster than they consume cash.
The cost of investing in AI or NLP is sometimes significant if you have a large environment. It’s important to balance the initial outlay with the suitability of the solution to deliver benefits and then scale up as the case is proven and new capability expands the benefits. The speed at which automation is evolving implies constant development and technology spend. The risk of investing in a type of AI that is a dead-end is real. Which means integrated solutions that minimise business integration costs and maximise workflow as they activate new features with minimal impact are the main design objective.
But the cost of failing to incorporate AI into your workflow is probably far greater than not. The efficiency gains to be made in terms of time and the deployment of human resources will favour those who innovate to differentiate themselves in this fiercely competitive industry. Failure to shift to new operating standards can impair competitiveness.
In addition, of those firms who were considered adopters of technology, 50% said a ‘lack of staff expertise to assess and implement technology’ was a major barrier.
To help you gain an understanding of NLP and its applications for legal professionals, we have created some introductory resources.
Two key resources to get you up to speed
Take a few minutes to read the guide to:
- understand the power of NLP for property professionals
- identify areas where it will streamline your workflow
- see how NLP will reduce errors and duplication of work
- pinpoint the potential to increase revenue
For those who want a deeper dive into NLP, you can watch our on-demand webinar.
Adam Groom and Dr Thomas Quirke take you through the basics of NLP, discussing:
- What Natural language processing is
- How NLP fits into the AI universe
- Current uses for NLP in legal services
AI cannot replace legal professionals but will help them provide a better service. AI is a tool that works in the background. Lawyers will be firmly at the fore, solving problems, interacting with clients and making key decisions.
By embracing AI and NLP, you can:
- Spend your time with clients providing superior legal counsel
- Leave the mundane and error-prone side of your job to technology
Start this journey now by downloading your copy  of SearchFlow’s Natural Language Processing Guide.