Posted by Christina Wojcik, Vice President Legal Services at Legal Futures Associate Seal Software
There is no shortage of thought leadership on the topic of legal artificial intelligence (AI), whether in terms of defining the market segment, (re)educating audiences on what is possible with rapidly evolving technologies, and even the occasional ‘me-too’ displays of enthusiasm over new technologies and start-ups.
We also find true thought leadership from legal tech visionaries, who describe the future of the legal industry and outline how legal roles are changing.
What is clear is that tech companies are figuring out how to automate many day-to-day tasks using machine learning and AI.
The legal profession has broadly accepted that AI will replace some low-level repetitive tasks, such as document review, and that it is here to stay.
Whether it is AI-driven contract discovery, review or practice management, today’s cutting-edge software is utilising advances in machine learning to solve problems, save time and eventuate dramatic change in the legal field.
However, it’s also that clear that any successful AI implementation is a mix of technology, people and processes. So, it’s good to know AI won’t replace lawyers. It’ll just make them more efficient.
While many lawyers tend to focus on AI as a threat – whether a robot can do my job better, faster and cheaper – the other approach is to figure out how AI can give your business and clients an edge.
Moreover, it demands that we ask how AI ‘all of a sudden’ become commercially viable and how much improvement it actually offers.
Peter Saunders, lead partner for professional practices at Deloitte, admits that some jobs in the legal sector will be replaced with automated machines and algorithms: “Advances in technology mean that an ever greater number of traditional, routine tasks within the legal sector can be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms.”
He says this reflects the changing nature of legal work. To handle the large volumes of contract information and data, law firms are now looking to advanced analytics. Many are already using virtual assistants, robotics and algorithms to automate repetitive tasks.
There are new jobs being produced by this change, ones that design, implement, and manage new disruptive technologies, and those are highly skilled and better compensated than the ones being lost.
While AI applications in business and the legal industry remain fairly limited to narrow machine learning tasks, we are seeing progressive improvements in the convergence of algorithms and hardware that will have significant implications for how well and how fast we can implement AI in the legal space.
The training of deep neural networks is now possible within a few hours or days, opening up an amazing range of possibilities, products, things to learn – as well as challenges – that we simply could not have considered before.
Issues where AI could potentially disrupt the current state of play are now wide ranging. Will artificial intelligence help to resolve the coming backlash over ownership and the control of data? When combined with blockchain and distributed ledgers, can AI power deep learning and intelligent contracts on steroids? Will stunning breakthroughs result from the use of natural language generation and understanding to auto-teach AI learning systems?
These concepts bring to mind what is being referred to as ‘New Law’. This term is in opposition to ‘Big Law’, which describes large staffs, highly paid lawyers, heavy expenses, and lots of billed hours.
New Law challenges this with significant disruption, using technology such as contract discovery and analytics, virtual teams, contract resources, alternative fee arrangements, and other major changes to cut costs and provide higher levels of client satisfaction.
What this all points to is a sea change in the legal profession, for both legal firms and legal ops teams. We see this every day as the effort, time and cost of manually finding, extracting and managing contract data on an ongoing basis, and reporting on that data, is being recognised as unfeasible and impractical.
It makes perfect sense to automate manual processes in these time-consuming, costly and error-prone functions. Besides the speed and efficiency of automation, there is a direct impact on customer satisfaction as well.
Clearly, there will always be a need for skilled lawyers, with the training skills and experience to provide high-value legal guidance and advice for decision making. But for the lower-value and administrative processes within the legal profession, such as contract discovery and analysis, the robots are coming.
The sea change is happening now, and momentum will continue to build. The robots come in peace, but those legal professionals who understand the changes will prepare for them and take a proactive approach to the disruption.
Big Law needs to adapt to technology innovations. From the City to the high street, the challenges of regulation, M&A and the constant, growing pressure to do more with less has always required sifting through reams of contracts.
As such, the role that contracts play in realising business value, and how lawtech, such as automation and machine learning for contract discovery and analysis, while disruptive to Big Law as we know it, is an opportunity for lawyers.
Perhaps the most prescient debates in legal AI is around the issue of who (or what) might be best placed to deliver the insight and analysis that in-house legal counsel demands, and any solution’s ability to execute at the required scale. Giving in-house legal teams more time to add value in the negotiation process, for example, remains as indispensable as it elusive.
Where once there was the expectation that AI would change the role of legal – diminishing junior roles in the wake of efficiency, putting pressure on law firms to be more transparent on rates and hours spent by a client, empowering non-legal professionals to conduct contract reviews – the real change is one which impacts the whole organisation.
The change in the remit, enabled by technology, brings the legal team closer to other departments within the organisation, such as sales and procurement, in a way which endures beyond the transactional activity, and extends to unearthing hidden revenue opportunities in the contracts.
By getting their arms around contract data within the business, the legal and contracts team can actually lead the way toward significant change in how an organisation thinks about and treats contract data in terms of transforming bottom lines.
Or, to paraphrase a famous American lawyer, ask not what you can do for your contracts, but what your contracts can do for you.