Understanding AI in Legal: Benefits and Ethical Considerations

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Image of a robotic arm, holding a gavel, representing the idea of lawyer AI.
Image of a robotic arm, holding a gavel, representing the idea of lawyer AI.

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At one point or another, most professionals have worried that robots or artificial intelligence (AI) may replace their jobs in the future. Lawyers have the same fear: “Will a lawyer AI or automation system take my job?”

Throughout history, people feared technology or automation replacing their jobs. Unfortunately, in many cases, those fears came true: Technological advancements have rendered jobs and—in some cases entire industries—obsolete. The advent of the automobile industry destroyed the horse-drawn carriage industry. ATMs significantly reduced the number of bank teller jobs. 

But the good news is: No lawyer AI, supercomputer, or robot is coming to take your legal job or destroy your firm just yet. 

What is artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence or AI refers to a machine taught to perform one or more human tasks. For example, you can use your smartphone to remind yourself to call your friend Alex every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. And every Wednesday, you’ll receive that reminder notification—until you tell your smartphone to stop sending it.

You may have also heard the phrase “machine learning.” While the terms artificial intelligence and machine learning are often used interchangeably, they are different concepts. 

Machine learning vs. AI

Machine learning is a subset of AI. It refers to humans training machines to learn based on data input. As opposed to simply performing (or mimicking) a human task, machine learning looks for patterns in data to draw conclusions from it. Once the machine learns to draw one correct conclusion, it can apply those conclusions to new data. If we go back to our phone call reminder example, let’s say you didn’t set a reminder to call Alex. But, you’ve called Alex every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. for the past two months. A machine-learning smartphone would recognize this pattern, and if you don’t call Alex next Wednesday, it could automatically send you a reminder—because it learned the pattern. 

Will AI replace lawyers?

No, AI will not replace lawyers anytime soon. Practicing law effectively requires a complex set of interactions between human beings. Artificial intelligence and machine learning cannot yet mimic these human-to-human interactions. While lawyer AI can automate many tasks lawyers do, AI will not automate lawyers.

Lawyers can continue using AI as a beneficial tool to improve efficiency and reduce manual tasks. When lawyers become more efficient, they can focus more time on their clients—while increasing the time spent on billable work. 

How can lawyer AI benefit the legal industry?

A laptop computer sits open on a desk, with a small, disassembled machine sitting in front of it.

The legal industry currently uses AI in many aspects of its work. Legal AI may not be explicitly noticeable—it doesn’t show up in day-to-day activities the way it does in the movies, after all. It’s not a quick-witted robot or sultry-voiced computer. But legal AI helps lawyers and paralegals do their jobs better. Specifically, legal AI helps legal professionals transform the legal industry by putting clients first in an unprecedented way.

Here are just a few of the ways lawyers can take advantage of artificial intelligence:

E-Discovery

The simplest and most common form of AI in law is e-discovery: The process of scanning electronic information to obtain non-privileged information relevant to a case or claim. E-discovery software allows lawyers to scan documents using search terms or specific parameters such as dates or geographic location. As a result, lawyers get almost instant responses—which is significantly faster than scanning hard copies. This extra time allows lawyers to discover more relevant information. 

Legal research

Similar to e-discovery software, legal research software allows legal professionals to easily scan and search large databases of regulations, statutes, practice areas, jurisdictions, case laws and more. With legal research software, lawyers can gather data and help them understand precedents. Conducting more comprehensive research at faster speeds saves lawyers time and saves clients money. Tools that integrate with practice management software—such as Casetext and Fastcaseallow users to conduct and attach research directly to relevant case details.

Learn more about how to conduct great legal research.

Document management and automation

As law firms continue to move away from paper documents, storing electronic documents comes with many similar challenges as storing hard copies. Electronic document storage takes less physical space, but sorting and finding documents is still challenging. Document management software stores and organizes legal files, including contracts, case files, notes, emails etc., through tagging and profiling. This method of storing and organizing digital files, along with full-text search, makes them a lot easier to find. Document management solutions also enable document ID, and check-in and check-out privileges to maintain version control and security. Also, document management software can connect to other systems like Microsoft Office to easily share files with others. 

Document automation, meanwhile, lets legal professionals automatically fill form fields directly from case records into templates.

Due diligence

Conducting due diligence often requires legal professionals to review a large number of documents, such as contracts. As with other document-related challenges, AI can help legal professionals review documents more quickly. An AI-based due diligence solution can pull the specific documents required for due diligence, like documents containing a specific clause. AI due diligence software can also spot variations or changes in documents. The best part—AI can go through documents in seconds. While we recommend still having a human review the data, lawyers can benefit from drastically reducing the manual effort of document review.

Litigation analysis

Determining the viability of litigation or quantifying the value of a lawsuit requires extensive analysis of precedent-setting cases. Lawyer AI can quickly review those precedents and help lawyers draft more accurate and appropriate documents based on that data. 

Improve access to justice

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to reduce barriers to justice—most notably, the high costs of accessing legal help. Ideally, machines can save lawyers and paralegals time. By saving time on manual and routine legal work, lawyers can reduce estimates and costs for clients. For example, if research that previously took 20 hours now takes 2 to complete, lawyers can pass those savings to clients. In addition, lawyers can spend the time saved doing tedious research on assisting more clients. While the legal industry does not fully realize these benefits from using AI yet, their potential is there.

Provide a better client-centered experience

All of the above data points back to one thing: Giving lawyers and legal professionals more time. Ultimately, lawyers can have more time to spend directly with clients. Ideally, lawyers can go beyond just helping clients solve their legal challenges. With more time at hand, lawyers can get to know their clients better and truly understand how and why they need legal assistance. 

By becoming a trusted advisor who takes the time to get to know your clients and deliver an efficient and timely service, your reputation will precede you. By increasing clients’ confidence and trust in you, you’ll generate more referrals and better online reviews. This can ultimately lead to more clients and revenue for your law firm. 

Ethical considerations of lawyer AI

A dual-monitor computer workstation on a desk, with the screens showing snippets of code.

Lawyer AI is part of a complex, rapidly-evolving technology industry, with new uses and learnings almost daily. We don’t fully understand the full impact or potential use of such tools yet. And for a compliance-driven profession like law, that means a cautious approach is best.

ABA Model Rules

The American Bar Association’s first rule covers “Competence,” and an attorney’s obligation to provide “competent representation to a client.” A comment was added to the rule in 2012, noting that the ability to competently practice law includes understanding “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” 

Are the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence—particularly machine learning— understood enough for lawyers to use AI in everyday law practice? For research and database queries, we have enough evidence to answer yes. But as lawyer AI and machine learning move into the realm of predictive analysis, we must find more answers. 

Implicit bias 

One of the greatest inherent risks in artificial intelligence and machine learning is implicit bias. Humans build machines, and no matter how objective we try to be, humans are inherently biased. There is evidence that facial recognition technology, for example, has difficulty accurately identifying subjects who are female, black, and between the ages of 18-30. People blame this discrepancy on the creators and early subjects of the technology—as they were predominantly white males. Since law enforcement agencies widely use such technologies to help identify criminal suspects, the discrepancy is alarming. 

If similar biases were found in tools that lawyers use to predict the outcome of cases, it would be similarly alarming. We often consider our current legal systems biased. Since the data these systems use is from our current legal system, the danger of similar biases in our legal system’s predicted outcomes seems all too real.

Lawyer AI and legal liability

Compounding the dangers of bias are concerns about legal liability. If an AI-driven system produces a result that proves to be incorrect or otherwise biased, who is responsible: The lawyer or the tool used (and therefore the vendor of the tool used)? For example, imagine if a  prosecuting attorney uses an AI solution. But, a defending attorney does not, and the AI-powered solution helps the prosecutor win. The question becomes: Is the defending attorney liable because they did not use all of the tools available to defend their client competently? Conversely, if the lawyer AI solution fails, is the prosecuting attorney liable for using it?

We have yet to answer these questions and more. For now, these questions support the idea that lawyer AI has a long way to go before it begins replacing lawyers.

Lawyer AI tools

In the meantime, however, lawyers can use several powerful AI-driven tools to help them practice law more efficiently and become more client-centric. Here’s an overview of five key players:

Smith.ai

Smith.ai is an outsourcing platform that uses a “virtual receptionist” to answer calls for lawyers and law firms. The virtual receptionist is an actual human. However, Smith.ai uses AI with its chatbot features and when deciding how to log and route calls. Both the receptionist and chat features integrate with Clio. 

Gideon

Gideon is another AI-powered chatbot tool that learns how to answer prospect questions and qualify leads effectively. In many cases, Gideon can completely replace long, friction-heavy intake forms with a simple conversation. Gideon also integrates with Clio.

Casetext

A legal research platform, Casetext is an AI-powered tool that helps lawyers find cases quickly and easily. Also, Casetext analyzes cases to ensure they are relevant to the matter at hand. Casetext integrates with Clio. This means legal professionals can conduct searches with one click, right within Clio, and save the searches directly to the current matter.

Diligen

Diligen helps lawyers conduct due diligence by using machine learning to review contracts for specific clauses, provisions or changes, quickly outputting a convenient summary. Lawyers and legal professionals can import documents directly between Diligen and Clio.

Lawyer AI: Creating a better client-centered experience

While questions remain about the future of AI in law, the legal industry has realized significant benefits from AI. Firms with a desire to become more efficient, profitable, client-centric, and who support increased access to justice should adopt lawyer AI tools in their firms.

Categorized in: Technology

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