AI in Law: Transforming Legal Practice

Written by Josh Kern
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Image of a robotic arm, holding a gavel, representing the idea of lawyer AI.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a commonplace technology that helps us navigate our personal and professional lives with greater ease and convenience. Whether you realize it or not, AI impacts your day-to-day life—from the Live Chat on your favorite ecommerce site, facial recognition that unlocks your phone, or the ETA for your Uber ride. Predictive AI-driven algorithms influence everything from Amazon product recommendations (e.g., “customers who bought this item also bought”) to what you see in your Twitter feed and what Google ads appear when you search.

While still in the early adoption phase in many industries, the impact of AI can be seen across multiple business functions—from sales and marketing (e.g., chatbots), accounting, human resources (automated candidate screening) to IT systems management, building maintenance (heating and cooling systems), and manufacturing (inventory management). 

Despite the legal industry’s long-standing hesitancy to adopt new technology, AI is also beginning to make its mark on law firms. AI in law firms can deliver significant efficiency and cost-saving benefits for your practice, helping automate routine tasks such as legal research and analysis, document management, and billing. Let’s explore what AI is and how lawyer AI can help your firm thrive.

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—until you tell your smartphone to stop sending it. This automated notification is an example of how AI mimics human intelligence to perform a task. 

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. Once the machine learns to draw one correct conclusion, it can apply those conclusions to new data. 

If we consider the example of the phone call reminder, let’s say you didn’t set a weekly 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. So if you don’t call Alex next Wednesday, it could automatically send you a reminder—because it learned the pattern. 

How can lawyers use AI in law firms?

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. Artificial intelligence in law firms may not be explicitly noticeable—but it helps lawyers and paralegals do their jobs better. Specifically,  AI in law firms helps legal professionals transform their practice by putting clients first in an unprecedented way.

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

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, AI-powered legal research software allows legal professionals to quickly 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 Fastcase—enable users to conduct and attach research directly to relevant case details.

Learn more about how to conduct great legal research.

Document management and automation

While law firms continue to move away from paper documents, electronic document storage has similar challenges hard copy document storage. Electronic records take less physical space, but sorting and finding documents is still challenging. 

Using tagging and profiling functionality, AI-driven document management software stores and organizes legal files, including contracts, case files, notes, emails, etc. This method of storing and organizing digital files, along with full-text search, makes documents a lot easier to find. 

Document management solutions also enable document ID and check-in/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 helps law firms create documents using intelligent templates; legal professionals can automatically fill form fields directly from case records into the templates, saving time and effort. Legal document automation provides a centralized and efficient process for producing letters, agreements, motions, pleading, bills, invoices, and other legal documents.

Lawyers using AI technology to help with document-related due diligence

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 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. 

How can lawyer AI benefit the firm and the client?

Using AI in law firms augments the abilities of legal professionals to do their jobs. Overall, AI helps reduce the time spent on manual tasks, freeing up more time to devote to relationship-building and client-focused activities. Law firms can realize numerous benefits for both clients and the bottom line:

Increase productivity 

Using AI to automate routine manual tasks helps improve efficiency across the firm. AI-driven processes eliminate labor-intensive, time-consuming activities to boost productivity, whether searching for a contract, conducting due diligence, or creating an invoice. When lawyers become more efficient, they can focus more time on their clients—while increasing the time spent on billable work. 

Improve access to justice

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to reduce barriers to justice—most notably, the high cost of accessing legal help. By saving time on manual and routine legal work, lawyers can reduce estimates and costs for clients. For example, lawyers can pass those savings on to clients if research that previously took 20 hours now takes two to complete. 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, the potential is there.

Provide a better client-centered experience

The benefits of using artificial intelligence in law firms boils down to one main advantage: giving lawyers and legal professionals more time. With AI-driven tools creating time and labor efficiencies, lawyers can have more time to spend directly with clients to foster meaningful relationships. Ideally, lawyers can go beyond just helping clients solve their legal challenges. Lawyers can get to know their clients better and truly understand how and why they need legal assistance with more time at hand. 

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 approach can ultimately lead to more clients and revenue for your law firm. 

Ethical considerations of AI in law firms 

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 discoveries 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 equally concerning. 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 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 the defending attorney does not. If the AI-powered solution helps the prosecutor win, is the defending attorney liable because they didn’t use all 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, 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 Logo

Casetext

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

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 firms, the legal industry has realized significant benefits from AI. Firms with a desire to become more efficient, profitable, and client-centered, and who support increased access to justice, should adopt lawyer AI tools in their firms.

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