It is essential for law firms to explore and adopt artificial intelligence (AI) based software tools to automate as many tasks as possible - from firm operations to the delivery of legal services to clients.
Using AI will help future-proof law firms. Unlike other fields where AI is being implemented (such as autonomous vehicles) and is facing challenges (such as car crashes), AI is ideally suited for law because the corpus of law, while ever-growing, is finite at any given point of time. And the corpus of facts relevant to the law, whether it be the entire document production in a case or the entire set of documents in a document room, is readily understood because it is based on language (as opposed to images, sounds or objects). AI can read the entire corpus of law and be trained to identify relevant legal issues or concepts from that entire corpus of law. That legally-trained AI, in turn, can generate original content from the corpus of facts relevant to the legal task at hand. Building legal search engines that have this language comprehension and generation capability informed by all known laws and the pertinent facts are very likely to disrupt the future of law firms and challenge their existing profitability models that are heavily dependent on billable hours, billing rates and attorney headcount.
For the skeptics out there, AI's impact on the legal industry is relatively nascent. One need only remember that a few decades ago document vendors typically handled copying and numbering tasks, whereas law firms handled the actual collection and production of documents. Today, document production is handled entirely by document vendors. This example helps illustrate the digital transformation of legal services that has been taking place for decades. AI will only accelerate the digital transformation of law because AI is ideally suited for working with language and language is the building block of law.
A reasonable question to ask is how AI is different from electronic legal content databases that are already being used by law firms. Most electronic databases and their software tools used by law firms use traditional software programs that rely on keyword searches to deliver outputs. These are known as deterministic software because for the same keyword search run on the same database the output is going to be the same. Traditional deterministic software tools do not have the ability to predict the most relevant content or generate original content based on the context of the search.
In contrast to deterministic software, AI has the ability to learn from what you do (e.g., the keywords that you use for your searches) and increase its accuracy over time. AI also has the ability to read, understand and generate language in a way that no human can. See, e.g., Toews, Rob. "The Biggest Opportunity in Generative AI Is Language, Not Images." Forbes, Nov. 6, 2022.
AI's ability to easily read all the text databases relevant to law makes it well-suited to perform some legal tasks very fast, thereby providing a competitive (or winning) advantage to the law firms that master its use. For example, AI could help a trial lawyer quickly review deposition transcripts based on the causes of action at issue in the case. Such a tool might help quickly vet planned witness examinations at trial and position the case for a win.
There are other examples. AI could read all agreements in the data room of a corporate transaction and provide the deal lawyers with a summary of the agreements in the context of their client and the laws and regulations affecting the client's industry - thereby providing an edge to that deal team in the transaction. AI could quickly draft an original legal section of a brief, which is extremely valuable when attorneys are time constrained. Casetext offers a feature called "Compose" that is capable of precisely this. AI could help generate daily time entries automatically by connecting with the firm's accounting, document management and IT systems, which would help attorneys enter time more specifically and accurately. Also, a legal tech start-up called Time By Ping already offers this tool.
It is reasonable to question how AI comports with legal ethics and professional responsibility, especially when a lawyer uses AI to write content in a court filing. It is the lawyer's responsibility to review and edit briefs before filing them in court - this is no different from relying on any other electronic research tool. Indeed, using AI might help meet a lawyer's professional obligations to provide competent counsel to their clients by utilizing the best available tools to serve their clients.
This article provides some exemplary ways in which the author believes AI will help lawyers win their cases, gain an edge in a transaction and save time on routine tasks. AI is ideally suited to automate legal tasks that lawyers and legal service professionals find tedious, thereby increasing job satisfaction in the legal profession. AI will have the added benefit of improving client satisfaction because of a faster and more efficient delivery of legal services. Law firms are well-advised to understand AI and implement it in a way that handles not only the challenges they face today, but also the challenges of tomorrow. Embracing AI will help law firms increase profitability by doing more legal work with fewer resources. Also, AI might just provide the competitive advantage that a firm needs to succeed in this business environment.
This article is one in a series of columns focusing on how artificial intelligence is impacting attorneys in and out of the courtroom.