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self-study / Law Practice Management

May 26, 2023

The AI revolution: transforming the practice of law and why attorneys need to adapt

Kevin A. Adams

Partner and head of the firm's Franchise and Distribution practice group, Mortenson Taggart Adams LLP

Email: kadams@mortensontaggart.com

McGeorge SOL Univ of the Pacific; CA

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing diverse sectors of society, and the legal field is no exception. With its potential to conduct research, manage legal documents, predict legal outcomes, and automate repetitive tasks, AI is quickly changing the dynamics of legal practice. Young attorneys and paralegals, pricing structures, and the very core of the profession will be affected. Here's why it's essential for attorneys to embrace this paradigm shift and get on board with AI.

AI and its impact on the practice of law

AI's growing prowess in processing and interpreting vast amounts of data quickly and accurately is redefining the concept of legal practice. Through technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning, and predictive analysis, AI can sift through and analyze vast libraries of documents and legal precedents in a fraction of the time a human would require. It can also predict the likely outcomes of cases based on historical data, thus allowing law firms and their clients to strategize more efficiently.

Effect on young attorneys and paralegals

While the legal profession has traditionally been resistant to change, young attorneys and paralegals must adapt to the AI revolution or be left behind. They must shift their focus from routine tasks that can be automated by AI, such as legal research and document review, towards skills that AI can't replicate - creativity, critical thinking, empathy, and emotional intelligence. In this evolving landscape, attorneys need to hone their abilities to formulate legal strategies, negotiate, counsel clients, and advocate in court - all human-centric tasks that AI is not likely to take over anytime soon.

However, it's also important to note that AI doesn't necessarily mean job losses for young attorneys and paralegals. Rather, this new tool, if used properly, can increase the productivity and efficiency of everyone in the office. With AI handling the mundane and repetitive tasks, the young attorneys and legal staff will have more time to focus on complex legal issues, strategic planning, and client interactions to better support the senior attorneys and firm partners.

Shifts in pricing structures

There is no question that AI is poised to disrupt traditional billing methods in the legal profession. The billable hours model - the cornerstone of legal billing - is expected to be dramatically altered. AI's speed and efficiency in executing tasks could potentially reduce the number of billable hours. This shift will likely compel law firms to move towards fixed-fee or value-based pricing models, creating more transparency and predictability in legal fees for clients. It also is likely to result in the increase of rates of senior attorneys to help firms compensate for the newfound inability to scale, with junior positions phased out by AI-created efficiencies.

Moreover, AI technology has the potential to democratize legal services by lowering costs, thus making legal advice more accessible to wider audiences. This shift might also lead to increased competition, further driving innovation and efficiency in the industry.

Embracing AI

The incorporation of AI in the legal world is no longer a question of "if," but "when." As AI becomes an integral part of legal practice, it offers an exciting opportunity for the industry to redefine itself and for attorneys to reinvent their roles in a rapidly changing world.

Embracing AI is not merely about using technology; it's about cultivating a mindset of adaptability and continuous learning. As AI continues to evolve, so too should attorneys' understanding of it. This includes staying informed about the latest AI trends and innovations, acquiring new skills, and continuously re-evaluating how they can use AI to improve their practice and service to their clients.

In essence, the AI revolution in the legal field is an invitation to lawyers and paralegals to evolve, to shift from being purely legal experts to becoming tech-savvy legal service providers. Those who adapt to these changes will not only survive but thrive in this new era. As clients become more tech-savvy and expect more value for their money, law firms will be forced to adapt, and those that do quickly will have a competitive edge.

Were you fooled?

If you are still following along, everything you just read (and more) was generated by ChatGPT, version 4.0, in response to the following prompt:

Draft an article explaining how artificial intelligence is going to change the practice of law; what is the AI-evolution likely to do to the career paths of young attorneys and paralegals; how likely is AI to change attorney pricing structures; and why attorneys should get on board.

It took approximately 50 seconds for AI to analyze the above prompt, scour the web (and whatever other databases it pulls from), and generate the above article. In fact, a non-trivial portion of the article generated was not carried over into this paper due to its length and somewhat redundant and conclusory nature (showing that AI is not perfect, yet). Still, the final product generated in under a minute is quite impressive and will only get better.

The identical prompt was run through BARD - Google's answer to ChatGPT - with a different but similarly impressive result. Interestingly, BARD was more bearish than its counterpart on the future of young attorneys and paralegals in the legal profession, noting that the growth of AI would "significantly impact" these positions, likely leading "to a decrease in the demand for young attorneys and paralegals" as "[m]any of the tasks that these professionals currently perform are likely to be automated by AI." BARD's predictive contraction of jobs in the legal profession due to AI is likely inevitable, with this change coming sooner than you think.

Existing AI platforms like Lex Machina, Kira Systems, and LawGeex are already widely utilized in the legal profession, each with a different use. For instance, Lex Machina uses AI to analyze cases and statutes to find relevant case law, identify trends in the law, and predict the outcome of cases. Kira Systems is a document review platform that uses AI to identify and flag potentially relevant documents in large document sets in order to speed up the document review process and avoid important evidence from getting past human review. LawGeex is a contract review platform that uses AI to identify and flag potential risks in contracts in order to speed up the contract review process. Each of these platforms have already made the practice of law more efficient and, potentially, more economically friendly for clients.

There are also a countless number of new businesses in the legal AI space. A recent entrant to this space is Harvey.ai, a generative AI company backed by Sequoia Capital and other large investors that uses ChatGPT, version 4, and the public.law database to generate legal documents, research case law, and analyze contracts. Harvey.ai is currently in beta, but is being touted as a "one-stop-shop" for many legal services with the potential to greatly impact all facets of the way law is practiced.

Moreover, Harvy.ai is just one of many new AI platforms that are quickly being developed to help lawyers be more efficient, effective, and pushing the envelope on what AI can and will do. These changes are coming quickly.

Several prognosticators have predicted a seismic shift in the legal profession within two years' time, with both legal fees and law jobs reducing by as much as 40%. With the recent rollouts of ChatGPT, version 4, and Bard, these productions do not seem farfetched. Also, the widely known capability of AI to automate certain time-intensive legal tasks will reduce legal costs and eventually push clients to clamor for more.

Overall impact on firms

Although the evolution of AI is likely to displace a large number of junior and even mid-level attorneys, its potential impact on senior attorneys is more optimistic. After all, someone will be needed to meet with clients, interact with opposing counsel, witnesses, and the courts, and be able to try the case to a jury. None of these critical human tasks are in danger of being replaced by AI... yet.

Moreover, the workflow of senior attorneys is likely to be improved by AI. For example, the typical workflow for senior litigators involves information intake, strategizing, and then distributing assignments (e.g., tasks that require legal research and drafting) to junior attorneys to complete and return for review, further analysis, and editing. With the evolution of learning AI, senior attorneys should be able to direct the same research and writing projects to the AI platform - or to an input paralegal trained to work with the AI platform - and expect similar, if not improved results with an almost immediate turnaround time and no human error. And, as the AI continues to learn, the research and written product should improve.

Using AI to perform billable tasks will almost certainly lower client bills. This represents perhaps the biggest negative impact on law firms. Still, the reduced overhead and efficiencies created by AI should allow firms to complete more projects and largely offset the monetary loss created by the lower billable hours. However, only time will tell.

As AI continues to develop and learn, it will have a profound impact on the legal profession and the way law is currently practiced and law firms are currently run. Despite potential challenges, all lawyers would be best served by embracing AI as it is the unavoidable future and, most importantly, it should allow us to provide better and more efficient and cost-effective service to our clients.

This article was prepared with an assist by ChatGPT, version 4.0.

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