Advances in automation are empowering lawyers to cut down on labour-intensive, repetitive tasks and instead focus their skills on higher-value work. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) is making this automation much more sophisticated, from error checking to responding to human queries. Here’s how this cutting edge technology can help you and your law firm deliver better value to your clients, while improving efficiency and cutting costs.
AI developments in the legal space are making headlines – from the chatbot lawyer DoNotPay, which has helped drivers successfully contest $4 million worth of parking fines, to ROSS, an AI lawyer that assists lawyers with legal research.
There are many branches of AI developments, such as machine learning, where computers can “learn” by recognising patterns and improving how they process information, without a human having to reprogram them. Other ones that are relevant to legal work include text and image recognition and natural language processing (NLP).
NLP allows machines to understand human input better and provides more human-like answers. Because it enables processes such as content extraction, question answering and even text generation, it’s the technology that holds exciting potential for legal practices.
Many may question whether AI will eventually replace lawyers, but the reality is that while advancements in AI technology are changing the competitive landscape, it is also creating new opportunities for legal professionals.
Delivering better value
Most law firms have traditionally spent many valuable hours on routine and repetitive tasks, such as research. A recent study by IBM, for example, found that new associates spend up to 35 per cent of their time conducting legal research.
With more clients preferring alternative fee arrangements to the traditional billable hour model, firms are also pressured to make the most out of their time spent on each matter. But cutting down on research is also not an option – how can you properly advise if you can’t access and digest all the relevant information you require?
It’s easy to see how technologies like ROSS can help in this area. Built on IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology, ROSS is designed to respond to direct questions, supporting its answers with references and citations. This helps speed up the legal research process, providing more answers in a shorter time.
Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS, says it will benefit both lawyers and their clients.
“ROSS allows lawyers to do more with less, meaning output at the firm can increase without additional expense to the clients or the firm leadership,” Arruda says. “This leads to smarter human lawyers and more efficient processes, but most importantly, happy clients.”
AI technology will also help law firms improve their own information management skills. If the structure of legal knowledge can be streamlined, systems such as Watson will be better able to interpret and use legal data in future.
So how can Australian law firms use it?
AI is not prevalent in Australia yet, but firms are predicted to adopt cognitive computing technologies soon, according to Allens CIO Philip Scorgie. AI tools like ROSS would simply need access to the relevant laws and case histories to operate in a particular geography.
Even without penetration in the Australian market yet, it’s easy to anticipate the benefits of AI application in law firms of different sizes. Like other digital technologies such as the cloud, AI can be used by sole practitioners, small firms and large firms alike.
As AI becomes more adopted in larger law firms for example, junior lawyers who traditionally do the bulk of research work could be freed up to focus more on other tasks and improve their skills in higher-level areas.
For the smaller firms, it helps level the playing field, enabling smaller legal practices with fewer staff to carry out more research faster than they were previously able to. A lawyer working for a smaller firm with less resources for example, can instead “ask” a technology like ROSS to find and aggregate most of the information they need.
Robots versus humans
The idea that machines might replace professionally trained humans is a confronting one. AI experts emphasise that it won’t ever displace humans, but instead is making law more accessible and transparent, as it should be.
Arruda says that “every system we build is built with humans at its centre”.
“Right now the majority of people who need a lawyer cannot afford one,” he says. “AI systems like ROSS allow lawyers to do away with the repetitive grunt research work they have to do, allowing them to focus on advising clients. And because they use AI, they can offer more competitive rates, allowing everyone to have access to justice. This is our goal here at ROSS.”
Ultimately human analytics, judgment and execution will always be required. AI systems won’t be making final decisions. Rather, ‘robot lawyers’ will allow a more thorough trawling and analysis of available data, rapidly distilling the most comprehensive and relevant information, and better empowering a human lawyer to decide.