How Does AI Help Law Firms?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is driving an enormous shift in white-collar professions. While some have responded with fear that machines will “take their jobs,” others look for the potential in these new tools.
For lawyers in all practice areas, AI has the potential to minimize time spent on repetitive tasks, letting lawyers spend more time working at the top of their licenses.
What Is AI?
AI is a type of technology that can mimic human thinking and reasoning. Most business-based AI depends on machine learning, which allows a computer to “teach” itself without explicit programming.
Traditional programming gives a computer step-by-step instructions on what to do. The computer only does what the program requests — no more, no less. Machine learning breaks this limitation by “training” computers to identify patterns in data.
Computer scientists create machine learning programs by feeding the machine large volumes of data. The more AI learns, the more accurately it performs. Today’s AI can handle a wide variety of tasks, like:
- Data analysis
- Forecasting and predictions
- Marketing content development
- Chatbot interactions
Google has called AI “the backbone of innovation in modern computing.” It’s already proven capable of tasks people once believed were impossible to automate, from customer service to in-depth research. And nearly every industry, including law, has begun to incorporate it for everyday tasks.
How Can Lawyers Use AI?
AI can’t replace a human attorney. It can’t exercise judgment or apply a conscience. To quote a recent article in the American Bar Association’s Business Law Today, “One cannot cross-examine a deep learning artificial neural network.”
Most importantly, AI is helpless against the biases in its training data. AI cannot question or challenge its training — at least, not yet. It takes human experts to command AI and use it where it’s most applicable.
Yet, in the right hands, AI can improve the way attorneys work. Here are a few of the most popular and highest-potential applications.
Marketing Content Development
The rise of Chat GPT has brought mainstream attention to AI’s use in content writing.
Chat GPT can generate a complete draft of an article or blog post, though professionals warn that these drafts need human attention before publication. A computer can’t access your experiences or speak in your voice, but it can:
- Help with content ideation by generating concepts for blog posts, articles, and more
- Generate multiple options for headlines, titles, and meta descriptions
- Suggest ideas for newsletters
- Produce article outlines for contracted or in-house writers
- Draft captions for social media shares
When used well and interpreted with human insight, AI can help attorneys expand their content strategies and produce more valuable marketing materials.
Another application of Chat GPT technology is the humble chatbot. If you don’t have chatbot technology on your website yet, the advancements in AI-powered bots might change your mind.
A chatbot is a program that uses AI technologies to respond to consumer questions online. The chatbot’s machine learning algorithm teaches it to understand introductory questions like “How much do you charge?” and “How much can I get for my injury?”.
Most chatbots return one of two types of responses — a direct answer to the question or a link to further information. For example, if someone visited your website to inquire about your rates, your chatbot might direct the person to an FAQ page where you explain how to get a quote.
Chatbot technology saves you time and can help you attract appropriate clients. If someone visits your website with a family law question and you practice estate law exclusively, your chatbot can screen them out with no effort or time on your part.
Chatbots also help you establish a positive first impression. No lawyer can be available 24/7 to answer client questions, but chatbots can. For example, if someone visits your website at 3 am, desperate and in need of legal help, your chatbot can answer their initial questions and even prompt them to leave you a message. While you sleep, your chatbot helped them think of you as being there for them.
This is another increasingly widespread application of AI in the law profession. Any lawyer who works with contracts understands the time-consuming process of going through those contracts, evaluating terms, and looking for potential risks. The process can take hours and often feels monotonous to a skilled professional with an advanced degree.
Contract review is the ideal candidate for AI automation, primarily because of its repetitive nature. Machine learning algorithms can teach AI to recognize risky or unfair terms and flag those terms for lawyer review. Instead of reading through multiple lines of text, the lawyer can focus on the problematic areas and spend their time developing alternatives.
One impressive example of AI contract review is the automation tool Lawgeex. The brainchild of a corporate attorney and an AI professional, Lawgeex reads and redlines pre-negotiation contracts so lawyers can focus on more complex tasks. By improving the speed and accuracy of contract review, Lawgeex helps law firms to accelerate approval.
AI’s high-level document review capabilities are also valuable to the discovery process. Traditionally, this process has involved hours spent wading through piles of documents, many of which would prove irrelevant.
AI can quickly perform this frustratingly manual task, often yielding better results than a human attorney. Instead of reading each document, it scans the batch looking for indications that an item is relevant and crucial. Machine learning algorithms allow the AI to:
- Find the most critical items in large document batches
- Prioritize relevant documents based on a firm’s existing notes
- Locate types of documents using multiple reference points or tags
- Cluster and organize similar documents
According to the law practice technology group DISCO, AI can reduce document population size by half. And because it learns a firm’s unique workflow, it can continue to improve the organizational process.
There are four imperatives of legal research — speed, accuracy, completeness, and reliability. Because human readers can process a limited amount of text in a given time frame, firms typically have to compromise on more than one of these factors. If an associate needs to complete their research quickly, they may rely on the first sources they find. Meanwhile, another attorney might dig for the most in-depth information on a particular case type, only to spend more time than they can afford to allocate.
Even with digital databases, humans are limited by the clock and their capacity to process. Computers can process information much faster than humans, but without AI, they can’t evaluate or sort that information.
Compared to a human associate with a digital database, an AI tool can find more relevant information within a larger data pool. This improvement translates to more precedents and stronger arguments.
A strong AI research program has the processing capacity of a computer and machine learning algorithms that humans have designed. The more skilled and experienced those human designers, the better those legal research programs will be.
Westlaw Edge is an ideal example. It’s an AI-powered version of the classic Westlaw, a leading online research tool by Thomson Reuters. Westlaw Edge uses the same databases that Thomson Reuters experts have been curating for years.
AI capabilities make this thorough database more accessible and valuable to attorneys. It prioritizes results based on relevance and can even highlight information its algorithms surface as important.
When an attorney can predict a case’s outcome accurately and confidently, they earn clients’ trust and command higher fees. For instance, if an attorney determines that a specific client is likely to win based on previous similar cases and the tendencies of the assigned judge, they would likely encourage the client to go to trial rather than settle. They use related data to argue for damages and secure an award higher than the client would have received in a settlement. That client will be happier and more likely to recommend that attorney.
And because so many factors are in play, this process is complex for even the most experienced attorneys. AI provides an unbiased data-centric approach that may provide more accurate results.
Detail is essential in legal forecasting, and today’s AI tools can handle more detail than ever. Law firms can use these tools to identify patterns such as:
- How the court ruled on specific issues and remedies
- What level of damages a court awarded and to whom
- Frequency of case resolution type, including the stage at which
- Specific cases with similarities to a current case
- Case outcomes of different judges and opposing counsels
Again, the main caveat is the potential for error or omission. Before committing to an AI-based forecasting tool, firms must ensure that qualified attorneys are behind the tool’s algorithm design.
Getting Started With AI: First Steps
From chatbot technology to research and discovery, AI can take any law firm to the next level. The first step is to examine your workflows and determine where you would most benefit from AI-powered automation. For example:
- If you need to fast-track your marketing, consider AI support for your content production.
- If you lose time in the research phase, try a tool like Westlaw Edge.
- If you’re in business law and your junior associates spend too many hours in contract review, consider automating that step.
There’s no need to try it all at once. Work with one tool, then add more when you’re ready. AI will grow with you, and eventually, you’ll wonder how you ever practiced without it.