Artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be the new buzzword in technology today; it’s everywhere, and everyone seems to be talking about it. It’s time for lawyers, and especially law firm managers, to start paying attention or risk being left behind. An ALM report from earlier this year predicts that law firms will need AI across the board to “stay in the game.”
AI will affect how firms provide legal services, run their practices and collaborate with clients in the future, and that future may not be all that far away. Many states are already requiring technology training requirements and CLE. But firms shouldn’t wait until this training is required before jumping in.
And, of course, there’s the oft-quoted Comment to ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 and similar changes to state rules of professional conduct that quickly followed, stating that part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence is keeping abreast of changes in the law, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.
What is AI, and How Is It Being Used?
The simplest definition of AI is computers performing tasks that were previously thought only capable of being performed by human beings or requiring human intelligence. AI also encompasses machine learning in which machines use rules to analyze data, identify and recognize patterns, and make predictions.
Despite fears to the contrary, using AI doesn’t mean humans aren’t needed; often there is some human interaction required to set the rules and parameters or to help the machines learn, particularly in the early stages of development of an AI application.
AI is already being used in legal practices both large and small, and its use is likely to increase drastically over the next several years. It is most often applied in legal services or situations requiring identification or search of large amounts of data, which computers can perform much faster than humans. AI is also ideal for performing mundane or repetitive tasks or tasks based on templates.
Some examples of ways AI is already being applied to legal services include using trial, decision and jury verdict data for early case evaluation and settlement or to predict legal outcomes; drafting responses; identifying and locating relevant documents for e-discovery; developing litigation strategy; responding to requests for proposals; online dispute resolution; and even judicial decision making and sentencing.
AI presents opportunities for creative lawyers who take advantage of this technology to develop new ways to run their firms, serve clients, provide legal services to formerly underserved populations, or provide additional or even passive revenue streams for their firms.
Preparing for AI
While opportunities abound, many law firms are not prepared to take advantage of them or to embrace AI. But even law firms that are not yet ready to implement AI in their firms or that cannot currently bear the cost of AI implementation can take steps to prepare themselves so that they can be ready when the technology becomes more widespread and more affordable.
First, the traditional backward-looking, precedent-based law firm model will need to change. Lawyers will have to stop asking what other firms have done and start asking more forward-looking questions. Management must evaluate the costs and risks against the potential benefits of AI—including the risk of not implementing it. They need to accept AI and other new technologies as an inevitable and integral part of the practice of law and take the lead in establishing and nurturing a culture that embraces rather than fights against them.
Law firm managers must commit to devoting resources to educating themselves, their lawyers and the rest of their firms about AI and other emerging technologies and their application to the practice of law. This education and training should be a priority for new hires as well as existing firm employees—and it shouldn’t be limited to lawyers or the IT department. To keep up, this education and training will have to be ongoing and should be considered a permanent part of the law firm’s budget.
Developing and implementing AI will likely require an investment of time as well as money for testing, tweaking and retesting. Technology and AI “champions,” whether a chief technology officer, the firm’s executive team or a group consisting of representatives from each population within the firm, can help get buy-in from decision makers and users alike. This team can also help decide where AI can have the most impact on the firm and its clients, consider how the firm can use AI to create a competitive advantage and to better serve clients, and evaluate potential AI solutions and the costs involved in implementation.
Some questions that might be considered during the development process include:
- What problem is the firm trying to solve?
- What are our clients’ pain points, and how can the firm address them better or more efficiently using AI?
- What are the desired outcomes: increased speed or efficiency? a better work product? more accurate predictions? a reduction in overhead?
The experience and success of any AI initiatives will depend on the quality, reliability and accessibility of data. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” still applies. Firms will need to ensure not only that their data is accurate, but that it is collected and stored consistently. Cybersecurity measures and enforcement of data protection policies will be crucial.
To prepare for AI implementation, firms will need to explore what data is available, either within the firm (records of deals and outcomes, financial documents, client data) or outside of the firm (reported decisions, jury verdicts) that can be applied to the problem. How can the firm use the historical data already available? What additional data needs to be collected?
What rules or parameters need to be developed to analyze that data? Are there already processes and procedures in place to collect and analyze this data, or will those processes need to be developed before AI can be implemented? Is the firm already using templates for repetitive work? If not, what templates need to be created? Firms that do not already have these in place will fall behind quickly when AI becomes more affordable and widespread.
AI will have an impact on all aspects of the legal profession, from the manner in which legal services are delivered to the kinds of services that will be available and how firms will operate internally. Law firms need to begin thinking about how they will integrate this new technology into their management plan, considering where the firm is now, where it is headed and how it will get there. Who will make decisions about AI and how to implement it? Should AI be developed by the firm internally or through vendors, and how will this decision impact quality, consistency and cost? How will AI change the management structure of the firm or its billing and compensation systems? What legal training will be needed for the future? What skills will be important for future hires?
It’s time to embrace a legal profession that includes AI. What exciting innovations or opportunities will result? Only time will tell.