chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Law Technology Today


How Natural Language Processing (NLP) AI Is Used in Law

Shannon Flynn


  • AI adoption in law is new, lawyers today have a wide variety of intelligent tools at their disposal.
How Natural Language Processing (NLP) AI Is Used in Law Anthony Eddy

Jump to:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way the legal sector operates. While AI adoption in law is still new, lawyers today have a wide variety of intelligent tools at their disposal. One of the most helpful of these AI applications is natural language processing (NLP).

NLP is a subset of AI that processes natural human language, either in text or voice. Some of the most familiar examples include Google’s predictive search suggestions, spell checkers and voice recognition. NLP is a promising industry, expected to be worth $27.6 billion by 2026, and it has significant implications for the legal sector.

Here’s how lawyers are using natural language processing today.

Streamlining Legal Research

One of the most popular and helpful applications of NLP in law is in legal research. Conducting thorough research is essential for all legal processes, but it’s also part of why they take so long. Settling a personal injury claim can take up to three years, which can discourage clients.

Natural language processing can help shorten these timelines by streamlining the research process. NLP-powered legal search engines can translate plain language into “legalese,” making it easier to sift through relevant documents and cases. More advanced NLP programs can search for concepts, not just specific keywords, helping lawyers find what they need faster.

NLP programs can analyze a case study or document and suggest other similar cases for lawyers to review. These recommendations can help lawyers understand precedent for an issue faster and more thoroughly.

Drafting and Analyzing Legal Documents

It’s hard to overstate the importance of word choice and syntax in law. Any vagueness in a contract or other legal document can open it up to unintended interpretations. Natural language processing can help lawyers avoid these errors while drafting documents, protecting their clients and reputation.

Some contract review programs can process documents in 20 languages, helping lawyers across the globe understand or draft contracts. Others can automatically create templates based on a given law, agreement or company policy. These technologies both save lawyers time and help them ensure accurate word choice and syntax.

Busy lawyers may miss mistakes or unintentional vagueness in a document, which can cost them later on. Double-checking everything with NLP programs helps ensure they find or say everything they need to.

Automating Routine Tasks

Legal work is notoriously intensive, so any amount of automation can be a considerable relief for lawyers. While NLP by itself is not an automation technology, it can enable automation in some areas. The most popular example of this application is chatbots.

A 2018 survey found that 59% of legal clients expect lawyers to be available outside of business hours. Chatbots can provide 24-hour support, helping these clients get the answers they need without lawyers having to work overtime. These same services could also field people’s initial questions, helping direct them to the services they need faster.

As mentioned earlier, some NLP-based automation tools can draft basic versions of contracts. Other services can organize and file documents automatically based on the language they contain. Automating these processes saves lawyers time, reducing stress and helping them assist more clients.

Predicting Rulings

One of the newest but most promising NLP applications in law is case outcome predictive analytics. Advanced NLP programs can analyze past case studies to build predictive models for a given jurisdiction. These algorithms can then predict how a court may rule, helping lawyers tailor a more effective argument.

A 2016 study created an NLP model that could predict with 79% accuracy what a court would decide in a given case. With years of additional research and technological advancement, similar services today will likely prove even more accurate. Using these models to influence a lawyer’s argument could drastically improve their chances of success.

Since these NLP programs rely on machine learning, the more lawyers use them, the more helpful they’ll become. With more cases to analyze, these predictive models will become increasingly accurate.

Natural Language Processing Helps Both Lawyers and Clients

Legal work is rarely straightforward, which can be frustrating for both lawyers and their clients. AI tools like natural language processing can help streamline and improve legal work, ensuring better outcomes for everyone involved.

The legal sector’s dependence on precise language makes it the ideal place to utilize NLP. While this concept is still in its early stages, it’s already showing tremendous potential for lawyers and their clients.