The adoption of technology by law firms has always been more evolutionary than revolutionary, according to Todd Baxter, member at Dickinson Wright.
“But artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to change that,” he says.
AI is just coming into its own in terms of its use by lawyers and within the legal industry. Within the next few years, many legal experts say the business world will find itself on the cusp of a revolution in the practice of law led by the adoption of AI. Much like email changed the way we do business, AI could become an indispensable assistant to practically every lawyer.
“However bold my prediction, it probably won’t be bold enough,” says Michael Rolland, an attorney at Engelman Berger. “AI promises — or threatens, depending on your point of view— to disrupt every facet of the legal industry, without exception.”
Baxter says Dickinson Wright considers the impact of AI significant enough that the firm formed a committee of attorneys and technology professionals to investigate the best potential uses of AI, evaluate and implement new products and applications as they become available, and ensure that adaptation by users accompanies the adoption of new technologies.
“It used to be one lawyer, one secretary,” says Steven D. Pidgeon, co-managing partner of the Phoenix office for DLA Piper. “With the help of technology, it can now be four lawyers, one secretary. Technology is making the whole spectrum of legal work more efficient.”
It might also make legal work more affordable.
“It is anticipated that technology will reduce overall legal costs by streamlining the legal process,” says Benjamin Gottlieb, co-founder of MacQueen & Gottlieb. “This may result in more people seeking legal services as they will be able to accomplish more for less money, or may be able to afford legal services they otherwise could not afford.”
But Rolland says the new AI technology may already be old news.
“You want the newer news?” he asks. “I believe a burgeoning frontier is the application of AI to internal firm data to generate viable alternative fee billing arrangements on a broad scale. Legal publications have been predicting the death of the billable-hour model for years … I think the coming years will see a new generation of billing programs that can automatically capture your time and intelligently categorize it with an exponentially improved level of granularity.”
But don’t expect all law firms to jump on the tech bandwagon.
“While the addition of AI-based technologies may impact large firm practices with respect to e-discovery and trial work, it is highly unlikely to have any impact on our business,” says Robert Reder, managing partner of Blythe Grace. “I suspect the same is true with respect to most small, medium, and even some large firms.”
Reder says there are economic realities to running a law practice and it may be unrealistic to expect a small or medium-sized firm to absorb the high costs of implementing AI technology.
“Adding costs of AI technology to representation would be pointless to our clients unless we could justify the costs, which we likely could not,” he says.
Whether the legal profession embraces new technology or not, here are 10 ways technology and artificial intelligence are changing the practice of law.
“The increasing use of artificial intelligence has the potential to automate a great deal of the repetitive or form-driven tasks currently undertaken by attorneys and paraprofessionals,” says Wesley Ray, shareholder at Sacks Tierney. “Typical contracts, real estate transactions, or estate planning documents that currently require the devotion of several hours, may become capable of creation in an instant … The dramatic increase in efficiency provided by artificial intelligence will allow firms to provide clients with the current volume of legal services much more quickly and at a lower cost.”
Changes in client screening
“Artificial intelligence may eliminate much of the administrative work involved in client screening and intake,” Ray says. “It is not hard to conceive of a chatbot, or another artificial intelligence interface, that asks prospective clients for their information and a summary of their need for legal services, and then performs a conflicts search, creates an electronic file, and prepares a draft engagement letter. The automation of the client intake process could limit attorney and staff involvement to only those files in which a conflict or other complication arises.”
Directing a case
“Developments in AI already provide invaluable assistance in managing cases,” says Leon Silver, co-managing partner at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani. “While we currently rely on technology to execute these functions as we direct, there is a time coming where the technology itself will aid in the direction of the matter. In a simple case, I can imagine software that can scan and read documents, including, for example, a promissory note and a payment ledger, determine that a note is in arrears and generate a notice of default, demand letter and a complaint with little input from counsel. At a more complex level, AI could set the path for discovery, identify legal issues and search for the authority without prompting.”
“As the implementation of electronic medical records increases, so will the opportunities to use AI to mine these records to improve processes and identify potential treatment errors or opportunities,” says Susan B. Trujillo, Quarles & Brady’s Health Law Practice Group chair. “Technology is also evolving at a rapid pace in terms of telemedicine and telepharmacy services. Companies are already creating pod-like structures that contain both a telemedicine and telepharmacy component, so a patient could ‘see’ a prescriber and obtain a prescription from the automatic dispensing system without leaving the pod. Statutes and regulations seldom keep up with the pace of technology, so healthcare lawyers will need to make sure the statutory and regulatory pathways exist to allow these businesses to develop.”
“The big change to my practice will be in improving the speed and efficiency of legal services,” says Michael Mason, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig. “Attorneys will continue to play an important role in ensuring the end product is appropriate for their clients’ needs. Clients will continue to value attorneys with proven judgment and experience, and machines will continue to displace the lower-skilled legal work. Just like with past adoptions of new technology, law firms investing in innovation will be at the forefront of this ongoing transition.”
“Attorneys often need to find that all important ‘needle in haystacks’ — sifting for a conclusive insight through thousands of pages, if not more, of text from related cases and from various legal and specialty treatises,” says Marc Lamber, director at Fennemore Craig. “AI helps to reduce this amount of crushing information into a more manageable amount, shrinking down the size of the various haystacks. AI currently represents increased efficiencies.”
“We have already noticed the use of AI in certain aspects of our practice, and have adapted by embracing it and learning from it,” says Wendi Sorensen, shareholder at Burch & Cracchiolo. “We will continue to learn from the efficiencies AI brings and work increasingly smarter, adapting leaner process commensurate with AI-driven technologies. With so much more work being subject to automation, we must increasingly focus as exclusively as possible on providing work that brings the deeper level of analysis that only seasoned counsel can provide.”
“Within the next 10 years, I see law firms overwhelmingly adopting AI technologies in connection with document review, basic contract drafting, and legal research,” says Edward A. Salanga, Quarles & Brady’s National Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice Group chair. “As AI technologies become more prevalent, the challenge will be in training and developing associates since these are also tasks that for years have made up for a large part of the associates’ hours and experience. But we’ve already seen some of this work being shifted by clients to outside vendors (and offshore) and have adjusted.”
Making formal judgments?
“Over the next decade, I expect AI to be able to accurately respond to imperfect human instructions — for example: what does the Ninth Circuit say about the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements?” Mason says. “The biggest impact to law practice, however, is likely to come from AI’s capability to adjudicate legal disputes by using these same skills. This could dramatically transform the civil litigation system in the United States.”
“If artificial intelligence becomes capable of creating relatively standardized documents across an array of practice areas, it will reduce, primarily, the need for paralegals and junior associates,” Ray says.
But Gottlieb adds, “While there are certain aspects of technology that will eliminate or reduce the need for attorneys to work on their client files, technology will never fully eliminate the need for a client to hire a trial attorney to help resolve their dispute.”
Will AI become required?
“It is conceivable that artificial intelligence may be forced upon law firms by their malpractice insurers,” Ray says. “AI could be used to ensure that required provisions are included in engagement letters, to flag citations to supersede statutes and cases in briefs and memoranda, and even to capture emails containing unflattering statements. Insurers, ever in search of ways to modify behavior to reduce risk, may offer reduced rates to firms who agree to pass documents and communications through an approved AI screen before being distributed outside the firm, or even require this type of screening system as a condition of their willingness to provide coverage.”