3 questions for …
Question 1: Your new book, “Robots in Law” is subtitled "How AI is transforming legal services”. But surely AI is just hype, reserved for the realms of game shows, poker, and law firms with deep enough pockets to be able to experiment with AI?
Goodman: No. That is not true. AI is already at work in multiple industries, including legal services – and, notwithstanding the hype about AlphaGo, AI goes way beyond games. In the legal sector, AI software combines natural language processing and machine learning to automate legal processes, introducing intelligent decision-making, and making them faster and scalable. My book covers the background to legal AI and its main applications. These include document analysis and comparison, clause comparison and extraction and document automation tools, as well as chatbots that provide direct access to legal advice. Take-up is broadening from magic circle firms which can afford to buy and develop AI software, to mid-size and smaller firms that have built tools and applications on open source platforms – meaning they do not need deep pockets; they use intelligent automation to share and scale specific expertise. The acquisition of pioneering AI vendor RAVN by mainstream document management vendor iManage will help AI hit the mainstream by making it more accessible and affordable to mid-market commercial firms.
Question 2: Based on your recent review survey of AI in law, are law firms using AI to its full potential? What do they need to do to take advantage of AI?
Goodman: I do not think that they are – yet! This is partly because it is still early days for legal AI and, with a few exceptions, despite all the lip service paid to ‘innovation’, law firms are notoriously slow to change. We do not have a general AI for law. Legal AI is narrow – meaning that each AI application does a specific task, but there is no AI application that covers entire processes – replacing a lawyer.
The main challenges for firms wishing to take advantage of existing legal AI applications is choosing the right tools to support their profile, in terms of their size, profile and the practice areas they cover, and integrating these into their existing processes and technology. There are few, if any, legal IT consultants with genuine, practical experience of integrating AI software into a law firm, although some magic circle firms have hired AI developers and integration specialists. Some software houses are helping to do this – for example, HighQ collaboration platforms integrate with several different AI products. Others are likely to follow the example of iManage, acquire an AI vendor and offer AI as part of its portfolio of products/services. Hence, we have seen the rise of the ‘legal engineer’ to fill the implementation gap between firms’ existing IT resources, including systems, applications and data, and emerging technology, including AI.
Question 3: Assuming law firms fully embrace AI, what are the challenges for the future?
Goodman: The fundamental challenges will be to the law firm operational model and to legal education and training. If law firms replace routine work with AI software, as has been said before, they will require fewer people at the bottom of the operational pyramid. In some firms, AI software will replace legal process outsourcers (LPOs); in others, it may replace junior lawyers and professional support lawyers, although it will create new roles for data analysts and legal engineers, and others dealing with the output of AI software. This new operational model with challenge the partnership hierarchy and, consequently, the way law firms are managed.
AI will also be handling the work that is currently done by trainees. This means that legal education will have to change. Law schools will have to include technology in their curricula – i.e. some are already offering modules on legal technology – what it can and cannot do and what processes can be automated, as well as how to handle and interpret the output of AI and other automated systems. Law firms will have to find new ways of training junior lawyers to replace the repetitive work they currently do. Perhaps they will need to learn how to use automated systems and work with their output. No doubt there will be more challenges around educating and training the next generation of lawyers.
Joanna Goodman is Journalist and Author. Meet her at the 7th Autumn Conference of the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession on 17 November 2017 in Hamburg.