In recent decades, we’ve seen technology disrupt multiple industries. The legal industry is no exception. More and more legal tech startups have surfaced, providing contract automation, affordable legal consultation, and timekeeping services. Technology has vast potential to help lawyers be more efficient and effective at their jobs, and the law firm of the future will use technology as a competitive differentiator.
Artificial intelligence (AI), in particular, is becoming increasingly an impactful differentiator in the legal industry. AI has the power to change how legal work is carried out. It can already, for example, help lawyers ease the workload of contract review by quickly identifying and surfacing contracts in need of renewal before they expire.
A report by the University of Oxford notes that AI impacts lawyers’ work in two ways: substitution and augmentation. Substitution takes place at the level of tasks that are capable of being automated, while augmentation enters the picture through augmenting or improving lawyers’ workflow and productivity. In the legal sector, AI helps with automating (Kaur & Puri, 2021):
The latest advancements in deep learning within the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow the automation of these tasks. For instance, legal documents can now be automatically classified and labelled through NLP. Automating such tasks enables lawyers to focus on tasks that legal tech systems cannot perform. AI eliminates time-consuming work, freeing up the time lawyers have on their hands for more high value work. AI systems also help augment lawyers’ productivity, improving how lawyers work. After all, lawyers no longer need to spend a large portion of their time doing things such as organising documents.
Of course, with new technology comes new tasks and skills that need to be undertaken and learned. Therefore, the software and products offered must be easy to use and intuitive. Legal tech companies should ensure their products can be used and accessed by users without spending a lot of time learning how to use them. On the other hand, law firms are responsible for adapting to technological changes and keeping up with the latest developments.
Notwithstanding any of the above, rather than shifting to becoming a legal tech firm, the University of Oxford report also reveals that law firms are likelier to adopt AI tech to improve their internal operational efficiencies. Many law firms choose not to change their business models or hiring practices. Most prefer to partner with third-party providers who develop AI tech solutions rather than recruit legal tech professionals.
As we move forward, the domains of legal and tech will be increasingly integrated, and law firms and lawyers will constantly evolve and adopt new forms of technology. AI is not here to replace but to improve the way we work! The role of AI and tech is primarily to adhere to the needs of lawyers, supporting them with tasks that can be automated and augmented.