A Robot at the Bench


How artificial intelligence is changing the way law firms do business. 

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In 2017 artificial intelligence made a splash in the legal profession when JPMorgan announced its use of the AI software Contract Intelligence, which reviewed financial documents in a matter of seconds.

That same review would have taken legal aides 360,000 hours to perform.

Artificial intelligence (AI) software analyzes legal documents by selecting key words or phrases to determine a document’s relevancy to a case.

This process can accomplish in seconds what might take legal teams weeks to do.

So just how much of a legal professional’s job can be automated?

According to a report by McKinsey Consultancy, a global management consultancy firm, approximately 22% of a lawyer’s job can be accomplished by artificial intelligence, compared with 35% of a law clerk’s duties.

These numbers may cause some relief for legal professionals worried about keeping their jobs, but the technology clearly has the potential to reshape legal services forever, according to legal AI expert Matt Scherer, who is also a lawyer at Littler Mendelson.

“The biggest pain point for clients is on document requests. There might be thousands or millions of documents that could contain something relevant,” he says.

“AI assistance can be used to do a ‘first-pass’ review, meaning looking at a particular document and determining through predictive technology if it might be relevant to the case.”

Not only can these programs determine if a case is relevant, more advanced AI can assign a document a score based on its relevance.

Since law firms charge clients by the hour, customers that employ law firms with AI will get more for their money.

K&L Gates, a law firm with a branch in Oregon, employs AI technology to assist its legal professionals.

“We are continuing to look at how to AI in more of our service platforms. We have software that allows us to do our due diligence on a case instead of assigning it to ten legal professionals,” says Shiau Yen Chin-Dennis, managing partner of the firm’s Portland office.

“It seems counterintuitive for a business who bills by the hour, but for us it’s all about adding value for our clients.”

Chin-Dennis says that the predictive technology frees up employees to prepare their cases, rather than spending time reviewing thousands of legal documents.

Initially AI could lead to more competitive pricing in the legal profession, as firms are able to charge less given the increased number of cases they can support due to AI assistance.

For now Scherer says the technology isn’t cost effective for smaller law firms. Not yet, anyway. But he predicts there will come a time when not using such programs could be considered a form of malpractice.

“It’s not unlike the practice of medicine, where not using an AI system to evaluate a radiology scan could be considered medical malpractice,” he says.

“If you’re not using the technology and you’re missing important stuff, you won’t be meeting the standard of care that’s expected of a professional.”

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