Artificial intelligence tools have become prevalent in legal practice, particularly in eDiscovery. That doesn’t mean, however, that law firms and litigation support teams have been quick to embrace them. Despite their benefits, many legal organizations have been hesitant to implement AI tools.
In the ABA 2020 Legal Tech Survey, 23% of law firms reported not being interested in AI, while 34% said they didn’t know enough about AI to speak to their firms’ interest. While the survey showed that larger firms were more likely to adopt AI tools, that leaves a lot of room for smaller firms to use AI to their advantage.
Why the AI hesitation? Among the reasons cited were concerns about consistency and accuracy. Such fears often stem from a lack of education. In fact, most lawyers already use AI daily in both their personal lives — via tools like Google and smartphone Face ID — and in their professional lives for tasks like legal research. Also, some people who were exposed to early AI tools at work had off-putting experiences. In the past 10 years, however, AI tools have progressed exponentially in terms of accuracy and consistency.
Another big reason for AI hesitation is a misinformed belief that AI tools will replace human jobs. In reality, AI likely will not replace attorneys, because practicing law requires an element of human judgment that today’s tools are nowhere near replicating. Instead, AI’s utility lies in its predictive abilities as applied to routine, repetitive tasks. Rather than replacing lawyers, AI allows them to be better at their jobs, freed up to spend more time on higher-value work while capitalizing on AI’s efficiency and accuracy on routine tasks.
The law isn’t unique in its resistance to AI. Technology leaders have had to reassure users across all sectors that AI is here to help them, not replace them. For example, at a 2018 World Economic Forum panel on AI, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed AI’s ability to increase human innovation and create new work opportunities when users are trained to use them properly and kept current on advancements.
The billable hour mindset. Hand-in-hand with the fear of being replaced by machines is the incentive in certain segments of law practice to work more hours. At most law firms, compensation and partnership decisions are still largely based on billable hours. So, when associates see hundreds of hours spent on tasks like document review being eliminated by AI tools, they’re understandably concerned. The solution to these concerns, however, lies in rethinking the billable hour, not in refusing the benefits AI brings to eDiscovery and other areas of law practice.
AI’s Current Role in Law Practice and the Benefits It Brings
AI is already being applied to many key areas of law practice. In “The Future of Law Firms (and Lawyers) in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” Anthony Davis points to these six: eDiscovery, expertise automation, legal research, document management, contract and litigation document analytics and generation, and predictive analytics.
In many areas of law practice, today’s AI tools can increase accuracy, which saves time and money. In eDiscovery, AI’s benefits are even greater:
- Predictive coding and continual active learning can be used to analyze documents and accurately categorize them according to issues, privilege and more based on the language in the documents.
- Sentiment analysis can be used to analyze the tone of that language for even further categorization. A good example of sentiment analysis is when companies monitor social media for harsh language that users employ to bad-mouth the company.
- Name normalization applies machine learning to eDiscovery to find all of an individual’s aliases, correctly coding documents regardless of how that individual is referenced, whether by name variations or emails.
Accuracy is critical in eDiscovery. AI tools bring an accuracy to review that humans cannot hope to match. In the process, lawyers receive a better foundation for making the critical judgment calls that only humans can make.
A Few Tips on Getting Started With AI Tools in eDiscovery
No matter the size of your firm, getting started with AI requires understanding your goals for adopting AI, as well as the capabilities of the tools you already have. Bring your internal teams and external AI experts together for an honest conversation. This will allow all critical parties to suggest ways processes can be improved so that your AI works the way your lawyers do on a day-to-day basis.
Once you’ve chosen your AI tools, they should start learning from your documents as soon as possible. The more time systems spend with your documents, the better they will be when you get to the heart of your case. Additionally, continually train users on updates to AI systems to make the most of their capabilities.
AI Tools Are Here to Stay
You can’t let potential hurdles to adoption prevent you from capitalizing on the benefits artificial intelligence offers. The time is now to figure out how to use them to reduce costs, minimize risks, develop better business strategies — and deliver the best legal services possible.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day for your law practice: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.