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Lawyers: Take a Thoughtful Approach to AI If You Want to Lead the Pack 

By Jan Van Hoecke

No matter how many exciting developments in artificial intelligence the legal industry sees in the year ahead, the hastiness of 2023 (“Every lawyer I know is talking about generative AI, so I should start using it too!”) will likely be replaced by a more thoughtful approach in 2024.

lawyers approach to AI

Lawyers who take the time to ask “What business problems am I trying to solve, and where can AI assist with those problems?” will be the ones who ultimately come out on top when it comes to adopting this new technology. 

What to Know Before Getting Started With AI

Before arriving at the “thinking things through” aspect, it’s helpful to first understand how the land lies from a technical perspective.

The good news for lawyers here is that it’s never been easier to get started with AI. First of all, you no longer need a small army of data scientists or machine learning engineers to start working with AI. Now, even a technically inclined individual with a keen sense of curiosity can create intriguing applications. At the same time, AI is increasingly being integrated into existing legal software products, empowering lawyers to explore the technology on their own.

These trends alone have significantly lowered the barrier to entry for AI. 

Additionally, the latest generative AI models can handle increasingly larger blocks of text. This is incredibly important since text is the coin of the realm in the legal world. In a short amount of time, AI models have leaped from handling 1,000 words to 16,000 words to 200,000 words — the length of a hefty novel. 

On top of all this, generative AI models are getting smarter and more refined every day. ChatGPT 4, for instance, is notably “smarter” than ChatGPT 3.5 — and ChatGPT 5 is waiting in the wings, ready to deliver even more power to users. 

Harnessing AI in Your Legal Practice 

Combined, these trends mean that it’s easy for lawyers to “get their feet wet” and experiment with AI — which is precisely why lawyers should pause and think about what they’re actually trying to accomplish, and how best to accomplish it. 

Using AI to Run Your Business

One broad area lawyers can focus on is using AI to improve “the business of doing business.” In other words, how do you run your business, and where are there opportunities to do things more efficiently?  

Several use cases come to mind here.

  • AI can assist with automating the process of filing documents and emails, freeing up time in a busy lawyer’s day.
  • Likewise, AI can automatically start tracking time and use that data to improve the narratives on invoices to clients, reducing the chance that a client rejects the invoice.  

Beyond the business aspect, lawyers can focus on the impact that AI could have on the actual legal services they’re able to provide. For instance, maybe your firm has been unable to provide M&A due diligence services because it simply wasn’t financially viable. But what if AI is able to significantly reduce the time and resources required to effectively carry out this service?  

Or, what if AI can find the “smoking guns” during the discovery process of a litigation matter in a fraction of the time it used to take and automatically generate a report listing the items in order of incrimination? Suddenly, you have an advantage that the lawyer or firm down the street doesn’t when it comes to offering this service. 

Set the Foundation If You Want to Take the Lead 

There are a few prerequisites before lawyers can get to reinventing various aspects of their business.  

For starters, AI is only as good as the information that is available for it to work with — so, you should assess the state of your firm’s information architecture. What are the best work product examples you would want AI to tap into or use as reference material? Are they stored somewhere easily accessible, like a document management system? 

Also, understand there are some scenarios where AI is “superhuman” in its capabilities and others where it is considerably less than superhuman. That’s because there is a tradeoff between the complexity of the task and the accuracy of the result. 

For example, if you ask AI to perform an extractive task on a ream of documents, such as finding specific dates and answering basic questions, it will perform with a high level of accuracy. However, asking it to come up with the best legal strategy based on that ream of documents will have a lower level of accuracy, given the complexity of the task. While there might be some innovative ideas or the seeds of a good strategy, the accuracy cannot be taken as a given and will require human involvement. 

The lesson here is to understand what AI is good at and not good at — and then to match it with the specific aspects of your business you want to improve. Take this thoughtful approach and you can position yourself to lead the pack racing to deploy AI to law practice.

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Jan Van Hoeck iManage Jan Van Hoecke

Jan Van Hoecke is Vice President of AI Services at iManage, the document management and knowledge work platform.

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