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Legal Innovation

Will AI Change the Way We Work for Better or for Worse?

By Laura van Wyngaarden

Concern about artificial intelligence taking over jobs isn’t new — and it certainly isn’t unique to the legal industry. Fear and skepticism usually creep in when an innovative technology promises to change the way an industry works.

Consider ATMs, once thought to portend the end of bank tellers. In fact, the labor-saving technology created more jobs and evolved the role of the teller into a more skilled position by automating the more mundane functions of the job. Similarly, when spreadsheet software entered the scene, many in the accounting field feared it would take away their jobs. Instead, the technology raised professional standards and increased demand for services.

Across industries, we have repeatedly seen that innovative technology does not replace the unique value-add of humans. Still, the uncertainty of change can leave any profession anxious. A recent study found half of the lawyers at London’s biggest law firms believe AI and machine learning technologies will threaten their roles and lead to job cuts. It was a hot topic of discussion at last week’s Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law conference, Beyond Our Borders: A Global Legal Innovation Summit.

As I spoke with other presenters and thought leaders vested in better understanding the changing legal industry, it was clear that opinions on AI vary. However, rather than fearing for their jobs, most look forward to the competitive advantages AI may bring to the practice of law. Here’s why many industry leaders are choosing to leverage AI’s power.

AI Can Free Lawyers to Better Leverage Their Skills

No one disputes that contract review is repetitive, tedious and time-consuming. It follows that lawyers would welcome an opportunity to reduce time spent sorting documents, searching for clauses and summarizing contracts so they can better focus on the aspects of review that require more expertise and judgment. Some AI tools will do just that, automating mundane tasks so time is freed for better use. Bottom lines benefit when firms can manage costs on fixed-rate projects, focus on adding value for clients, and avoid writing off hundreds of hours on tasks that could have been accomplished more efficiently with the right tools.

“Technology allows us to do a lot more with a lot less,” says Daniel Rodriguez, dean at Northwestern’s law school. “The sky’s the limit when it comes to what it can offer. The variable is the legal culture. As educators, it’s our job to deliver lawyers who are well-versed in new technologies and wide open to the potential that AI and future technologies bring to the field.”

The Right Tools Can Enhance Speed and Accuracy of Work

In a recent challenge, AI contract review platform LawGeex outperformed a team of experienced lawyers in reviewing nondisclosure agreements by completing the review faster and with greater accuracy. This will come as no surprise to those already using contract analysis software. But this is not a case of man versus machine. It is about the potential power of combining human and technological abilities. In the case of contract review, this means lawyers leveraging machine learning tools to enhance their own review process can produce better results than they could without the technology.

“AI is an enhancement tool, rather than a replacement for lawyers,” says Nicholas Bartzen, an attorney at Levenfeld Pearlstein.

As we have seen in the world of elite chess, teams comprised of a combination of human and machine players outperform the best chess supercomputers as well as the best human grandmasters alone. I believe we will see the same hold true in law.

Change Is Inevitable

There is a distinct history of technological evolution in law. From the typewriter to the personal computer, the telex to the fax machine, various advances in technology have helped lawyers work more efficiently and better serve their clients. The fax machine, for example, allowed M&A lawyers to whittle transaction time down from three to four weeks pre-fax to one week post-fax, by allowing lawyers to better share documents and communicate with clients.

“Technology has proven time and again that it can help lawyers do better work with less,” Bartzen says. “AI is no different. Leveraging it can drive improvements in traditional processes that could otherwise hold the industry — and its players — back.”

Lawyers may sometimes be skeptical of incorporating new ways of working into their practices, but industry leaders know that embracing technology advances can provide a competitive advantage. All those I spoke to at the Northwestern conference agreed that AI will continue to evolve and alter the way we work, whether we embrace it or not.

Laura van Wyngaarden is Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Diligen, a leading intelligent contract assistant. Diligen uses AI to deliver faster, higher-quality contract review. Laura is a leading expert on legal tech and AI. She holds undergraduate and honors degrees from the University of Cape Town and a master’s from Oxford. Follow her on Twitter @laurawyngaarden and @diligensoftware.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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