The UK legal profession is a bastion of tradition, with centuries of history framing the way law is practiced and how the sector presents itself. However, tradition is increasingly being counterbalanced with a move towards innovation, with new technology transforming the way the sector, and the people within it, work.
In particular, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having a transformative effect on the legal industry. AI is helping to automate previously laborious tasks such as research, contract checks and transcription. In doing so, it’s freeing up legal teams to focus their time on higher value work such as advising clients, appearing in court and negotiating deals; in short, the work that attracted people to the profession in the first place, rather than the paper sifting and administration behind it.
So what is Artificial Intelligence? In a nutshell, AI refers to computer systems that are able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as speech recognition, intelligent search and translation between languages. Although AI is still in relatively early stages, it is already helping to change the way many industries work and the legal sector is increasingly recognising its potential benefits.
Far from the science fiction picture of AI often presented in Hollywood films, where robots take over from humans, AI is being recognised as a liberating force for the legal profession. Increasingly, AI software is being used within the legal industry to streamline admin-heavy, laborious or repetitive processes, empowering team members to complete tasks more quickly and focus on the work that requires human thinking, expertise and experience.
As the world’s most international market , and with 1.6 percent of the UK’s GDP generated by the legal industry, perhaps unsurprisingly the UK is leading the way in exploring the opportunities for AI. A recent CBRE study showed that 40 percent of London law firms are already using AI and a further 41 percent will start to do so in the near future. Furthermore, a Deloitte study estimated 100,000 legal roles will be automated by 2036. With this level of momentum, it’s clear that law firms need to start embracing AI capabilities to stay competitive and avoid falling behind others who choose to innovate.
One example of this type of innovation is demonstrated by a recent project that Advanced completed with two major players in the legal services market. As a software provider, we are increasingly partnering with law firms to expand the uses of digital technology. Working with Keoghs Solicitors and St John’s Buildings barristers’ chambers, we together created what we described as “the first truly automated end-to-end digital solution for insurers, solicitors and counsel using AI.” In practice, this means that AI is now being used to enable Road Traffic Accident (RTA) personal injury cases to be litigated electronically or identified as requiring a barrister without the need for human intervention, speeding up client service and reducing costs. Particularly interesting is the fact that these two organisations chose to partner to create a system that would work smoothly, or interoperate, across the solicitor-barrister process. This is an industry first and is delivering significant efficiencies – both time and cost savings – across the legal network.
However, this is only one example of how the legal sector is finding new and innovative ways to apply AI. Here are some of the other applications that are transforming the way that legal firms, Chambers and practitioners are working:
Practice and Chambers management
The emphasis on compliance across the legal industry, and a continued pressure on costs and pricing, means that AI provides an important opportunity to increase efficiency and drive down unnecessary overheads. At a basic level, software is being used by practices and chambers to automate business processes including billing and time-recording, with AI able to log the hours spent on a client or job by a lawyer or barrister and automatically generate the relevant invoices.
Taking its application one step further, AI enables teams to manage billing and diaries remotely and collaborate on cases via the Cloud (remote servers storing data and accessed via the Internet). This is particularly relevant in the case of chamber teams, who so often work remotely, and it allows solicitors and barristers to be more responsive to clients by giving them access to colleagues and information wherever and whenever they need it.
Research and analysis
AI software uses machine learning algorithms to accurately and quickly review and analyse documents for legal use, recognising and flagging relevant content for specific cases. Once a certain type of document has been recognised as relevant, AI software is able to apply this learning and recognise other documents that have similar attributes that make them similarly relevant.
Of course, in matters of law, skilled humans will likely continue to play a critical role in reviewing and validating findings and documents that may or may not be relevant. However, using AI software for the heavy lifting has several advantages. Software is faster at reading large volumes of documents and can produce outputs in formats that are easy to digest and analyse, producing data wherever needed and helping lawyers form a case strategy. This also reduces the more monotonous side of the legal profession, reducing workload and freeing up experts’ time to focus on analysis and decision making.
Basic legal document and contract creation
A large proportion of legal industry time is typically filled with routine work such as reviewing contracts to identify issues and risks for clients. AI is increasingly being used to support this work, automating the creation of basic legal documents and contracts, and performing the laborious task of checking contracts for missing terms or clauses. Often, contracts can be easily tailored by completing the relevant fields for a client, with technology removing the need for solicitors to spend time on this basic process. AI also has the advantage of being able to analyse contracts in bulk as well as on an individual basis, allowing law firms to process work faster, improving client service and increasing profit levels.
Cloud-based digital dictation automates one of the arguably more antiquated aspects of legal practice, helping practices and chambers work more efficiently and save costs while also boosting security levels, audit trails and risk management. Software is now able to provide dictation and transcription capabilities, creating an audit trail for every dictation and delivering secure backup to make sure that files are available as and when needed. AI also means that ‘virtual’ assistants can carry out tasks such as booking appointments and searching through documents through voice alone.
Applied in these ways and more, AI is helping legal practices and chambers to improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency of their work, while freeing up time to focus on more complex or client-facing work. Due diligence is a case in point. A significant aspect of any legal practice’s work, the confirmation of facts and figures and analysis of legal precedents is critical. Using AI to support this process not only increases the speed at which due diligence can be completed but also its accuracy, reducing risk of errors and ensuring quality of client service. AI also produces vital analysis and data that can be used by lawyers and barristers to inform their case strategy, giving them a clear view of previous case outcomes and their own likelihood of winning.
The examples above demonstrate how AI and software innovation is already being applied across the legal sector, often in areas we don’t realise are AI-powered. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Used to its full potential, AI has the ability to help any legal firm, from the largest players to small specialist firms, to automate routine or laborious processes, capture data and information, and instantly analyse risks and issues related to a case. AI has the potential to truly transform the legal industry and how those within it work. Lawyers, clerks and barristers can use their expertise and training where it adds most value rather than on routine, high volume work. And crucially, AI will enable the legal industry to modernise and provide a faster, better service to its clients.
Feedback from UK organisations across all sectors, including legal, shows that they are increasingly recognising this potential. Our latest Advanced Trends Survey Report 2019/2020, which gathered the views of over 1,000 senior decision makers working in UK organisations with more than 100 employees, revealed that 77 per cent would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant fewer manual processes, up from 65 per cent last year.
At a time when the UK judicial system is under more pressure than ever, with millions of cases brought to the courts each year, and each new case increasing the body of knowledge that a lawyer must get to grips with to do their job, this is a timely and critical opportunity. To compete and stay relevant, legal firms must not only accept but actively embrace this type of disruptive yet innovative technology.
By Doug Hargrove, Managing Director – Legal Advanced