by Linda Hovanec, Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to be the most disruptive class of technologies in driving digital business forward during the next ten years. Yet even among the most tech-savvy professionals, there is conflict over what it can and cannot do. The most promising aspect of applying AI in the legal profession lies in automating simple and repetitive tasks, like e-discovery or legal bill review, while enabling human experts to improve results beyond what machines or people could do alone. This combination allows for improved productivity, while driving significant time and resource savings.

AI in the Legal Department

In 2014 and 2015, a steady stream of PR revealed AI as the secret sauce behind Amazon and Netflix recommendations, Facebook’s image recognition, virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s smarter search results and more. As the coverage grew, it helped put a real value on AI technology.

AI as a concept has been part of popular science fiction for decades. But it is only in the last few years that it has become a nearly ubiquitous topic of conversation among legal industry leaders, at conferences on legal technology, and in popular legal industry publications. Legal departments are starting to see potential in AI, and some have begun to adopt it, albeit very slowly.

Because the term “artificial intelligence” typically is not well understood outside of the software industry, some legal professionals have a vague notion of it as future technology that is not yet ready for use in a legal context. Or they may think of it as a general term for using computing power and data in a way that blurs the boundary between what humans and machines can do. Even as lawyers develop a better understanding of AI’s practical uses, they are not always ready to adopt new, unfamiliar technology.

While some attorneys are understandably concerned about their job security in a legal department where AI is used, AI will not replace lawyers. However, lawyers who do not leverage the power of AI may well be replaced by those who successfully harness the benefits of these new capabilities.

Today, AI offers only narrow intelligence, which allows it to perform very specific tasks well. The general intelligence required for highly skilled professions, such as law, is far beyond the grasp of current techniques in AI. In order to be effective, AI requires people, process and technology all working together. In a legal operations environment, this means:

  • Experts who define the solution and help oversee its implementation;
  • A service model that delivers the work in a way that meets the department’s and clients’ needs; and
  • AI technology that provides information tracking, workflow and reporting to improve efficiency.