This is part one of a two-part guest post on Artificial Intelligence in the legal profession by Sandeep Sacheti, who leads a Wolters Kluwer team that specializes in applying the technology in a context that serves large companies and law firms.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a concept has been part of popular science fiction for decades. But it’s 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. As the leader of a team of AI experts, I am often asked whether AI really is a good fit for the legal industry. GCs and CLOs want to know whether they are going to be left behind if their organizations don’t begin to adopt tools that incorporate this popular technology. Or worse, will lawyers be replaced by AI?
The short answer is that AI will not replace lawyers. However, lawyers who don’t 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.
What is AI?
First, let me explain a little about what we mean when we talk about AI, especially in this context. AI applies a large amount of computing power to find patterns in massive amounts of data using algorithms. It is very good at detecting patterns in large data sets, but it can’t think of a brilliant new idea or have a breakthrough insight the way that a person can. It cannot communicate the implications of a situation in an empathetic manner while staying aware of the other party’s emotional state.
AI isn’t just one thing – there are several categories of AI that work in different ways. Those that are particularly helpful in the legal industry include:
Machine Learning exposes computer programs to large data sets so they can find patterns. Feedback and repeated iterations allow the programs to learn, improve and deliver increasing accuracy. Techniques like neural networks, deep learning, clustering, and others fall in the category of machine learning.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a way for computers to break down written or spoken language into concepts and entities and to build relationships in order to analyze language like any other data type.
Robotic Process Automation provides computerized workflow and applications that can take over the mundane, repetitive – and often boring – aspects of various business processes so they require limited attention from people.
Understanding these specifics of AI will help you to appreciate why it is so well suited to supplement the work of legal professionals.
AI Is a Tool, Not a Threat
As advanced and useful as this technology is, it represents an enhancement to how attorneys will work in the future, not a replacement for them. Law is a complex discipline and, as a result, lawyers routinely perform a broad spectrum of tasks requiring a wide range of knowledge and skill. AI’s remarkable ability to perform well at limited tasks, such as identifying specific patterns, does not extend to the far-ranging skillsets that attorneys bring to their roles. The real value is in combining the efficiency of targeted AI applications with the expertise of legal professionals.
In my next post I’ll dive deeper into this topic and share some of the ways AI is helping to improve legal operations.