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Will your next lawyer be a machine?







By Adriaan Louw and Patrick Bracher
Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc.

As with any other professional, artificial intelligence (AI) has lawyers wondering how it will disrupt their profession. Unlike the lift operator, AI is not set to replace lawyers, but rather to increase performance and enhance service delivered to clients.

In two separate experiments that took place in the EU and USA, researches applied AI technology to study judgments of each region’s respective courts. The AI technology had a better accuracy rate than lawyers in predicting the outcome of the cases. While these experiments neither show that AI can replace human judgment nor can it replace lawyers, it does point to current opportunities of AI taking over rudimentary tasks of data collection and analysis. This will allow lawyers to focus on more high-level work. Future development may allow AI to move beyond only performing rudimentary work.

A fitting example of AI in action is a due diligence of a company. Junior lawyers spend hundreds of hours reviewing documents – a task that can be overtaken by AI. AI technology can review thousands of documents in a short span of time and look for patterns, common provisions and clauses in contracts which may be problematic. This will free up lawyers’ time to focus on more intellectually satisfying work, lowering costs to the client drastically, and decreasing the turnaround time which is often crucial in major merger deals.

Similarly, AI technology can be used for e-discovery of documents. This process generally requires junior lawyers to sift through thousands of documents and emails to determine those relevant for trial. AI software allowing for a predictive discovery and producing an initial batch of possibly relevant documents would again benefit both the lawyer and the client.

AI changes to the legal industry can upset a market where some firms rely on junior lawyers to generate significant amounts of profits. Efficiency is, as they say, the enemy of the billable hour. But firms who reinvent the way they work may find that AI provides opportunities not available with the use of the billable hour. After all, there are only a finite number of hours a day that a lawyer can sell.

Law firms that are proactive about incorporating AI in providing more value to clients will eventually outrun competitors who ignore it. 

Source: Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc.
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