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AI in the law firm







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

AI is your new document drafter

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to change the way in which lawyers do their work. Apart from affecting areas like legal research and analysis, AI in the law firm has led to an increased focus on document automation.

Large transactions often require an entire suite of legal documents, all of which take time to draft and can ultimately delay the implementation of a transaction.

While basic forms have long been generated by way of basic information submitted by users, document automation now extends to a complex suite of legal documents.

Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa itself has embarked on an automation train where transactional legal documents, court papers, and other precedents can be generated by a user completing a questionnaire. The result is a first draft for the lawyers to consider and edit.

The accuracy of these first drafts has increased dramatically in recent years and will continue to do so as computing power and the interconnectedness of data continues to develop.

Document automation will ultimately save time and costs for clients, allowing the attorneys to focus on more intricate tasks. Document automation is, however, more effective with high-volume, low-complexity documents as there are few efficiency gains where a user is required to complete a detailed 20 page questionnaire to generate a single, complex document. In these cases, it may still be better for the lawyer to draft the document from an existing precedent with old-fashioned drafting notes.

AI is your new law librarian

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has long been eulogised and feared by the legal community. Augurs say that it will bring about efficiency and possibly bring an end to its antithesis – the billable hour. Unlike the once-common lift operator, AI is not set to replace lawyers any time soon, but it will, without a doubt, not leave law firms untouched. If embraced, AI can be a critically important tool which empowers lawyers to work more effectively, deepen and broaden areas of expertise, and provide increased value to clients.

One of the ground-breaking ways in which AI is set to change the way in which lawyers do their work relates to legal research.

Legal research is an essential aspect of legal work. It is, however, a task that takes up a lot of time, especially considering the exponential increase in information available over the past few years. In the business of selling hours, there are limited hours in a day and a person can no longer do a comprehensive study in the time that AI is able to conduct research.

AI legal research tools have shifted from keyword-based search techniques to an approach using semantic analysis. This allows for results to be provided even where it does not include the specific keyword searched for.

LexisNexis, a trusted legal research platform, has developed Lexis Answers. Lexis Answers allows a researcher to ask a natural-language question and get back the single-best answer, together with references to sources.

In a time where information is freely available to anyone with access to the internet, clients still approach lawyers to conduct their legal research. This shows that legal research requires more than the mere sourcing of information, but also an added layer of judgment, contextualisation and assurance. AI research tools therefore cannot in its current form fully replace lawyers in their legal research. However, finding more accurate answers in less time ultimately results in higher quality services to clients at lower costs. And there is no reason to suppose that AI will not in time replace what we think of as human judgment.

Predictive analytics

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is a critically important tool which empowers lawyers to work more effectively, and provide increased value to clients. One of the ways that lawyers and their clients can benefit from AI is through the use of predictive analytics.

AI is better suited than its human counterparts to analyse and predict outcomes using massive amounts of data from the facts of case law, research, briefs, and other legal documents.

LexisNexis owns a legal product, Lex Machina, which is now widely used in the US. Lex Machina offers predictive services based on a collection and analysis of historical data from past case law, trends in judges’ rulings, legal strategies of opposing counsel, and winning arguments.

Similarly, a group of students from the University of Cambridge founded an AI start-up that builds systems that predict legal decisions. These systems were recently pitted against more than 100 partners and associates from major corporate law firms in London. Both the lawyers and the AI were given a set of facts regarding payment protection insurance mis-selling cases and asked to predict whether the UK Financial Ombudsman would allow a claim. The AI software predicted the outcome with almost 87% accuracy, while the lawyers were correct only 62% of the time.

Similar research conducted showed the success of AI and algorithms to predict the outcome of US Supreme Court decisions and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights more accurately than its lawyer counterparts.

Predictive analytics holds a variety of benefits for attorneys and their clients:

  • Firstly, it allows lawyers to better assess the matter outcome.
  • Secondly, a more transparent result allows for more transparent settlements and less litigation.
  • Thirdly, the burden on the courts will be lightened, allowing the courts to hear and determine matters within a shorter timeframe, while judicial opinions are said to improve with fewer frivolous cases brought to court.

Investigations and compliance

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in legal investigations and compliance is one of the most ground breaking ways in which AI is set to change the way in which lawyers do their work.

AI is your new detective

A fitting example of AI in legal investigation action is a due diligence of a company. Junior lawyers spend hundreds of hours reviewing documents – a task that can be undertaken in minutes 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.

While AI technology can provide significant benefits to those who embrace it, its users should be mindful of its shortcomings. Effective review of work done by AI is required due to risks of algorithm bias, the inability of AI to complete overly broad tasks, and the lack of human judgment.

While law firms around the world have already started using AI, the important question remains: how do we train the next generation of lawyers?

Perhaps someone will develop a machine with the answer. 

Source: Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc.
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