AI friend or foe?

According to entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun’s recent TED talk, AI should be seen as the augmentation of people. AI helps us to make sense of our organisation’s data. It’s a combination of software and data that uses functions of machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), vision recognition, speech, planning and robotics to organise, interpret and action big data.

For a legal organisation, this means delivering greater value and efficiency by benefiting from previously learned information, and more time to spend on cases and with clients – delivering human value. As we saw in the December LPM survey, 14% of respondents would prefer to receive legal advice from a robot!

Eversheds Sutherland talks about blending AI technology with lawyers, project managers and consultants. When Eversheds needed to examine 16,000 documents, its AI platform dismissed 88% of those documents as irrelevant to the case. Just think about the cost benefits and time saved. The firm also found error rates of approximately 7% when humans checked through a raft of documents. AI has an error rate of 0%.

Clearly, AI has many benefits, but some people are worried that it may replace their roles. So, is AI an opportunity or a threat to the legal profession? It may be more appropriate to reframe this as ‘What is the threat if AI is not adopted by law firms?’ 

AI is an emerging technology, so is expensive to implement. But new ABS entrants to the market (insurance companies, the Big Four, consumer brands such as AA and Saga) will already have welldeveloped technology investment cultures and experience with developing and deploying new technology. These organisations will be eager to acquire, through price reduction, the low-hanging fruit of commodity services: wills, personal injury, conveyancing, contract automation and risk analysis. 

For the more cost-conscious, it’s advisable to use the new AI features being developed within your existing software partners and test the ROI these bring, leveraging the providers’ larger datasets and development. Whatever your size, it would be a mistake to ignore current AI technology or avoid keeping up with future trends.

However, remember that AI is just a combination of (humandesigned) software and data: output is only as good as what you put in (not forgetting the potential bias inherent in design). AI should be considered carefully since it doesn’t automatically provide all the answers to speeding up processes and workflows, and legal responsibility for errors is not yet clearly defined. However, when deployed effectively, AI does in principle enable lawyers to focus on higher-level key matters.

Don’t fall behind – look at the options available now. CBRE found that nearly half of London law firms are already using AI, with a further 41% planning to do so imminently. Deloitte also predicts that over a million roles in the legal sector will be automated by 2036.

 The case for AI in the legal sector is clear. For many, the challenge is in the implementation. However, by seeking out the right skills and expertise, firms can work towards realising the benefits of AI.

This article appeared in LPM February 2019 - Innovation nation

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