Artificial intelligence in the legal industry: Adoption and strategy - Part 1

This is the first article in a three part series looking at artificial intelligence's growing presence in the legal industry. Here, Information Age looks at the state of AI adoption and how it is changing the strategic role of associates Artificial intelligence in the legal industry – Part 1 image

Following on from a report that identified artificial intelligence (AI) as crucial in overcoming challenges in the legal industry, Information Age wanted to delve deeper into the subject.

As a result, we got in touch Geoffrey Vance, the chair of Perkins Coie’s E-Discovery Services and Strategy Practice, and Alvin Lindsay, partner at Hogan Lovells.

Vance took over the Perkins Coie practice 3 years ago after leading McDermott Will & Emery’s e-discovery group for 7 years, and has led Perkins Coie to be one of the first to use AI for various discovery, litigation and other legal needs. He’s seen associates get more involved in this kind of work right at the start of their careers, and spoke to Information Age about the evolution of their roles with the rise of AI.

At the same time, Lindsay has written about potential of AI in the legal industry and is well placed to comment on this encroaching trend.

>Read more on Artificial intelligence in the legal industry – Part 2

In the first of this three part series, we examine at what stage AI adoption is in the legal industry, and how it is – if at all – creating a more strategic role for associates in law firms.

Geoffrey A. Vance, partner and Firmwide Chair, E-Discovery Services and Strategy Practice, Perkins Coie

Geoffrey A. Vance, partner and
Firmwide Chair, E-Discovery Services and Strategy Practice, Perkins Coie

The adoption of artificial intelligence in the legal industry

As with many industries, perhaps all, the legal industry is at the early stages of AI adoption.

“We’re still at the early stages of AI adoption,” confirms Vance.

>Read more on Artificial intelligence in the legal industry: The future – Part 3

However, it is not a totally new phenomenon, and the legal industry has “been using AI in the litigation discovery process for nearly 10 years, so it’s not as if lawyers are against it,” continues Vance.

Lindsay is very much on the same wavelength, and explains to Information Age that in the law profession, like many others, AI is still in its infancy because it encompasses a lot. He did note, like Vance, that “while there are already some strong products that take advantage of algorithms to analyse big-data troves, everything is still siloed and we are not yet at the point where one device, product, or “robot” can do everything (or even many of the things) a lawyer can do. We’re also not at the point where there is a lot of self-learning or teaching AI.”

The business case

As with the integration of new or emerging technologies, the impetus lies on making a successful business case to clients and customers. Vance explains that this was the “tough part” – “proving to the future users that AI really will improve the quality of our work, which in the discovery process means we’ll do a better job of finding information that is relevant to the claims and defenses in the case.”

>Read more on Information Age’s guide to artificial intelligence in enterprise

The clients at Perkins Coie have bought into this and begun to recognise that AI can help save money and avoid mistakes in discovery, according to Vance. “I’m also happy to report that non-litigators are becoming increasingly interested in, and thus starting to increasingly use, artificial intelligence in their practices. I’m optimistic that AI will soon permeate law firm cultures, which will in turn provoke new companies and new investments to improve and increase law firm AI solutions so that every lawyer in every law firm will use and benefit from AI.”

With this predicted rise of AI comes the well reported fear of job loss, and this has gone back a long way. Research from Hogan Lovells found that the concerns about computers taking over lawyers’ jobs goes back to the 1950’s, and “just because it has not happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t,” warns Lindsay. “This is why I believe it is so important – especially for younger lawyers – to actively track the advances in AI, use it to innovate, harness its power and avoid the fate of toll-collectors.”

Has AI created a more strategic role for associates?

Indeed, despite the fears that AI was going to take jobs from associates, it has actually created a more strategic role for them, according to Vance. Rather than handling the typical mundane tasks, associates are now supervising the information being fed to the systems, and are often tasked with managing the programming teams. This has completely shifted the traditional idea of what an associate’s role is – and continues to evolve as more firms explore AI.

>Read more The UK’s plan to lead the way on AI’s future

“When AI was first being used in litigation, the AI contrarians warned that it would replace associates in the discovery process, in turn taking away revenue and the opportunities for associates to learn about the process,” says Vance. “After all, if associates weren’t immersed in the discovery process, how could they be trusted to one day manage the discovery process and first-chair a trial team?”

“What we’ve found is that not only have associates remained an important part of the litigation process, their role has become more strategic, high level and supervisorial and much less ministerial. Associates are often the attorneys who train the AI system, becoming the brains behind the machine. They are frequently relied upon to take the lead on AI projects and the sophistication of their work typically increases with the use of AI. Consequently, now, associates are often the biggest proponents of AI because it allows them to fill a higher profile role while demonstrating to partners and clients that they can do their jobs in a more cost-effective way.”

The associate role is changing

Instead of AI creating a more strategic role for associates, Lindsay suggests that associates need to be more strategic in their role, be ‘smarter’ and embrace the increasing number of technology options available to them.

“Gone are the days when a first or second year associate could sit in an document repository flipping through paper documents for month after month while billing full freight. Unless there is a good reason (like expertise in a particular subject area), most clients these days won’t pay for law firm associates to do first-level document review. The smart associates know that and have already evolved to understand that their better use is likely to work on the management of outside (and less expensive) contract lawyers doing the review.”

Alvin F. Lindsay, partner, Hogan Lovells

Alvin F. Lindsay, partner, Hogan Lovells

“More and more, as technology supplants what the contract lawyers are doing, associates will have to evolve further to manage the computers doing the review. Same for old-fashioned research and writing. I believe computers will be taking on more and more of that work in the near future, and associates will need to adapt what they do – perhaps to more of a finalising and “polishing” role – in order to add value.”

“Associates (and all lawyers) of the future should also focus on keeping the AI accountable – too much of what is already out there is hidden in ‘black boxes’. Smart lawyers will constantly question both the algorithms and the underlying data in order to avoid courts, or clients, from over-reliance on technically questionable platforms.”

Part 2 of Information Age’s Artificial Intelligence in the Legal Industry series will focus on AI’s broader role within the law firm and specific use cases of AI adoption in both Perkins Coie and Hogan Lovells

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