There continues to be a huge investment of time and money to disrupt the legal industry. Increasing demands for access to justice, efficiency and transparency are supporting the emergence of new technology and pushing the industry to find innovative solutions. As a result, the legal profession has to adapt quickly to meet the expectations of clients. One of the latest technological advancements making headlines is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) to the realm of law.

In a recent report we developed, Artificial Intelligence in Law, we explore some of the emerging opportunities for law firms to consider the role that artificial intelligence might play in legal services. It seems that the greatest prospects lie in using such technological innovations for augmentation of a firm’s work rather than the automation of that work.

For example, New York-based law firm Baker and Hostetler is using ROSS, a “natural language legal assistant,” that is based on IBM’s Watson platform. ROSS responds to questions posed in natural language and will “read” the relevant law, gather data and return relevant “candidate answers” based on precedent — which the lawyers can then use to direct their own in-depth research and analysis.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF AI

This simple example alone demonstrates the powerful opportunities for the profession. But what are the consequences for lawyers? Do articling jobs and junior lawyer positions disappear? At a recent Queens University panel on AI and the future of the legal profession, Jordan Furlong, a partner at Edge International, mentioned that the advice he gives his students is to:

“…focus on being very entrepreneurial, as flexible as possible, seeking ‘agile’ work: contract-based, project-based. The skills that are going to be required of future lawyers will be quite different from the ones that served previous generations. A lot of things you have been able to do up to this point won’t be as important. What attributes are going to be important? Insight, ingenuity, counsel, judgment, leadership, creativity and risk assessment — being able to actually assess risks rather than default blocking or negating risks…”

One point brought up in the panel was the possibility of firms using AI to generate better outcome prediction. Large clients who deal with legal issues often know that outcomes are not guaranteed, but for smaller clients weighing the option to pursue legal action due to costs, a better prediction of their case outcome could prove invaluable in making that decision.

Others suggested that AI software could be used for proactive data collection, as no lawyer has time to read all the cases, laws and regulations that come out. Instead, Watson could comb data as cases come up and send relevant data directly to lawyers depending on the focus of their practice.

AI AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

One ongoing concern within the legal profession is access to justice and lowering the cost of legal fees. With this in mind, firms integrating AI into their practices might have an opportunity in this arena. In fact, many entrepreneurial firms have been quick to accept that AI can automate certain legal processes, as the growing number of online legal services providing direct online access to legal advice, contracts and dispute resolution attests.

AI also has its uses for civil litigation and criminal law. One of the major costs involved in legal representation is the billable hour, which includes the many hours spent on research. The American Bar Association’s 2014 Legal Report found that associates with less than 10 years’ experience spent 28% of their working hours on research; this drops to about 15% with a decade or more of legal experience, but still accounts for a significant portion of billable hours.

The practical application for AI is clearly in the initial research phase. The system can return relevant cases much faster than even a team of researchers could, and it frees up a legal professional’s time to apply their own higher-level thinking to the case.

WHAT DOES AI MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF LAW?

A recent white paper from Blue Hill Research indicates that ROSS-assisted research has a significant impact on both research time and the bottom line. There is an estimated 25% conversion of unbillable to billable time when using ROSS rather than Boolean search — resulting in an $8,000–$13,000 annual revenue increase per attorney.

This is significant, because whether in serving clients or designing their workspaces, efficiency is top of mind for many law firms. It’s clear that artificial intelligence presents yet another a compelling opportunity for firms to drive efficiencies and provide even greater value to clients.

To learn more, download the full Artificial Intelligence in Law report.

As Executive Vice President for Colliers International in Vancouver, Colin works with some of the area’s largest companies to find real estate solutions for their business challenges. He recently took a year to travel to 16 cities around the world to research the future of the business of law and office space, speaking regularly at conferences about his finding and workspace predictions.