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How Artificial Intelligence Can Innovate Today's Law Department

AI helps lawyers with the aggregation of large amounts of data for decision-making.

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic these days, but hype tends to be much easier to find than practical advice on how to use AI in a law department. What kinds of AI can make a difference today? What use cases are best for the benefits AI offers? How can legal service providers leverage AI? 

These are questions that Paul Lippe, part of Elevate’s Advisory Board, answered with Inside Counsel. He discussed how AI is being used in areas of managing legal like analytics, outside counsel selection, legal project management and legal bill review.

Today, AI becoming popular in law department because of three key reasons, according to Lippe. First, AI has become a way to talk about changing the way lawyers work. Second, AI has gotten a lot of publicity in the last 2-3 years, triggered by IBM’s Watson and now recent coverage about how AI may affect jobs. And third, the definition of AI is vague so it can be all things to all people.

“Something can be done by ‘artificial’ intelligence it can probably also be done by natural intelligence.  So, a lot of the time AI is just giving us permission to think about doing things differently that we could do without technology,” he explained.

Until recently, AI technologies were often introduced as a substitute for expert reasoners. Expert Substitute applications have rarely succeeded because they don’t typically out-perform established experts in the beginning, and tend to be resisted by experts and misused by non-experts. Expert Substitution is problematic in law because the role of a lawyer is protected by regulation; most legal judgments are subjective, so there isn’t a way to test whether the machine judgment was correct and; clients want the ability to rely on the expert judgment.

These days, when people refer to AI according to Lippe, they typically mean Machine Learning. The most powerful AI applications are those embedded in large-scale consumer offerings, like Waze for advising on traffic options, Siri for voice-recognition, or Amazon for making book recommendations. “So as AI-style technologies get incorporated into software that just works, we stop thinking about it as AI and just think about it as software,” he said.

According to Lippe, we should think of AI for lawyers as aggregation of large amounts of data of lawyer decision-making or that leads into lawyer decision-making; where a machine discerns previous patterns of decision-making; and makes a recommendation or prediction based on those patterns which is applied most likely by a lawyer, but perhaps by a non-lawyer.

In the near future, we should see examples of where AI is improving quality and productivity in law department. We can also distinguish between performing legal work, and managing legal work. In doing Ai will be focused on repetitive tasks, in large part in places where data was created electronically in the first place; whereas in managing legal work, we should look outside law to see how AI is used to manage all kinds of work.

So, what kinds of AI can make a difference today in law? 

“Since discerning patterns is something lawyers have always done, the advent of AI can both strengthen and supplant different kinds of lawyer work,” Lippe explained. “To think about how lawyers are likely to apply AI, it is useful to distinguish between subjective and objective legal work.”

Historically law schools suggested, based on the Langdellian method, that all legal reasoning was objective, but that notion has been discarded. We can marshal internally consistent legal arguments or cite lots of precedents, but in the end our views are subjective, according to Lippe. So, AI can help you construct arguments for or against, or make predictions on whether a judge will be more persuaded by one argument or another, but cannot tell you which choice is correct.

There are three key categories of areas where AI is being applied including: fully “baked’ applications where AI is enhancing the functionality of classical legal tools like research or decision trees; Services-enhanced offerings like due diligence, where AI is embedded in a service offering and allows faster and more comprehensive analysis; and big data analyses, like reviewing legal bills.

Every legal service provider should always be looking for ways to improve what they do. So, AI is both a mechanism for improvement and a catalyst to think about improvements. For some lawyers, AI will be a feature that enhances their competitive position and professional satisfaction. For other lawyers or legal service providers, AI will be a feature that diminishes their competitive position.

Lippe said, “In today’s fast-moving world of disruptive competition, most fields have accepted the notion that they must continually experiment with new technologies to improve what they do. Law tends to be less oriented to improvement and less oriented to experimentation.”

Any time a new tool is introduced into a field, it forces practitioners to evaluate how they do work and how they assess work. Pilots don’t fly a jet plane the same way they flew propeller plans, and air-air combat strategies don’t stay constant either, explained Lippe. So, when introducing AI into their work, lawyers have can ask the important questions:

  • How is the way we’re doing work aligned with what really matters to the client and other stakeholders?

  • What aspects of the work can the AI improve, and what does it risk making worse? How do we measure that?

  • How can we learn from every stage of our use of a new tool to continue to improve our work?

“Every lawyer should resolve to at least explore and experiment with AI to learn about how they can do a better job,” he explained. “If they do that, they will find a way to continually raise their game, even if the AI approach they take on doesn’t work on the first go around.”

Further reading:

Using Artificial Intelligence to Enhance Inside Counsel

The Benefits of Welcoming AI into the Legal Department

Machines Are Organizing Legal's Data, But Not Fast Enough

Who Has the Keys to Self-Driving Cars?

Contributing Author

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Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Freelance Journalist for InsideCounsel, where she covers intellectual property, legal technology, patent litigation, cybersecurity, innovation, and more. She earned a B.A....

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