The role of AI in law firms: an introduction

Lights-On Consulting’s Stephen Brown introduces us to the world of Artificial Intelligence, explaining what it is, its capabilities, potential benefits to law firms and fee earners, and why it represents a major opportunity.

Artificial Intelligence: a definition

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term mostly used to refer to machine learning: the techniques that enable computer networks to discover patterns hidden in real-world data. It is the ability for a computer to gain an understanding of the data it is processing, as opposed to a computer processing data in a way it’s been programmed to, which is a significant difference.

AI mimics certain operations of the human mind and is the phrase used to describe machines that are able to complete tasks that typically require human intelligence.

What is AI already capable of?

Maturing at a rate never seen before, AI can already be found everywhere in the modern world. It is what enables self-driving cars to be able to recognise and act appropriately towards their environment. It lies behind face-recognition programs and gadgets such as Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, and is already embedded in the systems of many retailers, global businesses and corporations.

AI represents 24/7 working; it is never ill, doesn’t take holidays, doesn’t forget, get tired, and is not subject to conscious / unconscious bias like humans. Once it has been taught the ‘language’, AI can complete specific requests in a fraction of the time it would take humans.

For example, if case law dictates a change to a clause in commercial property leases, AI can look through all relevant documents, highlight the particular clause, and replace it – with the capability to read thousands of documents in minutes (versus days of a paralegal’s time). If you have a new client, AI can review all documents and files to establish any conflict of interest from a regulatory and client perspective.

What are the benefits of AI in law firms?

AI has the capability to transform the speed at which law firms operate. It is a tool for facilitating greater productivity and efficiency, effectively changing lawyers’ skillsets, because of the specific roles it is taking on.

Perhaps the biggest value-add of AI is the convenience it creates. Using AI to complete a labour-intensive task frees a lawyer from the most tedious or mundane tasks, and permits them to focus on advising clients, client services, attending court and negotiating deals. It has the capability to take away the monotonous, time-consuming process of reviewing and managing standard clauses within legal contracts. With efficient and effective teaching, AI will streamline and quicken the processes and tasks that are central to much of the day to day legal work that relies on precedent and often predictability. Indeed, many law firms are already using AI for:

  • Reviewing documents
  • Legal research
  • Due diligence
  • Contract review and management
  • Automating the divorce process
  • Predicting legal outcomes

Whilst this is good news for the time efficiency of lawyers and law firms, it’s worth noting the impact of AI on the established learning hierarchy of law firms. Much of a lawyer’s knowledge and experience is gained from doing the leg-work research. But if AI is to truly take-on this type of work, what will the impact be on the learning, education and experience knowledge of the next generation of lawyers?

Putting AI into practice

A case predictions system called Premonition employs machine learning to predict the outcome of a case based on analysis of previous court decisions and other factors. It enables lawyers to make better decisions and give better advice based on how likely an outcome is.

ROSS is ‘The world’s first AI attorney’ and acts as an efficient legal research tool that can understand natural language and then sift through relevant legal information to provide an answer. It can also utilise its machine learning technology to improve its effectiveness and efficiency the more it is used. Firms including Baker & Hostetler, Latham & Watkins, and Womble Bond Dickinson have already ‘hired’ ROSS.

Whilst much of the focus in the profession has been on the impact and benefits of AI to the lawyers, it also has benefits to all support services, notably HR and IT, which in turn begs the question as to who exactly would and should take responsibility for investigating and introducing AI to the firm – should it be solely IT? Equally, as AI and technology generally create more jobs and require a change of roles, there will be training required, and then ongoing management of AI and its performance for the firm’s legal work and client service.

Looking to the future

Without doubt AI equals competitive advantage. Ignoring it is no longer an option. All firms should be looking at AI, and as it continues to become more accessible, Operating Systems and application providers are incorporating AI into the systems lawyers are using every day anyway.

AI presents valuable tools that enable the repetitive, regular, basic work to be handled faster and more efficiently, and it will definitely change the skillset required from a future lawyer.

Lights-On Consulting is an independent IT consultancy that specialises in legal and professional services. We help firms to get more out of their existing systems and exploit new technologies that can future proof your firm, drive efficiency and better position you to compete in your markets. Our consultants have deep experience gained through both in-house and independent consultancy roles. Find out more at