LI Feature Legal Industry/Business Management

AI Shaping the Way Law Firms Function

New processes are freeing up valuable time and potentially improving bottom lines in law firms.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has definitely become a media buzzword. But businesses truly are utilizing AI to perform tasks more quickly and gain deeper insight into their customers and clients. It is cheaper and smarter than manual human input for some tasks and can result in better bottom lines for organizations.

Kylie Ora Lobell

Law firms are catching on to the AI trend and will continue to use it at an even higher frequency in the future. “AI is making a huge impact in the legal industry,” says Alistair Wye, Lead Product Strategist for iManage RAVN. “AI technology enables lawyers to work more efficiently, deliver more valuable insights to their clients and create entirely new services that might previously have been cost prohibitive.”

If you want to use AI within your own law firm, you first have to start at the basics. You need to learn about AI and how it can help you improve your firm’s own performance.


While animals and humans are born with natural intelligence, computers and other machines have artificial intelligence. AI gives machines the ability to learn from experience and make decisions based on past processes. Powered by natural language processing and deep learning, they can look at huge data sets and recognize patterns to determine their path of action. The more AI does, the smarter it becomes.

Some examples of AI are self-driving cars and chatbots. Self-driving cars determine when to hit the brakes and when to speed up; chatbots learn how to speak to humans based on certain keywords and phrases they may be using. Other examples of AI include Siri, Alexa, Amazon’s product recommendation feature and Netflix’s entertainment recommendation engine.

Relatively speaking, AI is in its infancy. In the future, corporations are going to invest heavily in it, and it’s going to become much more sophisticated. In 2016, AI spending was at $7.8 billion worldwide. By 2020, it’s expected to reach $46 billion — a 768 percent increase. Law firms will have to continue using this exciting technology to drive their organizations forward.

Powered by natural language processing and deep learning, they can look at huge data sets and recognize patterns to determine their path of action. The more AI does, the smarter it becomes.


One area in which law firms are benefiting from AI is document review. When humans do it, it can be extremely costly and inefficient.

“Law firms have been under pressure from clients to manage document review more efficiently and cost-effectively,” says JR Jenkins, Marketing Director at e-discovery software company Ringtail. “AI — mainly predictive analytics — are making a significant impact on this front, allowing attorneys to decrease the sheer number of documents they must manually review and thus increasing the amount of time they have to spend reviewing a matter’s most important documents.”

Law firms are also using analytics at each stage of e-discovery, not just when they are reviewing a massive and complex case, according to Jenkins. “An example of this is the emerging use of social network analytics, which help identify unusual patterns of activity — activity that may indicate wrongdoing and offer important insight for investigations.”

When law firms are doing e-discovery with AI, they can easily “see facts, connections, relationships, unknowns, etc. across the data sets and build strategies based on facts versus supposition,” says Billy Hyatt, Chief Executive Officer of Cicayda, a cloud-based software provider.

As the world becomes increasingly connected online, more data is going to become available to attorneys. But they can’t sort through it all with their legacy workflows like linear review, Technology Assisted Review (TAR) and predictive coding, Hyatt says. These workflows are not cost-effective or accurate enough to perform thorough discovery. “AI, particularly in discovery, will be highly advantageous to the law firms or corporation legal departments that embrace it.”

Discovery is going to happen faster, and it will also be more accurate than humans. When dealing with large sets of data, there is bound to be some human error.

“Given the amount of data attorneys deal with and the inconsistencies in decisions from different personnel when reviewing documents — especially when acting across jurisdictions (e.g. dates, currencies, etc.) — there is bound to be some risk of human error,” says Wye. “With AI, document review, classification and extraction rules can be applied to improve accuracy and consistency of review.”

With AI insights in their back pockets, attorneys can make well-informed decisions and have smarter case strategies, Jenkins says. “[This] can lead to better case outcomes and earlier recognition of exposure or risk in any investigation or matter, to inform decision-making about whether to settle, proceed, etc.”

“With AI, document review, classification and extraction rules can be applied to improve accuracy and consistency of review.”

AI is also helping on the business side of running a law firm. A firm that uses AI has a competitive advantage over one that doesn’t, because it can deliver speedier and more accurate results.

“[AI] creates new business opportunities, enabling law firms to deliver new services to clients that may have been too time-consuming or expensive in the past,” says Wye. “Likewise, automating review processes with AI frees up attorney time, increasing opportunity for firms to tackle higher-value work in greater volumes.”

If AI is doing the hard, repetitive labor instead of humans, it is going to save law firms money. They will be more attractive to clients because they can pass on that savings when doing their billing. “The costliest tasks at law firms are usually large-scale repetitive review processes,” Wye says. “These can be automated or augmented, reducing the amount of lawyer time billed to these tasks, thereby saving client money.”

Karl Dorwart, Senior Director of FTI Technology’s Contract Intelligence Group, says that AI is also transforming contract management. “AI is bringing more efficiency to contract-related tasks and helping law firms provide contract management services to their clients.”

According to Pratik Patel, Vice President of Innovation and Products at Elevate, AI is giving law firms the ability to review, tag, cleanse and position “unstructured time entry data to gain better clarity into things like pricing or billing compliance. … This application of AI is meant to save time and effort rather than it being used to ‘replace’ lawyers.”


AI is faster, more accurate and smarter than humans in many ways.

According to one study by McKinsey, 22 percent of a lawyer’s job and 35 percent of a law clerk’s job could be automated. And Deloitte Insight found that more than 100,000 legal roles could be automated by 2026. Lower-skilled jobs, like legal secretarial positions, are going to be especially affected.

Does this mean that AI is going to completely take over the law firm? In the future, will there even be a need for attorneys and law firm support staff? Indeed, there will be.

The Deloitte Insight study also showed another side of the legal job market. Despite cutbacks of lower-skilled workers, as of 2016, there was already an increase of 80,000 jobs, which were higher-skilled and offered better pay. Many of these new jobs are focused on developing and creating the technology being used now and in the future.

“While humans are slower and prone to error when processing and reviewing patterns in big data, there are certain skills that AI can never replace.”

“While humans are slower and prone to error when processing and reviewing patterns in big data, there are certain skills that AI can never replace,” says Wye. “Critical thinking, including context and nuance, is something AI looks unlikely to solve in any measure that generalizes to every type of task or transaction at a law firm or in general.”

Wye adds that humans are much quicker and more accurate when it comes to navigating ambiguity that AI cannot understand, as well as making judgment calls. After all, the law is rarely black and white.

“Legal is both a science and an art, in some cases where the art can yield better results than the science,” Patel says. “Strategy sessions, status updates and basic personal interaction — the lawyer equivalent to bedside manner — can never be replaced by machines. They can be augmented, but never replaced.”


AI software providers can help law firms take advantage of new and efficient technology. When combined with stellar attorneys and support teams, AI can give a firm a competitive advantage, make it better at what it does and improve its bottom line.

After all, Jenkins says, “The more law firms can harvest AI’s capabilities to provide newer, faster, better services, the more benefits they will reap and pass on to their clients.”