October 2020
VOLUME 39, ISSUE 9

Table of Contents

OM Feature Operations Management

The Gift of Time

Small and midsize firms and departments can recapture more time and money with AI.

Mark Brewer

Technology has made a lot possible for law offices, but people still play a huge role in making it deliver on its promise. While technology helps manage the office, matters and documents, people still need to interact with it to do the filing, organizing and retrieval. Many of these microprocesses are repetitive, tedious, time-consuming and prone to error.

What if you could remove the common day-to-day friction required to make technology work and, in the process, free up precious time that can be put to better use building the firm? Artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to come of age, and the right tool applied to the right process can provide tangible benefits.

AI has matured to the point where many software companies are now offering AI-based solutions to remove the tedium from interacting with technology, and many of these tools can help small and midsize firms cover more ground with less effort.

HOW SMART IS AI?

AI is a broad category that includes natural language processing — where a computer reads and writes text as part of a larger process, such as analyzing a mountain of documents quickly or drafting routine documents — and machine learning, where an AI application is trained to program itself.

So the question is, who does the training? “Law firms expect AI to be smart right from the start. Many AI solutions require significant setup efforts at the very beginning of the engagement to teach it,” says Trevor Bell, Chief Customer Officer at ZERØ, a software development company that focuses on solving operational challenges for law offices. “AI should come in pretty smart already and it gets smarter as it grows.”

Law firms have common processes, which gives software developers an incentive to solve problems across the industry. Many of these targeted AI applications are designed specifically to remove friction from processes, what Bell calls administrative and cognitive drag.

“AI has matured to the point where many software companies are now offering AI-based solutions to remove the tedium from interacting with technology, and many of these tools can help small and midsize firms cover more ground with less effort.”

“Cognitive drag happens when you’re attending to small administrative tasks — the little things that drag down the critical thinking you’re already doing for your legal work,” says Bell. “Anything AI can do to reduce the administrative and cognitive drag for a lawyer essentially allows them to focus on the practice of law.”

The low-hanging fruit for AI in law offices is the ability to automate tedious, repetitive and error-prone tasks. The gray area is the amount of customization required by law firm personnel to get value from the tool, and the amount of special expertise required to do the customization.

Bell says there are complex, data-driven AI applications that do require special expertise. “[However,] there are so many variations of AI and machine learning that you can find the sweet spot that doesn’t require you to be a computer programmer in order to take advantage of it.” He says that while IT support is required for any new office technology, you don’t have to be a wizard to take advantage of AI.

Plus, today’s AI can help firms in several ways:

1. Find the Needle in the Haystack: Automated Document Review

Automated document review, also called predictive coding or technology assisted review, can be a real time-saver for smaller offices and can put your firm on a more equal footing with larger firms with more human resources for document review.

Automated systems can review stacks of documents in a fraction of the time of human reviewers with the potential of superhuman accuracy. Nontechnical personnel train the system for each matter to be reviewed by seeding the system with known relevant documents. The system writes its own algorithm based on your input. Humans do more back and forth with the system until it is flagging documents accurately.

2. Get the Money: Recapture Lost Billable Time

Most attorneys are fanatic about billing all their time, but some time can still slip through the cracks. For example, emails must be filed with the correct matter, something Bell calls “a required inconvenience.”

But if your lawyers are fielding hundreds of emails a day, the administrative drag can be significant and the time invested in responding to emails may not be fully documented. Some AI tools automatically file emails and capture the associated billable time.

3. Pleading for Time: Automatically Draft Routine Documents

Pleadings and other routine court documents can be drafted automatically. The more mundane the document, the better the results. A firm employee enters jurisdictional requirements, and the software provides standard answers and responses, reducing the time commitment from hours to minutes.

4. Dot All the I’s: Automated Contract Review and Due Diligence

AI tools developed specifically for contract review can analyze contracts for consistency and completeness. AI can quickly sort through a large volume of contracts and flag individual documents based on firm-specified criteria. It doesn’t take the human element out of the picture, but it makes the humans faster and more effective.

“The low-hanging fruit for AI in law offices is the ability to automate tedious, repetitive and error-prone tasks. The gray area is the amount of customization required by law firm personnel to get value from the tool, and the amount of special expertise required to do the customization.”

AI contract review can recognize patterns and identify core concepts within a set of contracts. AI tools help identify potential issues and, in the process, may help the client get a better deal. These tools also help lawyers stay compliant with laws, regulations and deadlines. Contract review tools can also assess risk by identifying terms and clauses that don’t meet requirements and can reduce risk of human error in drafting contracts.

SELECTING A PRACTICAL SOLUTION FOR YOUR FIRM

If you’re considering AI for your office, there are some criteria to consider for selecting an AI tool that’s effective and practical for offices with limited resources for new technology:

Is It Easy to Learn?

Select tools that are smart out of the box with automated training. If the tool requires significant time and effort to configure, be sure that the expected ROI exceeds the resources to customize and that you have the resources to do it.

Are There Infrastructure Requirements? 

Do you need to provide your own servers, storage or compute resources to run? If so, quantify these requirements to ensure the solution is practical for your office.

Is It Secure and Compliant? 

Too many law firms have been burned by vendors with inadequate security. Many AI tools are cloud-based, add-on widgets that are not native to your IT system. If the AI is a big brain sitting on a server somewhere, you may need to open access from the application to your network or host the application’s work on the vendor’s system. Make sure that any tool you consider makes it easy to comply with data legislation, ethics requirements, client-specific and firm-specific requirements, and doesn’t expose sensitive information outside of the tight circle of those who need access to it.

DON’T GO BLINDLY INTO THE NIGHT

It’s possible, perhaps likely, that lawyers will ask for an AI tool to be added to the firm toolbox. Bell says it’s important for IT professionals not to automatically say yes to these requests, only to find out it’s fraught with complexity and compliance issues. Make sure it meets your requirements first.

 

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