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What would Mr Tulkinghorn think?

Law firms have begun to use AI in the review and analysis of data, which has profound implications for way law firms deliver services to their clients

It has been said the work of a lawyer has changed very little from its depiction in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Admittedly, lawyers no longer use quill pens and perch on tall stools in tails, but the basic premise – a thorough grasp of the law, an equally thorough grasp of the facts and the application of the former to the latter – is still same. Is the profession ripe for change? Are we about to see the “uberisation” of the law? 

In reality, things have changed greatly. Technology has already driven significant efficiencies through the profession. The “billable hour”, while it still exists, is increasingly under pressure as increasingly sophisticated clients expect a quality service in a speedy and cost-efficient manner. Technology creates opportunities for clients and for the lawyers who are prepared to embrace it.

In the case of an investigation or disclosure in litigation, for example, it is not unusual for clients to provide millions of documents. The traditional approach was to hire an army of paralegals to set about the task of a manual review based on a brief of documents that would be deemed relevant to the case.

For many years, that process has been aided by technology, with courts in the US and UK effectively giving a green light to the use of technology assisted review (TAR) in the document disclosure process.

Elements of TAR include machine learning, assisted by the responses of a lawyer to educate the computer to identify documents meeting similar criteria to those already known to be relevant.

However, TAR operates in a relatively narrow space in the legal process – largely, the production of documents in the disclosure process in litigation itself.

Utilising artificial intelligence

Times change, and now some law firms can deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technology to process huge quantities of data and give meaning to patterns in a matter of minutes – an outcome that would simply not be possible to humans without days, if not weeks, of effort. 

Brainspace Discovery, the AI system used by law firm CMS, works by taking a corpus of documents and intelligently organising them into related clusters.

It then produces an interactive wheel visualisation that highlights themes and categories, and allows users to drill down to individual documents within those categories, through visualised sub-themes and categories.

It also allows rapid analysis of relationships through spider-charts which show communication networks and the strength of those relationships.

Add to that the powerful theme-prediction tools (a recognised TAR approach) and a comprehensive history of search activity for each matter, and you have a system that provides significant advantages in efficiency, speed and statistically supportable accuracy.

Some lawyers may look at these developments with alarm. But it is not a development that threatens lawyers’ existence. If anything, early adopters of this technology can expect to gain market share as they are able to offer that elusive, faster and cost effective product, while delivering a first-class service. 

Read more about AI

A key criterion when investing in any AI product is how quickly and easily both it and legal staff can be educated to work effectively. The technologies need to fit in an existing process and meet a client need to maximise effectiveness.

Fortunately humans are still needed, but AI systems can cover much of the essential groundwork before lawyers need to get involved, or can facilitate some of the more onerous tasks that a lawyer would once face.

AI technology, if anything, will upskill lawyers as the focus will be on better quality analytics (with a combination of AI and human assessment), and a more rapid and accurate assessment of the facts (and possibly the law). However, it will still be the lawyer’s job to apply the law to a given set of facts. 

The present costs of AI software are perhaps still high for much of the law market. But, at CMS, we expect the benefits of these systems to flow from speed of analysis, a focus of time on the more specific human analysis and a more rigorous analysis of issues. 

The thinking is that the technology will give clients more choice, more availability and ultimately more efficient processes for the same price or less – and the cost of the technology itself will reduce and become more accessible.

The legal profession has seen many different types of technology over the years. Unfortunately the take up of anything other than simple software systems has been very low until recently. For those lawyers and firms who embrace AI technology and understand its capabilities and limitations, it is a very exciting time.

This was last published in February 2017

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