Automated lawyers? Artificial intelligence and the UK legal sector.

May 10, 2017    Sarah-Jane Osborne     ,

Although the legal sector is only just sticking its collective toe in the waters of artificial intelligence (AI), there are already fears about what this may mean for jobs.

It’s not uncommon for new technological innovations and automation to make people fearful that the human contribution will become defunct, but for the legal sector early indications suggest it will treasure rather than replace talent and drive profitability too.

In broad terms, AI is the theory and development of computer systems and software that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. Based on that description it’s easy to see why we might feel threatened, after all AI conjures up images of human-esque robots for most, but the real driving force behind the application of AI in the legal sector is one of value – value of one of its greatest assets, its lawyers.

The last few years have taught us about the importance of working smartly and using our assets to best effect and the potential applications of AI in the legal sector support that:

Reviewing documents

AI technologies can perform aspects of data reviewing including due diligence, research, investigations and compliance related work, reducing the cost and time spent on these lower value, although still important jobs. It also improves accuracy by reducing the likelihood of human error.

Predicting case outcomes

As AI can ‘eat up’ vast amounts of case files and detail about the general management of cases, it can also be used to forecast legal outcomes. Already this is being used with success by a London personal injury practice to predict when to settle a claim.

Offering advice

AI can also be used to answer simple legal questions by reviewing large amounts of legal data and case histories. Where this might ordinarily take copious man-hours, AI has the potential to free up time for greater uses.

These examples suggest that the value of AI is not in trying to make legal practitioners redundant, but rather in realising where technology and automation can free our minds and allow them to concentrate on the higher value, more complex and human elements of legal practice.

This increasing need to realise greater value in the legal sector can be seen in other ways too, including how it uses space to address productivity, efficiency and wellbeing.

Moving lower value job roles out of costly city centre offices in favour of cheaper, out of town locations has helped practices reduce cost and put space to better use. Offshoring and even north shoring is a similar idea and enables practices to reduce manpower costs by sending work to lower cost centres. Moving to agile methods of working, supporting flexible and remote working, embracing video technologies and creating client suite style offices for meetings rather than to house an entire workforce, are just some of the initiatives that the legal sector is using to rationalise cost, embrace modernity and win the war for talent.

The arrival of AI certainly promises to help legal firms think more creatively and strategically about how to use their best assets both financially and intellectually.  It’s too soon to know exactly how this technology will manifest in the workplace, but the answers won’t be too far away. For those keen to stay one step ahead, now is the time to consider how AI could transform working practices and unleash the minds of your brightest and best.


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