While lawyers traditionally have been slow to adopt new technologies, many are looking at artificial intelligence as a way to become more efficient and improve client service.

AI is already being used by many law firms. Chief applications include:

  • Review of documents for relevant information
  • Legal research through automated searches of large databases
  • Contract and legal document analysis
  • Proofreading, error correction, and document organization

The “intelligence” aspect of AI refers to the ability of AI software systems to learn from experience and to improve performance through feedback – rather than simply perform pre-programmed tasks. By recognizing patterns between key words, phrases, or data points, AI systems identify important information, recognize mistakes, and spot inconsistencies – usually faster and more accurately than a human being.

Traditional legal research firms and innovative startups are competing aggressively to improve and expand the application of AI technology to the legal market, which will encourage even greater adoption of the technology by law firms in the years ahead.

Similar to other industries, the continued incorporation of AI and other types of technology used by law firms will likely lead to a large reduction in human workers, according to the legal consulting firm, Altman Weil. Inc. In a 2016 study, “Law Firms in Transition Survey” the firm found:

  • 52% of law firms will replace lawyers or other staff with technology
  • 74% of law firms believe client technology will reduce their need for outside lawyers
  • 85% of law firms believe the replacement of people by technology is permanent
  • 86% of law firms believe law firms using fewer support staff is permanent

Positions that are most likely to be replaced by AI include paralegals, first-year associates, and contract administrators. Positions and functions that require independent analysis and custom work, such as a litigation or merger and acquisitions, are unlikely that it will be replaced by technology.

While some people may lose jobs, proponents of AI say it provides lawyers and clients with important benefits:

  • Lawyers are freed from time consuming and tedious document review and legal research work and can focus on intellectual analysis and client service. As result, lawyers are likely to be happier in their work.
  • AI-assisted legal research is less costly than traditional research, which translates to lower fees for clients.
  • Attorneys can spend more time speaking with clients directly, exploring strategic options, and keeping clients informed at every stage of the legal process.

Clearly, there is no turning back the clock on AI in the legal industry. Law firms and attorneys that remain on the forefront of the technology will be poised to outperform their slower moving competitors.