Lawyer Bots Can Do More Than Automate Mundane Legal Tasks

The legal industry faces ever-increasing demands from clients for faster services and accurate results. An obvious response is to adopt the time-saving and efficiency-driving technologies that are widely available and being incorporated into many other industries.

But according to Jan Hoffmeister, Co-Founder and Chairman of Drooms, lawyer robots can do much more than just automate tasks and save time.

But these new technologies, especially the Artificial Intelligence (AI) linked to robotics, are generating headlines that raise fears around job replacement and even that they may one day become dangerous. As much as new technology offers efficiencies, should lawyers also be apprehensive?

Whatever the science fiction might predict about future robots, the current reality is that AI technology is being slowly integrated into the legal profession and it is having a marked impact on efficiency. According to estimates by consultancy group McKinsey, 22-35% of jobs performed by lawyers and clerks can now be automated. Its deployment reduces the likelihood of error substantially and shortens the time needed for mundane administrative tasks.

Technology enhances service levels

Scepticism has slowed the adoption of AI by legal firms, however. Many lawyers wonder why it is necessary to change processes if they are not broken and remain profitable. To some degree there is also a lack of incentive when lawyers charge by the hour – substituting manual tasks performed daily, such as document analysis and classifications, with smart workflows, thereby reducing the overall cost to a client, is not necessarily appealing.

Against this is the inexorable integration of technology into our everyday lives and public expectations changing accordingly. Furthermore, the trend for more hiring of in-house counsel roles has put pressure on legal firms to perform under time constraints, while an ever-expanding volume and range of documents must be handled, too. Lawyers work in competitive environments and all these factors put pressure on them to offer more value for money, which technology can support.

Although legal firms do need to rethink their fee structures, using intelligent technology to automate certain tasks does mean they focus their efforts (and billing) on delivering more high-quality and detailed advice.

Natural Language Processing is key

AI will do more than just reduce the need for simple tasks to be performed by junior lawyers, however. It can play a bigger role in complementing the human intelligence applied in legal firms.

The sub-category of AI relevant to helping decision-making in legal firms is called ‘Natural Language Processing’ (NLP), which requires the development of computer systems capable of exploring, analysing and understanding patterns of human language.

In general, approximately 20% of the overall knowledge within a company is the highly-organised ‘structured’ data. The remaining 80% is ‘unstructured’ and is made up of non-formalised images, email, Word documents, audio and PDF files that is difficult for computers to read.

It is this unstructured data to which NLP is being applied. Making it quickly readable and accessible for analysis is particularly useful in relation to legal due diligence, allowing for substantial savings of time and money for law firms that need to process large volumes of data.

Applying NLP in data rooms

In practice, NLP can be very effectively applied within a ‘virtual data room’ (VDR) environment, whereby authorised parties can access and exchange documents and manage processes within a secure cloud environment.

Indeed, in practice most of the documents uploaded into a data room for due diligence are technically unstructured. NLP can analyse and categorise such information effectively and the more sophisticated the technology, the more specific the categorisation of the information.

NLP provides a competitive advantage in several business fields, including legal services, and going forwards there is potential for it to play a bigger role in more strategic decision-making.

AI will become more useful over time

Thanks to modern technology, workers in most law firms or legal businesses no longer need to haul through stacks of dusty legal documents, case files and law books.

In most cases, AI has helped make the jobs of junior lawyers easier, and those of senior lawyers more efficient in relation to certain tasks.

Legal professionals should appreciate that AI is not a contributor to higher redundancy rates among junior lawyers and paralegals but rather a tool that will grow more useful over time. The automation of mundane tasks does not take jobs from lawyers but instead helps them become better at delivering on key elements of their roles.

And AI’s potential can be used most effectively when it is applied within a VDR environment.

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