AI: Delivering Real Benefits to Lawyers and Courts

The slow progress of integrating AI with legal procedure has been drastically accelerated this year. What benefits can these new technologies bring to the legal sector?

Jamie Foote, product manager of CaseLines, part of Thomson Reuters, discusses the benefits artificial intelligence can bring to lawyers and courts and how the technology can help widen access to justice.

One side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to accelerate the digital transformation process for courts and law firms alike. Virtual trials – once an idea set firmly in the future – are already proceeding with the support of technology. We are experiencing unbelievably rapid digitisation across the legal industry, and with it, rapid innovation – including the increasing application of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to address bottlenecks in legal processes.

Reactions to the use of AI in law have been varied, but some of the negative responses have been associated with the belief that if AI technology is adopted it will reduce the need for lawyers. I’d argue instead that AI offers the potential to augment lawyers’ capacity and efficiency, to enhance relationships and engagement with clients, and crucially to help make justice more accessible for those that rely on it. At a time when the legal system is facing a backlog of cases to process, the potential efficiency gains of AI cannot be ignored.

New ways of working are challenging existing processes right across the justice system. In this context it’s essential that law firms adopt the right mix of human talent and technology. With so much in flux, today is an optimal time for law firms to look at how AI technologies can deliver competitive advantage, as well as appealing to clients and junior talent keen to avail of new opportunities ahead.

Let’s focus on some real use cases where AI can already deliver real value to law firms and courts – for example, by delivering efficiencies in the creation of electronic bundles for trial proceedings and also in improving access to justice for all.

At a time when the legal system is facing a backlog of cases to process, the potential efficiency gains of AI cannot be ignored.

AI in bundle-building

Producing paper-based bundles for court has long been a laborious process but thankfully one that is becoming increasingly obsolete, spurred on by the pandemic. It’s now a widespread requirement for law firms to produce electronic bundles or ‘e-bundles’ for court, with judges demanding that these are easily accessible and searchable, and not simply broken up into multiple pdfs shared over email. In March 2020, the Honourable Mr Justice Mostyn published guidance on how to deliver e-bundles.

E-bundle building technology is rapidly becoming more intelligent, and increasingly includes features enabled by AI. One such example is AI-enabled document search capabilities. This is not just standard keyword matching – these intelligent tools can also identify words and numbers in handwriting and imagery. They also allow for pattern matching for phone numbers, addresses and postcodes or national insurance numbers. Additional tools can be layered on top of this technology, such as automatic redaction features. This means a lawyer or paralegal could search for and redact all instances of a phone number in an entire bundle in seconds, and then apply rules to the bundle that mean the text is only redacted for parties accessing the document who lack the appropriate permissions. These tools are not only much faster than humans but are much more accurate, and remove the possibility of unintentional disclosure of information.

AI tools can also detect duplicate information. Duplication of documents within a bundle is common, particularly in civil court cases when pulling documents together from lots of different sources. The tool can scan the e-bundle and highlight instances of potentially duplicated documents within the bundle, pull them up for review and provide options to the user on how to address them. This saves time spent manually searching through a bundle to ensure no duplication has occurred every time new documents are added.

The use of AI in relation to e-bundle tools allows lawyers and paralegals to work more efficiently and spend less time on low-level administrative tasks. This in turn frees up more time for them to focus on delivering other value-added activities for their firm and the clients they serve.

Widening access to justice

With the increase in court hearings taking place in a virtual setting – online and via video and teleconferencing, there’s increased scope to promote access to justice for all. Relevant parties can be invited in to a remote hearing securely, with the appropriate trial bundle proceedings shared on screen. In such a setting there’s also increased scope to use AI to support real-time translation and transcription services.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is rapidly evolving to an impressive standard and is already being used to translate in real time to a high level of accuracy. NLP translation tools offer the potential to revolutionise timeframes in cases that require translators. Whole bundles can be translated to a high percentage of accuracy so that a translator only needs to go through to check and amend any errors, and certify the translation.

AI-enabled real-time transcription is also available and becoming more and more accurate at deciphering and transcribing audio streams with multiple voices talking over one another and different accents within the same language. A lot of manual transcription goes on in court cases and court audio recordings pile up every day waiting to be transcribed. This is another bottleneck that AI can address in order to improve efficiency.

NLP could also be used to revolutionise the accessibility of justice processes, for example through automatic captioning of multimedia evidence, which could make trials much more accessible for those with hearing disabilities. Similarly, the visually impaired could benefit from AI that converts text to spoken word.

Far from replacing human lawyers and paralegals, AI offers huge potential to remove the laborious and costly administrative processes often associated with court cases and to revolutionise access to justice for those in need of it.  AI is still largely untapped in the context of justice processes, but its potential deserves to be recognised and the appropriate investments made. Used wisely, AI can deliver benefits for all.

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