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The use of technology is taken for granted in most professions these days. Despite the prevalence of technology, there are some fields in which the use of technology is considered impractical because of the extent to which these professions rely on human skills and knowledge. However, nowadays even fields like law, which were previously considered impervious to the use of technologies like AI, are relying more and more heavily on technology. In fact, it would be rare these days for a law firm not to be using some form of advanced technology. Let’s take a look at some ways lawyers and law firms use AI technology, and what this might mean for the future of law as a whole.

How are law firms using AI?

The first and most obvious way would be research. Trials and lawsuits often involve searching and organising hundreds, if not thousands, of documents. Usually, this task is left to paralegals, newbie lawyers, and other legal assistants. However, sorting information is one of technology’s most primary and fundamental tasks. So what better way to apply AI than to legal research? An AI would likely be faster and more efficient than a human. An AI would also be cheaper, much to the satisfaction of the client! The decrease in billable hours is more than made up for by the decrease in wages paid to auxiliary legal staff, as well as the overall gains in efficiency enjoyed by the firm.

AI can also be used to search for legal precedents, an important component of any suit, settlement, or trial. The use of AI in such a scenario greatly reduces the risk of missing out a precedent due to human error, enabling law firms to create the strongest possible case.

AI can also be used to generate documents. AI technology is becoming more sophisticated and yet easier to program, leading to the use of AI to generate documents such as letters and even insurance claims.

How can AI help?

The major benefit of AI is that it decreases the cost of previously time consuming and labor intensive legal services. This means that legal services are now more accessible to those who have a lower income. Services like legal chatbots and DIY law programmes enable people to avail themselves of the legal system without having to pay large amounts of money.

AI also cuts costs for law firms themselves. Just like in other industries, as the more time consuming work is taken over by technology, companies can hire fewer workers for these roles and thus spend less on wages.

How can AI harm?

The flipside of firms being able to hire less people is that less people get hired. Experts have predicted that as many as 100,000 legal jobs, particularly in the research sector, will be automated by 2040. This will impact paralegals and legal research professionals most severely.

There are also ethical implications to using AI. While AI can use information to create new documents, this information first has to be indexed by humans. Any inaccuracies, mistakes, or omissions while doing so will result in an AI relying on a faulty data set, potentially compromising whatever results it generates.

Past cases also often have underlying currents on inequality, and the results of past trials and lawsuits often go much deeper than the final verdict or settlement. If the AI is not coded to take these things into account, it could end up perpetuating past trends of inequality that the legal system is trying to move away from.

Will AI replace lawyers?

Ultimately, it is unlikely that lawyers will go the way of the dinosaurs, at least not in the near future. While there are aspects of law that can be done more quickly and efficiently by a machine, the practice of law remains highly complex and intricate. There is still no AI technology that can conduct negotiations or cross-examinations. AI technology also cannot react spontaneously to new information, something that is a key part of being a lawyer.

Despite this, AI is here to stay. With clients wise to the cost savings that AI can bring, it is only a matter of time before the use of AI, at least for relatively more mundane tasks, becomes commonplace. Rather than fighting it, however, law firms should look at ways in which they can integrate AI into their existing work processes. Lawyers who figure out how to use AI to maximize their own efficiency will likely have an advantage over their peers who are slower to adopt this technology.

Just like with other industries, the introduction of technology is sure to disrupt the field of law in the short term. However over time, new standards will be created and best practices will emerge. As the industry learns to use AI, it will also be important to keep a watchful eye on how AI is used and to prevent it from inadvertently harming both lawyers and clients.