Artificially Intelligent Corporate Counsel on the Horizon

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By Sara Merken

Artificial intelligence is making its way into in-house legal departments, with companies like Microsoft Corp. speeding the use.

Some large companies and law firms already are using AI—technology in which machines perform tasks that require human intelligence—to review contracts, analyze legal spending, and predict litigation outcomes.

Microsoft has been testing the use of AI in several in-house legal projects for the past several months, according to Lucy Bassli, assistant general counsel of legal operations and contracting.

In addition to time savings for in-house attorneys and increased effectiveness in Microsoft’s compliance programs, the goal of the pilot programs are “fast and easier access to information that is right now spread across multiple systems, and in a variety of unstructured documents,” Bassli said.

“We hope to be able to speed through information quicker, negotiate contracts faster, and make it a smoother process for the people we are negotiating our contracts with, as well,” she said.

There are a variety of other early-stage AI developments out there that will “evolve and develop in the short term pretty aggressively,” likely in the next year to 18 months, Bassli told Bloomberg BNA.

“We are almost there as a legal industry,” she said.

Growing Interest

While AI is still in its infancy, there is growing interest in how AI can aid, speed up or improve in-house functions, corporate counsel told Bloomberg BNA.

Online business payment network Viewpost, for example, is watching the applications and use of AI to determine where the technology best fits its legal operations, General Counsel and Chief Security Officer Christopher Pierson told Bloomberg BNA.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company also is partnering with firms that are exploring this area “from a thought leadership and operational capacity as well,” Pierson said.

The areas in which in-house departments are likely to benefit from AI are efficiencies in the contract review and creation process, and predicting and preventing future litigation, Pierson said.

By using AI tools to look at company litigation patterns, general counsel will be able to “figure out where we might want to pay attention,” he said. The technology also can help in-house attorneys identify risks, both internal and external.

For example, AI can sort through the unstructured data from emails, documents, and other computer activities to allow general counsel to predict when there is “something amiss” with an individual employee, Pierson said.

Early Adopters

Ultimately, public companies likely will lead the way in using AI for legal services.

“Public companies could be early adopters as they have the resources to invest and implement the technology,” Michael Caplan, the New York-based chief operating officer of law firm Goodwin Procter LLP, told Bloomberg BNA.

Companies in highly regulated industries such as health care and banking could also adapt early to leverage the technology to address compliance pressures, Iohann Le Frapper, board chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel, told Bloomberg BNA.

Corporate legal departments that want to be forerunners in AI use face a challenging prospect because they have to invest time and resources to figure out the technology, Le Frapper said. However, once there are more users, “the adoption rate will likely increase dramatically,” he said.

Using AI

General counsel, in deciding whether to use AI, must consider their individual data utilization strategies when it comes to things like managing and predicting outside counsel budget, and building preferred panels and risk reward models, Caplan said.

For in-house attorneys that want to ease into AI, there are many vendors out there that offer services based on the technology. Tel Aviv-based LawGeex, for example, uses AI to analyze “low value, high volume” contracts.

Its clients include general counsel from U.S. finance, insurance, and retail companies, and from foreign companies such as U.K.-based social media online monitoring service Brandwatch, LawGeex co-founder and chief executive officer Noory Bechor told Bloomberg BNA.

AI supporters also reject concern that the technology will replace jobs in the legal industry.

The technology shouldn’t be thought of as human versus computer, said Ned Gannon, chief executive officer of AI contract review service eBrevia, based in Stamford, Conn. Instead, the technology should be viewed as the enhancement of the capabilities of a human using the software versus one who is not, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Merken in Washington at smerken@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Yin Wilczek at ywilczek@bna.com

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