February 21, 2019
By Jason Vander Meer
As conferences like Legaltech in New York last month demonstrate, artificial intelligence (AI) is still the rage.
But is it really providing what lawyers—and their clients—need? Or is it simply disrupting the way lawyers are used to working without producing sufficient value to justify its adoption?
Rather than looking for fancy new technology for its own sake or layering new tools on top of trusted solutions, AI solutions should strive to be better integrated within lawyers’ existing workflows.
While AI promises a better mousetrap, some solutions have overlooked the obvious: you don’t need a better mousetrap if you don’t have mice.
Instead of beginning with the problems to be solved, many law firms have looked to the most exciting new solution, creating a disconnect between the available tools and the needs of lawyers and clients.
By focusing on ways to use advanced technology such as AI, many lawyers and law firms have lost sight of what really matters—helping clients efficiently and cost effectively. Or, as another author put it, “To be useful, AI needs to be used for a specific cause or task, not thrown-in randomly in hopes for a potential benefit.”
Let’s back up to the beginning. What do lawyers need to do? For starters, they must represent and counsel their clients competently, ethically, and promptly enough for their advice and counsel to be useful and affordable. That requires researching statutes, case law, and regulations; creating, checking, and collaborating on documents; communicating with clients, other parties, courts, and regulatory authorities; and billing accurately for their time without wasting time unnecessarily.
All practicing lawyers have established tools and workflows that help them get those tasks done. The key is to avoid the “endless hype-cycle of ‘innovative’ technologies touting the next best thing [when] what law firm and corporate counsel really want is excellent legal services performed as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.”
You know that assistant or intern who, rather than assisting you, essentially becomes another task on your to-do list?
Too much technology threatens to do the same, creating work that we may not need to do without saving us a corresponding amount of time on our mission-critical tasks. In our view, integrating AI into the actual production tools that a firm or lawyer already uses is the way to simplify, instead of disrupt, lawyers’ workflows and convince them to adopt new technology.
And the bottom line is that lawyers—and law firms—should be excited about what new technology can do for them. By allowing AI to identify potentially relevant cases, highlight problematic areas in documents, analyze contracts and documents for commonly used language, and seamlessly track time, we can improve the services we offer to clients without charging them more.
What’s the most monotonous, slow, tedious drudgery you’re saddled with? Where do you find attorneys wasting time or getting stuck?
These are the key areas to optimize—not what someone else has identified as your problem but the problems that you are experiencing on a daily basis. Chances are that you’re doing tasks that a machine could do easier, better, or faster. Look for examples in your own daily work, such as capturing billable time spent on client emails and proofreading documents.
If the AI tool you’re considering isn’t integrated with—or compatible with—the tools and devices you already use, it’s going to slow you down rather than speed you up. Investigate whether the software you’re using is incorporating AI or other smart technology.
Many vendors are creating partnerships to upgrade their familiar solutions, making them more useful without requiring attorneys to reinvent their approach to work. If you’re still using legacy software that isn’t based on recent technology—or if you haven’t updated your software in so long that you’ve missed out on iterative improvements—now is the time to join the twenty-first century.
There are certain things that computers will never do, such as consulting with clients, arguing in court, and thinking creatively about how to resolve a situation or get a client out of a jam.
Technology can help you do repetitive tasks more quickly so that you have more time for these critical human tasks, but don’t allow it to become so important that it eclipses the value of people themselves.
While it promises to be tremendously helpful, AI is just a tool—it’s the way we wield it that will determine our results.
Jason Vander Meer is vice president of product management for Litera Microsystems and is responsible for defining and negotiating the strategic vision, planning, execution, delivery, and launch of products in the Litera Microsystems suite.