For a long time, legal work has been arcane and expensive. It’s the preserve of highly trained professionals who have studied for years, and those with the finance to employ them.
Now, lawyers and computer experts are beginning to train AI networks to take some of the strain out of the rote work for lawyers. This year has seen a breakthrough in Legal AIs offering contract review services.
This means that a service that previously could have left companies waiting for weeks for an answer, and left a beleaguered business lawyer sifting through a standard contract for tiny loopholes and deviations over the course of hours. Using a technology called ‘natural language programming’ a properly trained AI can sift a contract within 60 minutes, according to criteria set by the client, under advice from their lawyer. The AI will flag any sections of the contract that deviate from the norms established by the client, so they can be examined more closely.
This makes the service not only quicker, but more financially accessible. If you’re just using a lawyer on an ad hoc basis, this will cut your bills every time you have a contract to review. If you keep a law firm on retainer or have your own in-house lawyer or legal time, this will free up valuable time for them to provide more advanced services for you. While the AI is doing basic work reviewing contracts, your lawyers can be researching and preparing to write legal briefs and mediate disputes to protect your interests.
The law is one of the last professions to embrace any kind of digital automation. Though emails undoubtedly speed up communications, much work is still done by hand, typed up, printed and faxed, or some variation on this routine. While some may worry that automating the basic tasks of the legal profession may mean fewer jobs for lawyers in the future, others are more optimistic. “There is this popular view that if you can automate one piece of the work, the rest of the job is toast,” is the opinion of Frank Levy, a labour economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That’s just not true, or only rarely the case.”
Rather than reducing jobs, some automation of basic functions should give lawyers the space to specialise more, and add more value to their clients and operations. It’s an exciting time for the legal sector, and hard to predict where it will be in five to ten years.