Harnessing generative AI to create a new breed of supercharged lawyers and law firms

Traditionally the legal sector has lagged behind other industries when it comes to embracing new technologies. However, generative AI is proving to be the exception to the rule. Its potential to transform the profession, driving lawyers and firms to unlock new levels of productivity and efficiency, is too great to be ignored.

Growing numbers of law firms are putting their money where their mouths are, with global spending on legal AI software tools at already over $1 billion and projected to increase by almost 20 percent (CAGR) every year across the rest of the decade, reaching an estimated $37bn by the end of 2024. There’s a huge societal and industry shift underway; lawyers and law firms must act now, or risk being left behind.

A new era for the legal sector

A willingness from legal organizations to embrace generative AI will be crucial for the next generation of lawyers. With almost three quarters (73 percent) of lawyers saying they plan to use generative AI in their legal work within the next year, it is clear that AI is becoming increasingly ingrained into workflows and day to day practices.

Future lawyers must grasp this opportunity with both hands and explore how AI can help them accelerate their career. If they are able to correctly leverage generative AI, then they can work with more speed, efficiency and accuracy than ever before. Indeed, from a client perspective there will be a growing expectation for firms and lawyers to embrace AI if it means legal services are delivered faster and more efficiently at a reduced cost.  There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when not using generative AI will be considered a dereliction of the ethical duty of tech competence, so now is not the time to sit back and watch.

What does it mean for lawyers?

Lawyers are beginning to use generative AI for smaller, short-term gains. This includes document summarization, legal research, and contract analysis. In these early use cases, AI not only enhances productivity by eliminating the time-consuming manual components, but also enables legal professionals to spend more time on high-value client facing tasks.

Early AI use cases have needed an element of learning and exploration from lawyers to understand prompting and where generative AI fits into their day-to-day workflows, but this will change. The next phase of AI and the legal sector will see AI becoming more integrated within existing software tools. This will make adoption easier, while removing productivity bottlenecks. Lawyers should be on course to reap the rewards with disruption kept to a minimum if AI is simply another layer added to familiar environments. To achieve this, firms can’t rely on a pre-defined solution to improve their workflow. Instead, stakeholders must work together and engage in workflow mapping, identifying high value use cases, and creating custom AI tools to unlock the true generative AI potential.

As AI becomes more integrated into the legal world, it’s important to emphasize that AI will not be replacing lawyers, it will just enhance, automate, and augment their capabilities. Ultimately, lawyers will still be responsible for interpreting laws, providing legal advice, advocating for clients, and making strategic decisions. Eventually, though, generative AI will be aimed at and able to handle higher value, more bespoke tasks, so better to get on board now at the ground level and grow your skills along with the capabilities of the technology.

How can the legal sector prepare for more AI?

It’s important to be realistic: you cannot simply ‘switch on’ AI. You must go through an evaluation and testing process like you would any new type of software. There are plenty of potential issues to consider up front, from how to ensure it does not compromise compliance, to making sure lawyers know exactly when they should and should not be using it. A lack of understanding around AI could lead to more mistakes or a failure to achieve desired outcomes.

There are many steps firms and lawyers can take to maximize AI adoption and ensure it is used in the most responsible way. First, as part of embracing AI, lawyers must want to upskill and learn new digital competencies relating to generative AI such as prompting, how to leverage embedding and finetuning to improve outcomes and exploring mapping out processes for improvement. The hourly billing model means law firms have not been required to be efficient previously, so they may have significant upskilling in process improvement to do. With many firms still operating like numerous individual practices under one roof, getting practice groups to agree on one process for the same workflow may be difficult as well. Leadership is going to have to figure out how to deal with these challenges or progress will stagnate and AI technology initiatives will fail.

In addition, firms must put mechanisms in place to ensure their lawyers are strictly following guidance on best practices and regulations as they develop. This could include employing specialist AI employees or consultants to help with areas such as ensuring ethical use, protecting client confidentiality and eliminating biases.

Given the legal industry is driven by documents, using AI to generate, summarize and interrogate text can be a real game-changer, but you must have access to those documents in order to leverage their insights and content. Keeping AI within the robust guardrails of an existing document management system (DMS) that respects existing ethical walls and confidentiality orders will ensure both the law firm and lawyers are confident compliance and established information governance standards will not be compromised. Not moving copies of documents to other systems also ensures that productivity does not suffer in the desire to implement this new technology.

Prepare for AI success

Over the coming years, generative AI will become increasingly entwined within legal systems and lawyer workflows. Simply put, it cannot be ignored. AI has the potential to enhance legal services and create a new breed of lawyer that can reach unprecedented heights in terms of efficiency and productivity. This is why firms and lawyers must embrace generative AI and get ahead of the curve now and identify use cases for AI to be deployed in the most effective and valuable way possible.

Image credit: phonlamai/depositphotos.com

Jill Schornack is Vice President, Product at NetDocuments

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