Artificial Intelligence: the number one topic for discussion among my lawyers when we ask them about future and current trends in the legal industry. Or as they like to refer to it, “technology.”

While a few people are still talking about it like it’s something that’s going to happen or will affect us in the future, the majority have accepted that AI is already here. Whether they’ve adopted certain pieces of it (see this discussion we had earlier in 2017 on AI), or they’re still trying to figure out what it means for their firm, there are some standard questions and ideas that law firms, lawyers, and other legal professionals should become comfortable with, if you’re not already.

To aid in this process, the Legal Marketing Association has been providing some additional resources on AI, and brought together some of the top minds in LMA to host a Twitter chat last week on the “Next Big Thing: Artificial Intelligence.” While I’d argue that it’s more just “The Big Thing” since it’s already here and being adopted by firms, and more importantly, their clients, the discussion was a robust one, with some excellent food for thought. The following is my summary of the discussion. 

Key participants included:

What is AI & Why is it Important for Legal Professionals?

The participants all agreed that artificial intelligence, or AI, is a general term that is used to describe tools/machines that can perform tasks that were previously thought to be restricted only to people. Computers/machines can do these tasks more efficiently, and therefore, more cost effectively. This is critical to the legal industry for a few key reasons. Says Patrick Fuller:

First, it enables firms with poor leverage to leverage without associates. That’s critical. It also will enable smaller firms to compete in certain areas with larger firms. It will also help lawyers who are frustrated with the drudgery of repetitive knowledge tasks to automate those to focus on work they love doing. It will force law firms to adapt attorney comp structure to the efficiencies provided by AI, or risk losing more and more legal work to the combination of ASPs and Automation. That’s a very powerful disruptive combination.”

It’s also an exciting opportunity, so rather than being afraid of what the implications of AI might be, it’s time to be looking forward to the ways we might embrace it more heartily.

What’s the Difference between the Terms “AI” and “Machine Learning?”

AI tends to be a broad term that can represent a number of different things, and one of those things is machine learning. Fuller shared the below graphic to offer some clarification, adding “Nothing is a ‘solution in a box’ – machine learning still requires training, which takes time…and for lawyers, that’s often non-billable time.” You might be surprised to learn that some of the things you’re already using in your home and office, and comfortable with, are considered AI:

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Mark Masson further expanded on Machine Learning to explain that:

Machine learning: algorithmic approach to understanding what will likely happen based on many moving variables. Really what you’ll use most in law marketing and BD is machine learning in service to targeting the right clients on the right things with right actions.”

What Should Legal Professionals Know in Order to Take Full Advantage of AI?

This is really the crux of what we want to know, right? What should we all know to take advantage of AI? From the participants, there are some key lessons to takeaway:

  • Understand the basics so that you can be part of the conversation: This is true whether you’re in the marketing department or a senior lawyer at the firm. What are the different types of AI, how are they being used (at your firm and other firms, especially competing firms, and how might your firm want to leverage them? If you don’t know the basics, reach out to people in your network and beyond to start getting educated (there are resources included at the end of the post from the participants).
  • Start with the business challenges/questions: We’ve heard this one before. It can be exciting to want to start with a product that sounds really cool, but as Fuller suggested above, none of these tools are a solution in a box. So start with your business case. Masson suggests looking at areas of high-opportunity.
  • Look at clients and prospective clients: How are your clients and prospective clients using AI? Fuller takes it further: “What existing work is a threat? How will that affect the firm’s business relationship. What types of legal work is seeing demand soften? Start there.” This extends through all departments in the firm too – we’re all being asked to do more with less, so review how AI might help your department to become more efficient to show your value within the firm proactively.
  • Anne Szkatulski suggested from the attorney side, that lawyers focus on what they can bill, and automate what they can’t. “Leverage tech to produce better results.” Rather than being afraid that computers are going to take over our jobs, let’s embrace what technology can do to make us more efficient – even better, that means we get to do more of what we love, while the computer does the boring stuff.

How Can Professionals use AI to their Advantage within Law Firms?

There are huge advantages to using AI within your firms, primarily because, as Mark Greene points out – the bar is really low at the moment. The chat participants had some great suggestions that firms can implement and replicate:

  • Get the word out: First and foremost, if your firm is using and embracing AI, don’t hesitate to share that with your clients and potential clients. Since the bar is low these days, that’s a huge differentiator. Particularly if you can show with data how you’re adding value.
  • Data, data, data: There is SO. MUCH. INFORMATION. out there today – we cannot possibly process everything we need to in order to make the best decisions about how to target clients and potential clients, how to keep everyone happy, where the key pieces of evidence in a litigation are, etc. Masson encourages firms to use AI to:

    Identify high-growth potential clients, increase ROI on marketing spend/effort, creating an early warning system for dissatisfied clients. Leverage external resources to conduct a proof-of-concept project that develops insight on one key question, creates a data asset consolidated from many sources, and evaluates your firm’s data quality, processes and analytics for future use. Have information leverage (deeper insight about client needs and buying proclivities) puts Marketing back in the driver’s seat of the strategic growth agenda. AI/machine learning has the ability to fundamentally provide a win-win for firms and clients – better information about client needs and firm capabilities matched up against one another drives value.”

  • Start small, and build: Firms are producing a lot of content, and we can be using AI either for content creation (Elonide Semmes encouraged us to look at tools like Wordsmith and Quill, which even Forbes is using), or to create an app that drives demand around firm content. Per Fuller, “if your firm is creating content around potential regulatory changes, create an app that will take a few questions a lawyer might ask a client who was inquiring about whether or not their company may be at risk, or be affected, by the regulatory changes. Use the basic knowledge automation app to create demand. Look to align AI where it makes sense for certain types of matters & fee arrangements, but that delves a bit more into pricing and practice development. Also, developing subscription apps for ancillary revenue can be beneficial.” You can take this one step further, because you’re already adding value to potential clients who may need your assistance – and those who need more assistance than the app can provide will have automatically built up trust in your firm, and will naturally want to reach out to you for more help.
  • Don’t forget about the legal side opportunities: Greene suggests firms consider launching an AI Industry team. “The AI industry is underserved and it is generating a LOT of IP, deals & disputes. Deciding whether to do so requires knowing your firm’s capabilities.”

An interesting note to consider – law firm compensation, at least in the US, historically rewards inefficiency (the billable hour, anyone?). So as AI increases efficiency, this is a further challenge to existing firm compensation structures, which will force firms to have to consider the way that they reward value. Fuller suggests “tying AI use to fee arrangements where efficiency is king is a good first start. Same with developing ancillary revenue sources,” which is another reason that these discussions need to take place at all levels of the firm.

What Risks are Associated with AI?

This is another question that I know eats away at risk-averse lawyers. And the answer is, of course, because it’s so new. But, as with anything else, it doesn’t mean that we avoid or jump off the train – just that we should be aware, cautious, and pay attention. So what ares some of the risks that people see?

  • Ethics
  • Regulation & laws lagging so far behind technology (one only has to look at bar rules for social media usage by lawyers and law firms)
  • Firms not embracing changes and adapting – Greene says “So far, there’s more AI hype than real impact, but the change is real, will progress with astonishing speed, & will crush those who wait to see how it all shakes out.” Fuller agrees, ” Everything in legal is based on precedent, and often, the job of lawyers is to reduce risk. AI, though, can create consistencies that mitigate risk.”

What are some of the other risks you see for using AI?

What Ethical Questions Should We Be Asking Ourselves When it Comes to BigData and AI?

Greene nails it when he says:

AI will be the most massive disruption of our lifetimes, and it’s impossible to anticipate all of MANY the ethical issues that will arise.”

Even five years ago, I couldn’t have pictured something like the Echo Dot sitting in my kitchen, playing music, recording my shopping lists, and potentially recording discoverable evidence. And yet, here we are. So the ethical questions are difficult to fathom. The participants offered some suggestions:

  • Carefully considered policies for information collection and usage – for example, how does AI coexist with the EU’s upcoming GDPR?
  • Do firms/lawyers have an ethical obligation to use AI to improve efficiency and value for their clients?
  • Where is the line between insight and privacy violation when it comes to data collection/usage?

What other ethical questions do you see coming up? I’m particularly interested to see what will happen with the data that is collected from AI devices like the Echo and Google Home, when they are used in criminal cases, and whether there will also be restrictions put in place for lawyers being able to have such devices in their offices.

Additional Resources

Fortunately, there are some high quality resources available for our continuing edification on this topic, and I encourage you to keep using them to learn:

  • Mark Greene’s blog at marketintelligencellc.com – Fuller endorses this fully, saying “it’s updated daily with all things legal AI and is best resource I’ve seen yet on aggregated all the AI news.”
  • LMA created a public Twitter List of thought leaders and innovators at the forefront of AI, which you can follow for regular updates.
  • If you’re an LMA member, you can also access their AI resource community.
  • Fuller also recommends (and this is one of my favorite ideas in general) paying close attention to The Big 4 and their use of AI. While the legal industry is an excellent place to start in terms of learning about any new initiatives, seeing what other industries are doing and accomplishing, particularly when it comes to new technology, and then applying it within the legal industry, is a surefire way to stay ahead of the curve. Other professional services are close to the law firm model, so it’s not too difficult to translate the lessons you learn from them to your own practices.

Please add other resources you’ve found in the comments below, as well as share the questions you have on artificial intelligence!