The Lawyer published a very important article on-line on 23 October 2015: "BLP's Whalley: Using AI for processing is just the beginning" by Jonathon Manning. It describes how Berwin Leighton Paisner has begun to use artificial intelligence technology in its real estate and commercial practices to seek and extract specific pieces of information from long and complex documents.
As the next step in the evolution of knowledge management in law firms, AI promises to allow seismic shifts in practice management and profitability for law firms of all sizes, not only for large firms like Berwin Leighton Paisner, but especially -- repeat especially -- for small and midsize firms that want to remain competitive while continuing to deliver the highest quality in legal services.
In the article, the head of Berwin Leighton Paisner's legal risk consultancy, Matthew Whalley, points out several immediate and long-term benefits to a serious investment in, and integration of, artificial intelligence:
- AI can free junior lawyers from tedious document review work, with a resulting improvement in their productivity and morale.
- Legal services can be produced and delivered faster and at lower cost.
- Lawyers have better access to data, which they can use to change how they interact with clients, from being traditional legal service technicians to becoming strategic business advisors.
Contrary to some of the reactions that I have already heard about systems like Berwin Leighton Paisner's, the introduction of artificial intelligence into the direct production and delivery of legal services is not another piece of evidence that the legal profession is destined (or doomed, depending on one's point of view) to be dominated by gigantic Walmart-like law firms.
As with other technological innovations, the cost and downward scalability of artificial intelligence systems should improve substantially over the next five years, bringing them well within the grasp of any small or midsize law firm that is willing to make the investment. Like other technologies, AI can give smaller firms "Big Law" capabilities, dramatically improve profitability in markets that no longer tolerate higher fees, and help to level the competitive playing field.
However, none of this will happen by itself. It will require, especially on the part of owners and managers of small and mid-size law firms:
- a willingess to depart from traditional, but unproductive, habits and structures in the practice of law
- a willingness to invest time and resources necessary for a thorough (rather than superficial) integration of knowledge management and AI capabilties into the day-to-day work of lawyers
- a laser-like strategic focus on client needs and the law firm's competitive advantages; and
- better skills in change management.