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Anyone who’s watched an episode of Law & Order — or one of its nearly half-a-dozen spinoffs — knows there’s a lot more to law than what happens in court.
There are conversations with cops, mountains of paperwork and legal research, and plenty of trial preparation, all before anyone steps foot in an actual courtroom. And, of course, there’s also a whole world beyond the criminal sector, be it lawyers and paralegals specializing in contracts or condos, patents or divorces.
That whole multifaceted industry is instrumental to the justice system and society’s social fabric — and it’s set to get a major shakeup thanks to Artificial Intelligence.
“The capability of using AI throughout the legal industry, and specifically in legal departments, is poised to take machines beyond simple keyword search tools, to partners with whom lawyers will team up to deliver better, faster, and cheaper legal services,” writes Sterling Miller, senior counsel for American firm Hilgers Graben PLLC, for Thomson Reuters.
So how, exactly, could AI transform the legal industry in the years ahead?
Experts believe the impact will be broad, from speeding up paperwork to predicting legal outcomes.
AI Could Speed up Research and Document Reviews
A huge chunk of the behind-the-scenes work in the legal industry involves reading documents and compiling information — ideally both thoroughly and efficiently.
AI technology can boost the speed of that work, at the very least, experts say, with machines reviewing documents and flagging what’s relevant to a particular case.
“Once a certain type of document is denoted as relevant, machine learning algorithms can get to work to find other documents that are similarly relevant,” writes author Bernard Marr in Forbes. “Machines are much faster at sorting through documents than humans and can produce output and results that can be statistically validated.”
That’s why AI specialist Kevin Leyton-Brown believes one job in particular — paralegals — could be impacted “enormously.”
“If you spend time reading through gigantic records of documents, organizing and indexing them, and doing discovery and looking for mentions of some company — this kind of task looks like something AI is going to be really good at,” the University of British Columbia Computer Science Professor told BrainStation.
But, he adds, that doesn’t mean the role will disappear.
“Paralegals are going to work with these tools to do what they do faster, instead of a lot of menial grunt work,” Leyton-Brown explains.
AI Can Help Review Contracts and Identify Risks
One key aspect of human reasoning are the gut conclusions we all reach seemingly instantaneously, according to Leyton-Brown.
In other words, whether you’re looking at a photo or a medical record or a legal document, you’re able to quickly deduce information from it. “I think there’s where we can expect to find AI having a really big impact,” he says.
Instead of human eyeballs on contracts, for instance, there could be more AI applications doing the necessary scan — which includes assessing the language and structure in order to flag potential issues and risks for clients.
It’s already happening, in fact, thanks to tech startups like LawGeex.
In one study, the company challenged a group of 20 lawyers — from global firms like Goldman Sachs and Cisco — to test their skills against its AI-powered algorithm, according to the World Economic Forum.
Their task? Reviewing five non-disclosure agreements for risks.
While the algorithm and the top-performing lawyer both scored the same on accuracy, AI crushed the whole slate of legal minds when it came to speed — taking under 30 seconds to review all the documents, compared to the lawyers’ average speed of more than 90 minutes.
AI Could Predict Legal Outcomes
Imagine a courtroom where both sets of lawyers already know how a trial is going to end before it begins — how the jury will likely vote, and who will win the case.
It’s a reality that might not be that far off, thanks to AI.
“AI has the capability of analyzing data to help it make predictions about the outcomes of legal proceedings better than humans,” writes Marr.
And that’s likely good news to clients, who often ask their legal counsel to predict the likelihood of winning at trial or whether it’s better — or not — to settle.
“With the use of AI that has access to years of trial data, lawyers are able to better answer such questions,” Marr writes.
So what does all this mean for jobs in the legal industry?
Overall, the roles over time could radically change: One recent analysis from Deloitte found more than 100,000 jobs in the legal sector have a high chance of being automated over the next couple of decades.