The impact of advancing legal technology on the legal world has been deafening recently. New developments in artificial intelligence (AI) technology for law, coupled with a much greater client demand for reduced costs and increased service, are creating unprecedented new challenges in the legal sector.

While talk of robots taking over our careers sounds frightening on the surface, legal professionals are embracing the advancements in technology to enhance legal operations and respond to client needs for increased service. They are making the changes work for them, not against them.

The role of AI legal technology

Firstly, let’s just clarify that recent research suggests that the adoption of AI will be a slow, task-by-task process, and won’t be replacing skilled human lawyers.

A paper released by Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Frank Levy, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studied the effect of automation on legal professionals at large law firms. It found that AI is likely to deliver the most benefit to the areas of data management and discovery, currently performed mostly by paralegals and junior lawyers. The paper found that AI will not impact much on legal drafting, which is difficult to automate due to its use of precedent – which in turn exceedingly difficult for a computer to model. Equally, AI is likely to have little effect on negotiations, client advice, court appearances and communications with clients. Each of these areas require human interaction and emotional intelligence, which AI lacks for the foreseeable future.

What is foreseeable is that, sometime in the next decade, AI may form part of the legal team working on aspects of the discovery or management of a project being led by senior lawyers. So while the legal landscape will change with advancing technology, lawyers won’t be replaced any time soon.

Get ahead of the curve

Robots or no robots, any lawyer still has to stay ahead of the curve. Rather than fearing legal technology and the change that it brings, many legal professionals are educating themselves on the potential changes and how they can benefit their career, legal team or law firm.

For a junior lawyer, getting AI to assist with discovery and document management could be a dream come true. Instead of remaining stuck in a complex and arduous discovery task, you would be exposed earlier to more complex drafting and advice stages, progressing your career faster.

For tech-savvy legal professionals of any level, whether working at law firms or in-house legal departments, embracing technological changes is a step to future-proofing your team and business. A lawyer with even just a working knowledge of legal technology has a strong commercial advantage with clients and within your firm. Some of Australia’s larger law firms have set up committees to assess whether AI has a place within their practice and how it can help control costs. As a Partner or Senior Associate moving towards partnership, being ahead of the technology debate should put your firm in a strong position with interested clients and within your firm overall.

For in-house legal teams, the General Counsel is increasingly expected to understand technology and how it affects their business. They will often be called upon to distil new technology into lay terms for the executive team, requiring them to understand the technology from a risk perspective. With increasing pressure on legal spend, while maintaining quality of legal service, legal technology is a topic which is likely to stay at the top of the board’s agenda.

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