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INSIGHT: AI Can Help Law Firms Retain New Talent, Find Work-Life Balance

Sept. 21, 2020, 8:01 AM

Law firms are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves from the competition and retain top talent. Making partner at a top-ranking firm in New York may remain the dream for many law school graduates, but an increasingly dynamic job market and a high rate of legal burnout has made the battle for firms to attract and retain the best talent fiercer than ever.

Understanding what makes young lawyers “tick” isn’t just vital for retaining talent, it’s also key for the continued evolution of the industry. According to a recent survey by Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, lawyers today value job satisfaction, career progression, and a healthy work-life balance over their salary.

Meeting these objectives is often difficult: With enterprise data growing exponentially, the volume of documents that lawyers need to examine increases, too. Compounding this is the need to remain compliant with regulatory changes such as the Libor transition, or recently enacted data privacy rules like the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. The increasing complexity of both legal frameworks and the data under review is making lawyers’ jobs more laborious and frequently unmanageable. In this context, providing young lawyers with the tools that will allow them to not only quickly review vast quantities of documentation but also meet their career goals is crucial, and tech may well be part of the solution.

Increasing Stresses for Junior Employees

The legal world has always been a demanding one. When I started my career as an M&A associate in New York, there were certainly a lot of sleepless nights and precious cat naps under my desk. I recall the normality of asking the security guard to wake me up after half an hour’s rest so that I could continue working.

Today, M&A transactions can involve hundreds of thousands of documents and litigators will sometimes begin an investigation with data sets of over a million files to review. Ineffective—and frankly, risky— sampling methods have become commonplace.

These challenges are all the more pertinent in the current climate. Layoffs, pay cuts, and falling revenues have led to heightened levels of stress and fear for lawyers. And while it’s brilliant to see a traditional profession embrace modern working practices, remote working can be lonely and bring added stress to an already substantial workload. For junior employees in particular, this may mean working in challenging environments such as cramped shared accommodation, making it difficult to communicate with more senior colleagues or get the guidance they need to feel connected and develop those professional relationships that feed job satisfaction and career progression.

Catalyzed by the pandemic, law firms are starting to wake up to the benefits of next-generation technology to aid the work of legal teams, particularly for junior lawyers who are still tasked with endless hours of repetitive document review tasks with strict deadlines. By reading and analyzing millions of documents instantly and surfacing the most relevant information, AI can dramatically cut the time spent reviewing documents and remove the need for manually trawling through near-identical contracts. Technology enables lawyers to spend more time engaging with and understanding the document sets, allowing junior lawyers to focus on more complex, higher-value work which puts to use the skills and incisive analysis they have honed during their legal education.

Law Schools Are Engaging Legal Tech

Law schools are also waking up to the benefits of legal tech as graduates turn to technology to best position themselves in a competitive job market. This can often motivate firms to adopt the best technology. Jan Smit, innovation manager at Slaughter & May recently said, “We need to have the right legal tech resources in place to show prospective trainees we are an innovative firm that cares about the way they work.”

Law schools need to keep pace with the changes occurring in the industry to produce graduates who are tech-savvy and ready to hit the ground running in an increasingly digital profession. Some law schools like the University of Glasgow have already allowed their students to try out the tech for themselves with the introduction of a practical legal technology course.

When I started my legal career, I remember manually blacklining contracts to indicate wording differences and wondering, is this really what I went to law school to do? When Microsoft Word was introduced and we no longer had to do this, the legal industry progressed. Clients were paying less, legal teams were more efficient and junior lawyers like myself were happier. AI represents the next evolution in the field of law. If we don’t embrace it, the profession can’t advance for the benefit of both clients and junior professionals.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Jason Brennan is the acting CEO of Luminance where he is responsible for overseeing Luminance’s business operations and continued expansion across the U.S and the greater Americas region. He began his career as an M&A associate in the New York office of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

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