Law is a constantly evolving industry, and few things have brought about as much change as the rise of legal tech. From my days at Harvard Law School, to BigLaw, to my current role leading a legal tech company, I’ve seen first-hand how technology, and AI in particular, have played a critical role in bringing a risk-averse industry into the next wave of the digital era.
When I arrived at Harvard Law School in 2005, artificial intelligence was little more than a theoretical concept in the legal industry. Practical applications of AI, machine learning, and natural language processing were still things of the future. It would be years before IBM’s Watson would beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy! or we would all have Siri and Alexa in our homes and pockets.
Like many of my fellow graduates, I moved from law school into a career in BigLaw. While my days at Kirkland & Ellis were full of rewarding colleagues, clients, and work, I quickly realized that options for any path outside the traditional, demanding partnership track were limited. Attorneys who desired a more flexible arrangement typically had no choice but to leave BigLaw and its world-class clients behind and try to make a go of it on their own.
I began to envision a world where technology could create a whole new work model for corporate law. New technologies were making it possible to create flexible yet consistent work arrangements wherein highly skilled attorneys could continue to serve top clients without sacrificing their personal lives and needs in the process.
Simply put, I saw a prime opportunity for technology to free up corporate attorneys from traditional employment constraints, and that’s why I co-founded InCloudCounsel.
Technology, including AI and machine learning, would also bring increased efficiency and quality to the work being performed, particularly for routine, high-volume legal work like NDAs, vendor contracts, engagement letters, and vendor agreements.
In short, InCloudCounsel was a win-win—skilled attorneys would get the freedom they wanted, while companies could reap the benefits of the better work product, time savings, and lower costs that come with outsourcing time-consuming work to a trusted network of attorneys while their dedicated internal staff are devoted to performing higher-value work.
What Law Firms Need to Understand About AI
While AI has received a lot of hype in recent years, there are still many important misconceptions about what exactly AI is and how it really works. Even though most people have now moved past the Hollywood rise-of-the-machines scenarios, many still fear that AI will eventually eliminate jobs and make humans unnecessary.
That’s simply not true. Robo-lawyers are the stuff of fiction—AI is not here to replace lawyers, but rather to help them be better at their jobs. AI is designed to handle routine, repetitive, high-volume tasks in a fraction of the time and with greater accuracy than humans. This frees attorneys up to focus on higher-value tasks that will always be a critical part of any legal matter.
Today’s AI is best suited to handling defined, data-centric tasks—in the law, things like finding terms in documents or filling out forms. While its role will likely expand in the coming decade, humans will continue to be vital in providing quality legal representation. AI-based solutions will allow lawyers to be more efficient and to more quickly produce accurate work product, but lawyers will always play a critical role in the work and, importantly, in training the technologies that produce these gains.
Rather than creating a revolutionary change in the profession, AI will more likely be instrumental in redefining what it means to be a member of the legal industry. Just as automation has changed other industries, we will likely see a shift in the nature of legal jobs away from routine tasks and toward higher-value roles that require expertise, because technology will be capable of performing many traditional tasks more efficiently and with far fewer resources.
Additionally, the boom of technology will create more jobs in legal tech and with legal service providers who are harnessing the power of technology to provide alternative legal services.
The legal industry will always want intelligent, highly skilled lawyers. What might change, though, is the skillset that’s desired. In the future, technology skills may be almost as important as legal reasoning and writing to being a good lawyer. As the industry continues to evolve, today’s lawyers and law students should make a point of honing their technology skills in addition to their traditional legal training.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Ben Levi is co-founder and COO of InCloudCounsel, a legal technology company that automates and enhances high volume legal processes for large companies. He is responsible for expanding InCloudCounsel’s global operations, which includes building its remote network of top-tier corporate attorneys.