The legal profession has evolved at an unprecedented speed. Technology and new emerging tools harnessing artificial intelligence and data visualization all help legal professionals now uncover valuable insights. It is almost impossible to attend a conference today and not encounter multiple discussions about artificial intelligence (AI). Many in the legal profession have begun to assume—that AI is the future of law. While still in its infancy, artificial intelligence-powered tools are at a point where new insights are now possible.
Most of what is happening in the legal space related to AI is connected to machine learning. There is plenty of hype and confusion about these terms in the media, but for our purposes it is probably best to think of AI as a broad technology category whereby machines carry out "smart" tasks that we associate with human decision making. Machine learning is a subset of AI—a powerful application of AI technology in which we expose machines to lots of data and provide them with ways to learn on their own and become incrementally "smarter" over time.
Current discussions of AI in the legal context tend to be hyperbolic and focus on concepts like "robot lawyers." This is unfortunate for at least a number of reasons. First of all, its potential may be overlooked and it also generates fear among highly skilled professionals that they might soon be at risk of being replaced by machines. While machines may indeed one day perform some of the tedious, mundane and repetitive tasks in preparation for any legal matters, we are a long way away—if ever—from replacing the extraordinary levels of nuanced judgement and expertise demonstrated daily by experienced legal counsel. This would do a real disservice to AI and legal technology as it would overshadow truly meaningful work in the area of machine learning. Solutions today are already improving the interaction between humans and computers, rapidly evolving a lawyer's ability to answer questions and draw important legal insights from ever-growing data collections.
AI technology would best be described as powering a new era of 'augmented intelligence' for lawyers. Lawyers are still making key legal judgments but now have powerful tools to draw new legal insights. AI technology is making it possible for legal professionals to interact in a more natural, conversational way with computer systems. The language of law—which is very specialized and highly context sensitive—is being mapped into computer systems so that the mountains of legal data that we now have access to can be mined more effectively. AI's promise is that we will get better results quicker and more efficiently, and at a lower cost.
An equally promising technology whose potential may be overlooked amid all this hype is data analytics. Data has always been the foundation of law. However convenience, accessibility, and the speed of digital mediums are all transforming this discipline from within. Data volumes continue to grow at exponential rates, and "big data" is an issue across just about every legal function. This is true whether you are talking about research or sketching out a legal strategy, assessing the merits of a case, or performing a multitude of tasks that a lawyer now confronts. Client expectations too now have changed and there are relentless demands to be more efficient and deliver more cost-effective services. Lawyers' work today involves finding, sifting and synthesizing relevant information much quicker. This is a problem that must be addressed because the pressure from clients is not easing up.
Fortunately, there are effective solutions in the marketplace today that target these data-related challenges. Technology-focused companies have learned a lot about how to manage big sets of data. These providers are also investing heavily in the promise of language-based technologies that can scan, interpret, and synthesize the written document. These solutions are empowering the "data-driven lawyer," for whom the big data phenomenon represents an opportunity, rather than an intractable problem.
Data-driven analytics is something lawyers and other workers should learn how to do and use. The prevalence of data-based applications in consumer technology is an important part of this story. For consumers, data is already all-encompassing. Ordinary people are already accustomed to and welcoming the convenience that insights derived from data brings to their lives.
Lawyers who have, for one reason or another, not implemented data-driven changes into their professional lives are at least witnessing that data makes their personal lives more convenient and fulfilling.
Here are some examples of how data is a game changer:
- Data about traffic congestion is piped to mobile applications such as Google Maps.
- When consumers use their mobile devices, algorithms crunch information about themselves as well as establish similar "buyer personas", presenting then to users, all the choices matching what the algorithms think they want to see.
- When seeking medical advise, health care providers can access data about patients, and use such data to support decisions about treatments and diagnoses.
- When consumers use their credit card, they are too facilitating the expansion of a big database of their personal habits.
But how can lawyers use such data to engage in predictions about the future and advise clients on legal matters? The primary model has been through complementary forces of expertise and experience. As lawyers practiced and gained knowledge over the years, they relied on their personal experience and judgment for how these questions should be answered. Now another reference point is – data-driven decision making – and has become part of their repertoire. Data today is not only a set of static reference points on which a human can make decisions. It has become a dynamic asset that can be used to root out previously unseen relationships and conclusions. The data and legal analytics a lawyer has nowadays might be applied to the quantitative predictions they are asked to make about the future, particularly if the data exists in a consistent structure. Data that can fundamentally improve some common predictions lawyers are asked to make are litigation planning strategies, document reviews, sensing patterns in the way judges rule, obtaining detailed metrics on how successful witness experts have been admitted into court, as well as pricing and budgeting at the law firm. With the help of analytics law firms can also identify gaps in their own team and hire to fill those gaps in certain practice areas.
Underlying the rise of analytics is the maturation of artificial intelligence technologies like natural language processing and machine learning, which are deployed to add structure to complex legal data, which in turn can be used for comprehensive and quality statistical analysis. With advances in machine learning, attorneys, editors and other subject matter experts can help train computers to structure vast amounts of legal data, enabling machines to replicate human editorial activities at scale. With clean, structured data, companies can then create powerful new tools that identify important legal trends and help lawyers make better legal and business decisions. Building a data-driven legal practice is not going to happen overnight, but starting this roadmap is not as daunting as it may seem.
Here are five good starting points:
- The place to start with using data to enhance your practice is probably in comparatively mundane applications such as billing and management systems. They hold a gold mine of data about productivity, value, talent, results, and outcomes.
- The next step involves getting data structured in the right way and into an organized and structured format that is both secure and shareable among those with appropriate access permissions.
- Data hygiene is the following critical step. Data in legal organizations may also require some tidying up, but can be incredibly valuable when properly sanitized.
- There is no getting around the fact that leveraging analytics in a legal organization requires lawyers to work side-by-side with people who understand the data and data structures. But crossing that divide and building trust and subject-matter expertise across professional boundaries is a necessary mindset shift facing the legal industry today.
- Building a data-driven legal practice and culture is not something you assign to a task force, department, or an individual. It requires a buy-in from everyone from the top leadership down. None of this is easy and it all comes down to building behaviours and practices that support the idea that -this is how we do things from now on, and it is better than our prior practice.
- Creating a data-driven legal practice is a matter of competitive survival. And it is much more than simply the adoption of a new tool or product. It requires a shift in mind-set and a significant cultural change for the organization.
Technology is offering real utility and value to legal practitioners right now. Legal analytics and data power better decision-making in a number of legal practice areas such as patent and trademark law, copyright, securities, antitrust, and commercial litigation. By processing this enriched data, lawyers can draw conclusions about opposing counsel, case opinions, judges, litigation parties, and contract drafts in order to reveal legal insights that were not previously knowable. Legal analytics is also being used to help firms improve the ways they approach their business. It does so by providing factual data about the behaviour and performance of law firms and individual lawyers—including data points like win rates, cases with resolutions, etc. Analytics can also be used to track broad industry trends relevant to activities like strategic planning, business development, and marketing.
As these adoption rates for legal analytics tools rise, we are seeing the data-driven lawyer of tomorrow is increasingly a reality today. Whether legal professionals want to be more persuasive in court, do a better job identifying a reliable expert witness, or simply know more about their own firm and lawyers, they are discovering that legal analytics exposes an array of data points and insights that otherwise would have been the province of anecdotes and speculation. As technology continues to improve, our ability to extract and classify legal language will improve and the types of questions legal analytics can answer will continue to multiply. Questions that once seemed unanswerable are now answered with a quick dashboard lookup. Tomorrow's data-driven lawyer will have the opportunity to benefit from all of these technologies. Conversely, the lawyer without access to these technologies will be at a significant competitive disadvantage.
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