The growth in technology for the legal sector has been the subject of high interest, but it’s nice to see the tech trend at the human level too.
Boston’s WBUR.org for instance took a look at how artificial intelligence is rewiring the lawyers, speaking with Ropes & Gray’s Shannon Capone Kirk (left) who runs the firm’s e-discovery business.
She spoke about the inefficiencies that existed in the early to mid-2000s when technology was beginning to have an impact on streamlining review processes, collecting gigabytes of data and then having lawyers run search terms across a review platform.
It worked, but it was inefficient, she says.
More recently there have been e-discovery platforms like Relativity, which have not only become more popular but their algorithms have become considerably more sophisticated also whereby they use machine learning to actually help find the documents that lawyers once searched for.
In other words: artificial intelligence.
Humans still set the parameters. But computers whittle down those millions of documents by using predictive coding. Kirk explains that predictive coding is essentially akin to the “thumbs up” button on Pandora — the lawyer trains the software to find what it’s looking for.
Lawyers can now sift through gigabytes of data and find “300 key documents” within a week, according to Kirk. “Gone are the days when you would staff 50 to 75 first- and second-year associates to a document review, that just does not happen anymore,” she said. “You could never do that before. Ever.”
Replacing Lawyers’ Work
Around 2 per cent of lawyers’ work a year is being replaced by AI, according to Frank Levy.
“A lot of this artificial intelligence work really affects corporate practice,” said Levy, the co-author of the paper “Can Robots Be Lawyers” and a longtime MIT labor economist. But he’s cautious about overstating the implications of automation.
“A job is a bundle of different tasks, some of them can be automated, and some of them can’t,” he said. “There was a kind of implication … that if you can automate one task within a job that everything else in the job is gonna be toast in about 20 minutes … that’s just really, totally untrue.”
“In the last seven or eight years, [demand for legal services] has been pretty flat,” said Levy. “And so that 2 percent a year really has some bite.”
The result has also seen a drop in law school applications.
From 2005 to 2015, law school applications across the United States fell by roughly 40 percent, according to data from the American Bar Association.
A major reason law firms aren’t hiring as many graduates as they once did is because of technology, but it’s not the whole story.
“Part of it is the technology, but the other part of it is the fact that the industry now has numerous options for contract attorneys and outsourcing,” said Kirk.
Among the trends having a major effect on the law business are the twin trends of outsourcing and automation.
And automation is having its effect not only on document review jobs, but also in legal research, litigation, contract analysis and other fields.
Gabe Teninbaum, a professor at Suffolk Law School, teaches a class called “Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines” focused on teaching students how to create automated contracts.
“The same way that you or I might use software at the end of the year to fill out our taxes and create a tax return in just a few minutes for just a few dollars, we can do that with legal forms,” said Teninbaum.
All in all – these twin trends are continuing apace and the law profession’s insulation from technology changes has ended – just a little more abruptly than some may have liked.