For the past couple of years, the legal industry has been in "hype hyperdrive" over what now seems to be an achievable opportunity for AI to reshape legal service delivery. Not surprisingly, much of the hype has been driven by technology companies seeking sales and profits by proudly announcing new products. And law firms have responded by licensing these products to maintain their competitive positioning and demonstrate their willingness to innovate.
So after several years of this feverish activity, where do law firms find themselves today? They are awash in point solution products developed to apply AI tools to a very narrow range of legal tasks. The success of predictive coding for eDiscovery document reviews paved the way for AI products to transform due diligence, expertise and document automation, contract analytics, legal research, and legal prediction. The broader a law firm's service portfolio is, the more specialized tools it likely needs to adopt.
There are two negative outcomes of having so many point solutions. The most obvious is higher costs due to multiple product acquisitions, implementation (including lawyer training), and an increase in IT operating costs. The subtler, and arguably more burdensome, cost is the disruption to the way lawyers work. To use a point solution, a lawyer—whose mind is deeply involved in the creative legal process of performing a certain legal task—must break out of that concentration, remember that there is a special application to help, figure out where it is and how to access it, and remember how to use it, perhaps after several weeks or months since the latest use. By the time all this has unfolded, the lawyer may not remember why he needed the tool in the first place and what he was trying to accomplish.
Fortunately, AI platforms are becoming available as an alternative approach, i.e. "bringing AI to the lawyer" rather than requiring the lawyer to go to AI. AI platforms provide a suite of integrated AI tools that work seamlessly with each other. Rather than having to acquire multiple point solutions, a firm can use the AI toolkit to create applications that fit its needs. A good analogy would be Microsoft SharePoint. Out of the box, it is a rich set of development tools with some simple, pre-formatted applications. But in the hands of a good developer, a law firm can use it to create rich, high value intranets crafted to their specific business needs and working processes.
In the platform world, AI can be embedded in applications that support legal processes. This avoids the need for lawyers to break out of their concentration during a legal task and find a tool. For example, an associate might search for a stock purchase agreement to use as the template for a new deal. AI tools, working behind the scenes, might automatically analyze the template, find documents it determines are similar, analyze the editing history of those documents, draw some conclusions, and present a dialog box stating, "Did you know that over the past 6 months the firm has generated similar SPAs in 12 matters? The average drafting time was 18.5 hours over the course of 3 calendar weeks. And the lawyers most involved were X, Y, and Z." This is really useful information that can help attorneys plan their work schedules for the coming weeks, find some colleagues who might be of assistance if needed, and monitor their own progress to see if their document drafting matches other timelines.
Transparency and competitive differentiation are two other potential advantages of an AI platform. If a firm adopts a point solution for say, due diligence, it has no visibility into the AI algorithms being used. It may also be using the same algorithms as its competitors. If a firm instead invests in an AI platform, including the specialist skills needed to apply it, the firm can "train" the platform to perform due diligence in accordance with the firm's best practices. Over time, the firm can differentiate itself by developing a set of AI representations of the firm's unique interpretation of legal concepts that it can reuse across multiple legal processes.
As law firms examine the AI application landscape over the next few years, they would be well advised to judiciously adopt AI point solutions in the short term while also monitoring the emergence of AI platforms suited for the legal market. By investing in AI platforms, firms will be positioned to improve the satisfaction and productivity of their lawyers while also reinforcing their quality of service and minimizing the higher costs associated with a proliferation of AI point solutions.
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