A layered approach to legal work

AI and human touch

George Rudoy
A layered approach to legal work: AI and human touch

Legal professionals can use AI and other technology to add to their practice – without taking away from the profession.

The legal field and legal profession continue to evolve. Attorneys require a unique combination of training, expertise, and experience to provide invaluable services for their clients. And the introduction of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and machine learning can add challenges to the legal profession. At the same time, the companies that are responding to litigations need to provide data from multiple technology platforms, often unstructured or proprietary, to defend against allegations and lawsuits.

It can seem like the advent and popularity of technology has complicated legal work. Law firms used to rely on junior associates to do the groundwork, but now that AI can develop content, it might seem like any type of legal work that relies on the expertise and experience of attorneys is up for grabs.

According to a recent survey, 70% of surveyed attorneys indicated they have risk concerns surrounding the use of generative AI, ranging from access to confidential information to accuracy of responses and creation of liability.

Plus, 20% of respondents indicated they’ve received warnings from their companies about the unauthorized use of generative AI.*

The reality is far more complicated – and far more beneficial for attorneys. While AI can write documents and present certain aspects of legal work as part of the briefing protocol, it can’t replace the training, experience, analysis, and human-to-human connection required in the legal profession. Attorneys can distinguish and differentiate their work from the work of AI while automating certain tasks to be more economical, efficient, and effective for their firms and their clients. “‘I think some of the reaction in the legal profession has been extreme, especially those [law departments] that do outright bans,’ says one corporate legal leader. ‘AI is just a tool, and you just have to be smart about how you use it … Some law firms and legal departments even sought to ban email too at first, but now you can’t [imagine] a firm conducting business without it.’”*

Especially for those functions within the legal profession that can be considered expensive but don’t require high-value expertise – discovery and document review, for example – AI can be a great solution to augment attorneys’ expertise and leave them the time and space to do the work they do best.

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Where AI can be most useful in the legal profession

The concept of the “end of lawyers” – replacing legal professionals with automated services – has floated around the industry, but can technology actually supplant highly trained and experienced humans? In many cases, the legal product is a delivery of certain data, augmented by legal advice between two groups of humans – the actual delivery is a human-to-human endeavor. AI might be able to create presentations or write certain briefs.

82% of surveyed lawyers in the previously mentioned study agreed that generative AI “can” be applied to legal work.* However, in that same survey, only 52% of respondents agreed with the statement that generative AI “should” be used for legal work.*

As one respondent noted, "There are too many intricacies and nuances in legal work that require human reasoning and judgment, and there’s no way some computer programmer could take those into consideration."* AI cannot deliver an efficient legal argument without involving human analysis. That requires a specific ability to digest and analyze information and deliver a response – an ability that attorneys possess.

So, where can AI and other technology be useful? During investigation or litigation against a company, lawyers often need to go through very large volumes of data to identify what is responsive to the request as well as what is considered privileged or confidential. Analytics technology has always been useful during this discovery process, and the recent boost in technology specific to AI has sped up the process even further.

That said, using emerging technology – including AI-specific technology – in the discovery process does present some challenges. First of all, technology doesn’t stand still. Companies are constantly implementing new products and processes to address business and communication needs (the shift from email to instant messenger programs, for example), so early adoption of emerging technology is critical. Second, the volume of data continues to grow, and that data is easier than ever to keep – which can make it more difficult to find what is needed (and identify what isn’t).

That’s where AI comes in. Every lawyer needs the right tools to develop and deliver on the basic protocols that are expected, and AI and analytics can be among those tools. Plus, clients are not going to pay for the extra time it would take to dig through data manually – which means lawyers need to get on board with using AI and analytics to narrow down the data.

In addition to conducting discovery, attorneys base legal arguments on precedent. When attorneys write a brief and argue a point, they’re not coming up with that argument without background – and the strength of their argument is greater if they’re quoting precedent or case law. Benefits of AI really shine when lawyers use it to deliver the components (legal research, information gathering, and so on) that make the argument more successful. In fact, the legal profession has relied on analytics technology for many years to do things like deliver research, locate evidence, and even perform some due diligence.

How AI holds up in court

Lawyers can be fearful of overstating the role of technology in any case, and it’s important to keep the focus on the human-to-human interaction. Making it clear that all the information gathered and analyzed by technology has been calibrated, verified, and overlaid with the expertise of a licensed attorney can go a long way to mitigate an argument from the other side about strategy.

There’s no need for attorneys to hide the inclusion of technology when they can defend the technology they used. A judge or arbiter that is less familiar with the different ways to use technology generally can be convinced when presented with the precedent for that technology and confirmation that all information has been verified, certified, and calibrated by humans, making it defensible. In addition, many judges might appreciate the efficiency technology can provide – after all, they don’t want to govern over a long litigation when the proper use of technology can make it more efficient and escalate the possibility of a faster judgment.

What a layered approach of AI and a human touch looks like in practice

The incorporation of AI and technology should be layered. Attorneys should not trust AI to develop legal strategy, but strategizing to bring in the right aspects of AI at the right time in the process can make a big difference in the final product. It's not about the machine doing all the work – rather, it’s about an integrated approach with constant verification and calibration. After all, technology does not run by itself to create a legal argument. Once the strategy is developed, attorneys should break it into components and then decide which components can be augmented and assisted by technology – and which cannot.

No lawyers like to stare at a blank screen or empty page when trying to deliver legal services for their clients – and when everything is at their fingertips (through use of the right technology, including AI), it makes the job easier.

A recent survey notes that respondents who said they use or are planning to use generative AI were interested in using it for contract drafting and review (76%) and legal research (69%).*

But with this more sophisticated technology comes the need for more support, which allows attorneys to pass off the more mundane parts of their work, so they can focus on what they’re trained to do – delivering complete legal opinions based on a variety of complex inputs, including evidence and case law.

While some practicing attorneys are uncomfortable with technology overall, the industry appears to be heading in that direction. As one survey participant said, "In five years, this is going to explode. It will be like the computer, … it will touch everything. It is just amazing and it’s not going away."* And attorneys won’t have to explore this technology alone.

Legal consulting professionals can help attorneys with the transition, using their own legal background to work alongside attorneys and help them implement technology and interpret the results. These professionals understand the available technology and tools and how they can be altered based on the specific needs of attorneys. Lawyers are trained to think a certain way, and using technology augmented by people who can identify, deliver, and interpret the law allows attorneys to focus on the most important parts of their work.

It’s important to note that when current, accepted technology first became part of the legal profession, few people who were practicing lawyers were excited. Many wondered whether they could trust the evidence and research done by technology. The answer was yes, as long as the input sources were sufficiently vetted and the output was used merely as a resource and reviewed by legal counsel.

It’s been proven time and time again that certain tasks can be done more efficiently and precisely by technology – for example, databases and electronic discovery are now well-known aspects of any case development. The bottom line is, it’s all about how well the technology is trained – a human operator is always needed to train and run the technology, verify the results, and make the results defensible.

Attorneys don’t need to fear AI – it cannot replace the human brain to make the sophisticated types of arguments that prevail in legal cases. But the tremendous pressure from corporate entities to reduce the costs and time for legal proceedings means lawyers should be welcoming the inclusion of AI and analytics in their processes. And some already are. About one in 10 corporate legal professionals report already using or planning the integration of generative AI into their department operations.* Not only can it shorten the span from beginning the case to making the legal argument, it also can make arguments more effective and efficient.

* Thomson Reuters Institute, “ChatGPT and Generative AI Within Corporate Law Departments,” May 2023.

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George Rudoy
George Rudoy
Principal, Global Law Firms Consulting Leader