09 Apr 2018

Understanding How AI and Data Can Create New Legal Roles

Law firms continue to experience increased competition from within and outside the legal sector as legal work becomes commoditised. Additionally, in-house counsels are under more pressure to demonstrate value to their organisation. Against this backdrop, artificial intelligence technology is helping organisations make best use of data to assess their legal obligations and risk, freeing up legal staff to perform more high value tasks.

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By Tim Pullan, CEO and founder of ThoughtRiver.

In recent years, because of the rapid digitisation of data and the advancement of digital storage technology, businesses amassed unprecedented volumes of data during their operations. Now, businesses have begun to use AI tools to draw insights from certain types of structured data, such as consumer behaviour and profile data. Unstructured data, such as data sitting in commercial contracts, are equally valuable for the business as they provide insight into commercial obligations and risks. 

In fact, the ability to extract value from contractual data for clients will be invaluable for the legal profession in the future. Law firms and legal departments alike will need to create new legal roles to employ individuals with the right skill set to capture this value. This presents an opportunity to train a new generation of AI-savvy lawyers.

According to a Deloitte Insight report, there will be “profound reforms” across the legal profession within the next 10 years1. The report finds that 39% of jobs (114,000) in the legal sector stand to be automated in the longer term as the profession feels the impact of more radical changes. To date automation has meant the loss of some lower-skilled roles, such as legal secretaries. However, more than 80,000 high-skilled roles have been created to develop and manage new technologies.

A historical parallel may be drawn with the accounting industry in the late 1990s when computers were accepted and adopted by the profession. Before then, accountants had to input entries and perform calculations manually using a calculator; errors were common and required tedious recalculation. When the computing revolution came, there were fears of job losses resulting from efficiency gains, similar to predictions for the AI revolution today. 

However, those fears were unfounded. Accountants have since enjoyed steady job and wage growth. Because of the efficiencies conferred by computing tools, accountants who mastered those tools have more time to interpret data and provide business advice. In a similar vein, aspiring law students who are familiar with data science will find themselves with a competitive advantage in the legal profession of the future.


The Legal-Data Expert

The efficiencies gained from manipulating and analysing data are immense, yet relatively untapped in the legal industry. For example, the Prudential Regulation Authority frequently requires insurers to assess the impact of latent or previously underestimated liabilities which means insurers potentially must review thousands of historic policies. Usually insurers would obtain a small sample from their underwritten policies and hire lawyers to perform the necessary analysis and extrapolate the findings to manage risk. This is clearly a flawed method. A legal-data expert familiar with working with unstructured data would be able to offer their clients immense value by using AI tools to perform the same exercise at a fraction of the time normally required and across all policies instead of just a sample.

Such legal-data experts would typically be well-versed in manipulating databases to obtain insights and would be tasked with handling AI tools in a law firm or legal department. These can be either be fully-fledged roles, creating a future generation of “smart paralegals”, or part of the role of junior lawyers who will be acquiring the skill sets to become “smart lawyers”, adept at capitalising on AI and data to their advantage. 

Legal-data experts would be tasked with solving issues that a legal team could face in a logical and efficient method. This may involve using technical skills to optimise repetitive and manual tasks, which most often include trawling through data to search for information. For the more technologically-savvy firms that may already employ AI tools for these tasks, the legal-data expert would specialise in finding the best way to apply AI tools to business problems.


Transforming Roles

Law firms can begin by hiring junior lawyers with a data science background and giving them the opportunity to undertake projects on their own initiative, as well as take partial ownership of any AI tool that the law firm might acquire. Over time, this should give the law firm a clear picture of how to design the job scope of this new legal role. At any rate, it is a useful experience for junior lawyers to practise working with databases and AI tools. In doing so, they acquire a more systematic problem-solving mindset, as well as familiarising themselves with ways of working more efficiently. With the support of AI tools, junior – and senior – lawyers will have more opportunity to focus on higher profile legal work and building client relationships instead of spending time on residual and marginal points. This represents a real opportunity to attract and retain the brightest and best of the new generation of lawyers, putting the law firm or legal department in the strongest possible position to address emerging challenges.



1 Deloitte Insight report https://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-news/deloitte-insight-100000-legal-roles-to-be-automated/



About the Author

Tim Pullan is CEO and Founder of ThoughtRiver. ThoughtRiver has researched and pioneered AI technology that tells you which contracts to look at and which sections to focus on, without having to read them. ThoughtRiver’s Review application can generate risk assessment reports on contracts in seconds. Follow @ThoughtRiverCI or visit www.thoughtriver.com


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