As you may have heard by now, Artificial intelligence (AI) is on the brink of revolutionizing the legal profession. AI, also known as cognitive computing, is when computers start doing things that have previously required human intelligence. In the legal profession, AI can and is being used in document review to sort through large chunks of data and identify relevant pieces of that data.1
However, finding relevant needles in a data haystack is not the same as providing nuanced understanding and analysis of those findings. For that, the legal profession still needs people. People like partners and associates to provide high level analysis and strategy, and people like contract attorneys to train AI software to sniff out relevance.2
An estimate from a recent study by McKinsey & Co states that 23% of lawyer work output can be automated using AI.3 Many legal experts feel that document review is one area where cognitive computing technology can be implemented with great benefit.4 This is particularly relevant in the area of e-discovery, where electronic documents were first reviewed by expensive associates, then by less expensive contract attorneys, and now, increasingly, through the use of cognitive computing.5
The current thinking is, however, that when it comes to document review, it would not make sense to let AI software loose unsupervised into a mountain of data and documents. Legal professionals are needed to train the software to find useful patterns, so that the AI software is a help rather than a nuisance.6
This provides a great opportunity for firms to further increase efficiency by bringing in teams of contract attorneys. Partners and associates can train these contract attorneys on what they need from the document review process, and the contract attorneys can then train the AI software, ensuring that the process is as cost-optimized and efficient as possible.
Top e-discovery providers are already using this strategy of AI-augmented, lawyer-supervised document review to provide the most efficient and cost-effective service for their clients.7 As Andrew Arruda, a co-founder of the top legal AI startup Ross Intelligence says, “We’re working on having lawyers teach the computer to think like a lawyer. That would be a huge step for humanity.”8
Harvard Law graduate and legal AI technology startup founder Adam Nguyen agrees. “[I]t’s not about replacing but transforming. About 20 to 30 years ago, lawyers had to manually red-line documents, but we don’t do that anymore. We don’t perform legal research by going to the books. Do we still have to red-line documents and perform legal research? Yes, and actually we are doing a lot more. I would argue that technology transformed our jobs and enabled us to … add more value.”9
It is clear that AI has arrived as a disruption in the legal profession. Smart firms will win what MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call the “race against the machine”10 by employing teams of e-discovery contract attorneys to train new, cutting edge AI technology, thereby providing the best and most cost-effective service for their clients.
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