However, AI technology and machine learning are already core components of services nearly everyone already uses, such as a Google search engine.
As well, there are already a number of products on the market and many more being developed that may assist lawyers, even in small firms or sole practitioners, improve their practice of law both in terms of servicing clients and running their business operations.
“These are just better tools,” says Isi Caulder, a partner at Bereskin & Parr LLP in Toronto and co-leader of the firm’s artificial intelligence practice group.
“There has been a quantum leap in the past five years” in developments in these technologies, she notes.
“Over time, AI will be ubiquitous.”
Concerns about AI are in part driven by some misleading media coverage, says Caulder.
“People are freaked out that machines will replace humans. Lawyers are not going anywhere. They are still going to be needed to assist clients. We might need a different type of lawyer though, who can integrate AI tools skilfully,” Caulder says.
The main benefit of AI products already on the market, she notes, is the ability to take large amounts of data to make informed predictions.
“A lot of this will replace jobs that articling students would have to do. Leave the “paper flipping” to the computer. For small to mid-sized firms, these tools give you the opportunity to increase the resources you can offer clients at a lower cost. It can magnify what you can offer,” says Caulder.
As an intellectual property lawyer, she says patent-related software that uses AI technology provides faster and more effective searches of large data banks.
In the past five years, there have been more than 13,000 cases issued by the United States patent and trade market office that deal just with artificial intelligence systems, Caulder says.
Other AI software can assist with patent drafting to ensure there are internal consistencies in the document.
“It is smart proof-reading. Like a nagging editor,” she says.
E-discovery is one area that has benefited from AI technology.
There are also products that assist in creating a document management system that can be stored on the cloud instead of having physical files.
“There is a fear of the cloud, but there are a number of very safe and encrypted solutions available for lawyers,” Caulder says.
The amount of AI-based products aimed specifically at the legal profession is increasing substantially each year. A recent U.S.-based survey said that the number of vendors in this field offering software specifically for in-house legal departments has increased by 60 per cent in the past 12 months.
Benjamin Alarie, a professor at the University of Toronto law school and chief executive of Blue J Legal, says that, within the next decade, virtually every software product will be machine-learning based.
“It doesn’t have to be scary,” says Alarie.
Blue J Legal creates products in the tax and employment law fields that assist with legal research by searching large numbers of cases to try to determine how a court will rule.
“Good legal research is legal prediction,” says Alarie.
The company has a partnership with Thomson Reuters.
“Based on thousands of cases, we will show you the cases that are most relevant,” he explains.
“No client wants to pay you to do all that work [manually],” he adds.
“If the opposing lawyer has used an AI tool and you haven’t, that will put you on the back foot in court. It won’t be that many years before you run the risk of being negligent if you are not using these tools,” says Alarie.
In addition to AI software to assist with litigation, there are products in a number of other areas, he notes, including practice management, which are user friendly.
“They make it easy to manage your practice and get out of the business of laborious time tracking,” he says.
For lawyers who want to see if there is AI software that will assist with their practice, Alarie says, most products have “webinars” online that will explain how it works.
“Speak to other people in your practice area. A lot of it is word of mouth,” he says.
Caulder adds that it is worthwhile for lawyers to attend legal technology forums to see what is available. As well, if a lawyer is still wary of AI products and unsure about whether they will be easy to make use of in one’s practice, Caulder says, there is a solution.
“Take the initiative and hire a millennial. Hire someone who is comfortable with the technology and who can help.”