Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions are undoubtedly one of the most popular topics being debated within law firms and the wider legal market.  Even in the last 18 months, the AI market has evolved considerably, with new players emerging and existing vendors attempting to strengthen their position.   There is also an enormous amount of discourse around the capabilities of this technology, especially within the legal sector, which means a lot of jargon busting is required to get a clear picture of what is actually achievable.

Conflicting views abound in the press, from how robots will “replace lawyers in the next 20 – 30 years” to “a robot is not about to replace your lawyer”. Undoubtedly, there are opportunities for AI in the legal market. However, despite this media buzz, most providers will acknowledge that this is still very much an emerging and a rapidly changing market. As is the case with any new technology, it presents us with certain challenges.   AI is not an “out of the box” solution – it is not a product that IT departments can deploy by simply clicking next, finish and their job is done.    We have to work with our clients, our suppliers and our legal teams to test, trial and evaluate – and this all takes time from both the IT team and the lawyers and other business services functions. This is particularly the case if the project is taking the raw product and developing an innovative end product – the effort and time involved will be significant.

It is unlikely that any single product will give all the answers. Some products are quite niche whilst others are more generic AI solutions. There will be some investment needed both in money and resource and although we may have the appetite for adopting these technologies we also have to have the appetite to try before we buy.

The expectations of this type of technology are high and research shows us that some maturity is needed in both the products and vendors to meet these expectations. Vendors are working hard in what is now a competitive environment and law firms have the opportunity to leverage this to their advantage if the firms are prepared to contribute time and resource.

There is certainly a race in the market to announce engagements with AI providers but some clarity is needed in how this technology can and will give you a competitive edge by embracing this as part of a wider innovation programme.  The reality is that law firms will quickly adopt a feeling of missing out, especially as the conundrum of aligning an AI solution to a business need is a challenge.  When the expectation is that all firms are using these tools, the next challenge will be how a firm can differentiate itself from the crowd.

Without a doubt, there are many advantages in using these technologies to for example automate manual processes in the same way many firms have been doing using existing tools such as e-disclosure and document assembly.     Mass document extraction and analysis is not new but what we are seeing are products using cognitive technology like AI taking this a step further.   It is exciting to be a part of the industry on the cusp of the AI revolution and the opportunities it presents to be more efficient, cost effective and innovative.