Automation is happening, and it will bring substantial benefits to law firms and corporate legal teams worldwide, but it won’t arrive overnight. Realizing automation’s full potential requires people and technology to work hand in hand.
Artificial intelligence (AI) stands out as a transformational technology of our digital age – and its practical application throughout the legal world is growing apace. It is attracting growing amounts of corporate investment, and as the technologies develop, the potential value that can be unlocked is likely to grow. However, for all their promise, AI technologies have plenty of barriers to adoption that will need to be overcome. Examples include obtaining sufficiently large and comprehensive data sets to be used for training models, and the difficultly of explaining in human terms the models results; why was a certain decision reached?
The first step is reframing how we think of AI, both individually and within an organization. To lend an example, I personally think of AI as a mechanism that enables me to connect with interesting people to solve interesting problems. It offers itself as vehicle for revealing the hidden patterns within data and enabling litigation teams to understand the bigger picture. It is also a tremendous source of creativity and innovation, a true differentiator for making observations and uncovering what the best use case could be. The value here is realizing those benefits through improved client results and stronger working relationships.
Despite outing myself as the extreme AI optimist at times, I truly believe that these are the kinds of conversations it’s worth getting out of bed for every morning. The ‘what’s possible?’ environment where the best ingredients remain equal parts people and technology. To be successful, AI initiatives cannot exist in a vacuum. A variety of experiences and ideas are needed so that the people within your organization share in a collective sense of purpose as they search for that ‘Eureka!’ moment. In AI we find a series of tools that can best be understood as removing the drugery from our lives and offering simpler, cleaner pathways for answers we seek.
Organizational challenges around technology, processes, and people can slow or impede AI adoption. Central to achieving the promise of AI is understanding that people are required for any of its potential to be realised. This means not just collaboration with likeminded tech enthusiasts, but through the creation of robust pathways that educate eDiscovery teams and challenge existing norms. Ultimately, the improvements in workflow efficiency will succeed existing methods. Yet despite the tangible economic gains at hand, the central message should remain one of the individual’s enablement. Supporting the right cultural narrative will go a long way to overcoming hurdles to adoption.
The truth is, understanding AI is like learning anything new. It might seem intimidating at first, but once you cover the basics, the potential is magnified. Like many courses of study, AI offers a path for maximizing the individual. As humans, we could never understand the sheer amount of data AI engines can comprehend at one time. Yet we are enabled beyond our previous potential through directing this great power to reveal the hidden patterns and anomalies within data faster than ever before. Even more challenging, in terms of scale, is overcoming the “last mile” problem of making sure the superior insights provided by AI are instantiated in the behavior of the people and processes of a law firm or corporate legal team. It’s not good enough for AI to be successful in isolation. It must become central to an organizations digital strategy.
AI adoption requires buy-in by the executive suite to generate the momentum needed to overwhelm organizational inertia. This is where service providers must boldly lead with conviction. They must understand that they are going to war with their partners. They must help their team understand they can achieve great things when armed with the right technology. Taking up the challenge of AI might mean reducing existing revenue streams where inefficient methods still maintain dominance. It might mean a short-term hit for the service provider operating an inefficient review technology, but it will almost certainly mean a considerable gain for the law firm or corporate legal teams they serve.
Resistance to change is one possibility. Another is a lack of confidence in the technology being defensible in court. Again, this is simply a shortcoming in process and education. There are a number of ways this could be addressed to grow confidence with both legal teams and the court. In 2017 Google made the bold announcement that AI’s ability to understand language had reached parity with humans in speech recognition by achieving a 4.9% per-word dictation error rate. Since then this has superseded human standards. Carrying this across to the legal field requires increased communication between vendors, service providers, law firms, and corporations alike. The more each stakeholder understands how they will benefit through the adoption of AI, the sooner these challenges will be overcome.
Leading this change is not the sole responsibility of law firms or service providers. It’s up to all members of the industry to collectively work together. What must not be understated is the importance of bringing people along for the journey. Whether they are project managers or practice group partners, clarity in process and results is paramount to overcoming the last mile problem of AI adoption. Human-level speech recognition is the last decade’s single most important breakthrough in AI. But this only means something if adoption becomes the norm.