Highly ranked law firms seem to follow new winds and have already recognized the advantages that cognitive computing and artificial intelligence can offer to the legal profession. The wide-scale spread of high-tech services within the legal service sector indicates a paradigm shift in the manner how legal work is done. This does not make however the highly qualified legal professionals redundant. On the contrary, innovative legal software may soon overtake the tedious, painstaking, time-consuming tasks of lawyers and allow more time for dedicated on value-added work. This trend would surely give a competitive edge on the market for highly ranked professionals and firms.

The existence of the trend of using artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal service sector is no more science-fiction. No doubt, cognitive technology can aid the legal profession in several ways. Most importantly it can take over the labor-intensive, time-consuming and repetitive legal tasks of lawyers. Cognitive – or smart – technology solutions can analyze contracts, answer routine questions, predict case outcomes, draft contracts, assemble relevant documents and perform due diligence, all with a significantly lower level of error rate and costs than humans do. AI techniques may be used in the legal sector in many areas, especially in (i) document processing; (ii) project management; (iii) regulatory; (iv)litigation; and (v) advisory services.

Document Processing. The importance of cognitive technologies is the most obvious in document-heavy areas of law, such as due diligence procedures, compliance related works, investigations or litigation. Not surprisingly there are more an more products available on the market utilizing AI in this respect. To take one example, an integrated contract analysis platform – that is applied by DLA Piper – easily processes large amounts of hardcopy documents and beside creating an electronic data room, the software is capable of identifying relevant documents and contracts and even finding clauses in foreign language documents. Clearly this can save a lot of time. As a result, the legal service providers may focus on identifying and solving legal issues, instead of spending endless hours on document review and processing. According to one of the recent experiences of DLA Piper, by the use of this application it was possible to process and review half a million documents by a small team in only two days. Another e-discovery software that is used in the legal service sector is capable to find specific contents rather than specific keywords, shortening the time required to locate relevant material in litigation. Other software can identify common clauses, agreement structures, standard clause languages, and common clause alternatives in a set of contracts as well as to summarize key information from contracts.

Project Management. Nowadays no top-tier lawyer can afford loosing time by less effective work organization. As a result project management ideas and tools are infiltrating into the legal service sector. Project management is also essential for planning workforce and budget, as well as to ensure keeping the allocated budget (especially in case of capped assignments). Therefore it is not a surprise that cognitive technologies are more and more applied in the field of legal project management. Daily use of project management applications closely integrated with time recording and billing softwares – like DLA Piper’s CAEL system – will soon be a must in every highly ranked law firm.

Regulatory Tools. Last October Thomson Reuters announced its partnership with IBM Watson and revealed that their alliance would manifest in an innovative legal product by the end of this year. The product will focus on taming the complexities of global financial regulations. The undertaking makes a lot of interest, as IBM Watson itself is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data and is used for years now in the business environment and healthcare. Its arrival in the legal profession therefore is very exciting news for the tech-savvy legal community. Should the project be successful, it can be predicted with high probability that others will follow.

Litigation. Another potential use of AI in the legal service sector is calculating probabilities and predicting outcomes of legal disputes and proceedings before authorities. Such use of AI generally builds on a specific database (e.g. court dockets), and uses data mining and predictive analytic techniques to forecast outcomes of litigation. It enables attorneys to see for instance how likely a judge is to grant or deny a specific motion, how long cases take to terminate, get to trial, or get to the claim construction hearing before a judge and how likely a judge is to find patents, trademarks or copyrights infringed, invalid, or unenforceable.

Advisory Services. AI is also knocking on the door of simpler legal advisory service providers. There are already functioning examples of cognitive techniques being able to answer simple legal questions by analysing huge amounts of legal documents, cases and legislation. The advantage of AI based answers to legal questions is that they may be tailor-made (i.e. may include legal citations and also suggestions to articles for further research), and as such may serve as a basis for legal professionals.

In light of the above examples, the penetration of applications based on cognitive technology in the legal service sector undoubtedly has already a revolutionary effect on the profession. But will it really lead to the end of the era of lawyers? Well, I would doubt so. No matter how faster, cheaper, more reliable, etc. cognitive technology may be compared to humans, there is one important respect where it lags way behind humans. Cognitive technology is not (yet) creative. Hence, the penetration of cognitive technology in the legal service sector will hardly lead to the end of lawyers, rather it will enable us lawyers to focus on real quality works – rather than repetitive, automated operations – that would create more value to Clients.

To sum up, AI in the case of the legal service sector stands less for Artificial Intelligence and – as Kyla Moran, the senior consultant of IBM’s Watson has rightly put it – more for “Augmented Intelligence”. It is a technology which is guided by human experts. AI techniques therefore can enable lawyers to perform more intellectually satisfying work, which is not only a unique customer value proposition, but also an attractive value for potential and existing employees.