By now we have all heard the term “AI” or artificial intelligence many times over, whether reading the latest business headlines, attending an industry conference or simply scanning your social news feeds on LinkedIn or Twitter. While this latest buzzword seems to be nothing more than a distraction to some, there are, in fact, real and practical applications of AI happening within legal departments. In fact, AI was the focus of several sessions and countless conversations during the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Institute this past May, which illustrates its ascendance within the legal ops community.

Certainly, AI is not a stand-alone answer for managing legal spend, or any other aspect of legal department operations. As I stated in an earlier blog post, the truth is that AI has delivered a clear incremental improvement over an old process. Where the rubber meets the road for managing outside legal spend is tougher oversight over outside counsel billing guidelines, establishing alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) and more detailed planning and budgeting – all areas in which artificial intelligence can be leveraged to achieve unprecedented gains in managing outside legal spend.

Although legal department budgets vary broadly in terms of size, structure and outside litigation costs, more than half of the companies recently surveyed by HBR Consulting reported having a dedicated legal operations professional who is tasked with a broad set of responsibilities and competencies, including financial and vendor management.

I recently caught up with Julie Sullivan, a CLOC member and head of legal operations at Rimini Street, which is an early adopter of law department management innovation including AI. Sullivan shared that using AI tools to manage her company’s legal spend have enabled the organization to save more than 5% on an annualized total.

After implementing legal spend analytics for a few months, all bets were off. In what would traditionally take 10-20 hours to review one 72-page invoice, Brightflag’s legal spend analytics platform allowed Rimini Street’s law department to quickly and easily see redundancies and items contrary to their billing guidelines. They could flag major billing issues, such as block billing, and quickly realize significant savings.

Looking ahead, beyond the legal spend analytics AI solution Rimini Street has already implemented, Sullivan noted that additional tasks and processes open to automation through AI tools include contract management and even the behemoth known as e-discovery. “E-discovery is a huge area for potential time and cost-savings using AI,” Sullivan said.

No longer uncharted territory within the legal ecosystem, AI is being utilized by early adopters within corporate legal departments to foster efficiency, identify savings and drive transparency. It’s time to start believing the hype.