In the future, self-driving cars may become the norm on roads rather than the subject of promising reports from the tech industry’s leading companies. What first seemed impossible has now progressed into the realm of believability. A similar evolution is happening in the legal industry and, while the rate of change may seem slower in law than in tech, the legal industry isn’t far behind.

An increasingly competitive landscape

Not long ago, law firms were the go-to providers of legal advice. Today, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) like Deloitte are competing for the same clients as law firms—and winning. Twenty-three percent of large law firms surveyed in a recent report by Thomson Reuters said that they had lost expected client business to one of the Big Four.

Mari Sako, Professor of Management Studies, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and co-author of the report, notes: “ALSPs are expanding the available range of services by combining talent and technology to deliver legal services in modes that best suit their clients’ needs.”

Amid this increasingly competitive environment, forward-thinking law firms are responding by moving toward the future of work. In this future, advanced legal technology supports their lawyers and elevates their professional capacity, enabling them to provide the best possible value to their clients.

But change can be hard—a reality the legal industry is keenly aware of.

What’s holding lawyers back?

A recent article in Forbes discusses the dearth of law firms leveraging data in their operations, even as almost all other industries seek to utilize big data. Law outperformed only the government in this respect. Beyond its lagging application of data analytics, the law was also behind in using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning—technologies that go hand-in-hand with making sense of data.

A lack of practical applications is not the cause of this inaction. Legal infrastructure, practice management, document management, and even legal research are all areas in which AI-backed technology currently exists to dramatically improve the way lawyers work.

Instead, as Mark Cohen explains, the legal industry’s reluctance to innovate in part comes down  to “legal culture; lawyer hubris; conservatism; an economic model that has historically rewarded input (labor intensity), not output (results); lack of investment in new resources (both human and machine); and resistance to melding the practice of law with the business of delivering legal services.”

Demystifying artificial intelligence and machine learning

For some, artificial intelligence is a nebulous term, often difficult to define. In simple terms, it can be described as machines capable of “intelligent behavior,” allowing for the fact that it is difficult to define what constitutes “intelligent” behavior itself. Instances of successfully applied artificial intelligence include beating humans at chess, Go, and (most impressively) poker.

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that enables systems to learn without being explicitly programmed.

The difference between supervised vs. unsupervised machine learning

Unsupervised learning is the training of a machine learning algorithm to infer structure from unlabeled data.

Supervised machine learning refers to providing input and output to an algorithm.  The algorithm then learns the relation between the two and is able to make predictions on the training data. The humans supervising machine learning can correct and adjust until the algorithm reaches acceptable performance when predicting outcomes.

Practical ways AI can help

Skeptics are quick to question how artificial intelligence can be leveraged in an industry where human intelligence is the essential input. Those ahead of the curve understand its value: artificial intelligence augments human intelligence, revealing previously unseen insights that enable lawyers to make data-backed decisions.

Artificial intelligence bridges the gap between the unstructured data of case law and a lawyer’s keen instinct. Algorithms can uncover new patterns in case law and measure the impact of relevant factors on an outcome. Instincts honed over the course of a long career can now be quantified, and juniors don’t need to wait years before being able to develop their own instincts. Moreover, lawyers can now have unparalleled visibility into the law and have access to the same information as their opposition, no matter the size of the firm.

It’s unlikely that machines will ever replace lawyers, but one thing is becoming clear: lawyers that use artificial intelligence will replace lawyers that don’t.

To learn more, join our complimentary webinar on August 21st, “Exploring artificial intelligence and the law”, hosted by Blue J Legal’s COO, Avi Brudner.