There has recently been a wave of AI-driven technologies because of major advances in computer processing power. These developments mean that AI is poised to radically change businesses, entire bodies of knowledge and everyone’s daily lives.

To note just a few recent examples in the news: AI is helping chemists in the lab by producing blueprints to create molecules, chinese hospitals are hoping that AI can alleviate a shortage of doctors and help treat patients, researchers have trained artificial neural networks to detect signs of life on other planets, and we’ve all heard about AI powering self-driving vehicles that are increasingly on the road with us.

Large companies such as Google and Microsoft, in a bid to win early in the AI race, have made deep investments into AI. A recent article by McKinsey titled “Artificial Intelligence: The time to act is now” urges companies to prepare sooner rather than later for the AI revolution:

“Our most important takeaway is that companies need to act quickly. Those that make big bets now and overhaul their traditional strategies will emerge as the winners.”

Everyone is talking about AI, including the legal profession, and lawyers need to learn as much about AI as they can. In this guide, we provide a primer for lawyers considering the use of AI in their practices.

A short definition of AI and related concepts

AI is a category of technologies in which computers learn and take on complex tasks that previously were possible only through substantial human effort. AI is a broad term that covers several techniques that allow machines to simulate human intelligence.

A subset of AI is machine learning, in which computational models, or neural networks, “learn” by analyzing large amounts of data. Deep learning occurs when multiple neural networks are strung together to gain deeper context and arrive at more nuanced answers.

Natural language processing is an area of AI that is especially relevant for law firms. It has to do with how computers interact with human languages and allows users to communicate with an AI system as if speaking to another lawyer, and then receive only highly relevant answers.

How are lawyers using AI in the law?

The legal profession has a reputation for being skeptical of change. Despite this, legal technology tools are making inroads into the legal industry, in areas such as legal research, discovery, document review and contract review.

Just as in other industries, lawyers are asking themselves how AI can help them in their work, where to find the best AI-powered solutions, how to start using them in their practices, and what the return on investment will be once they start using the technology.

AI has the most potential to help lawyers work more efficiently and effectively, especially on tasks that are time-consuming and repetitive. Therefore, AI can free them to spend their time and energy on more rewarding legal work.

In the area of legal research, AI is able to greatly reduce the time that lawyers spend on their work. Blue Hill Consulting Group conducted a study that compared traditional legal research tools such as boolean search and natural language search with the ROSS Intelligence AI-supported platform and found that ROSS had better information retrieval quality, with 40 percent more relevant authorities cited, a 30 percent percent reduction in research time, and an estimated business impact of $8,466 to $13,067 annual revenue increase per attorney.

The greatest impact of AI will be in democratizing legal services, says ROSS Intelligence CEO and Co-Founder Andrew Arruda, in an excerpt from the book AI in Application: An In-depth Examination From the Legal Profession. The market is increasingly demanding more reasonable prices for legal services, as the average client is unable to spend $1,000 an hour for legal advice. The use of AI tools such as EVA, which puts AI-driven legal technology in the hands of anyone at no cost, could play a role in widening access to the law.

Fears about AI

Lawyers considering the use of technology often fear a cadre of “robot lawyers” displacing them in the workplace. More broadly, some worry that the widespread adoption of AI could lead to the decimation of jobs for humans, or even that the evolution of a superintelligence could eventually destroy humanity. But most experts agree that for the time being, those fears are a long way off from reality.

Today’s AI, called “weak AI,” is limited in that it can only accomplish a single, narrow task and cannot be trained to do multiple things.

“All the dystopian talk is just nonsense. It’s too much imagination,” said Beijing-based author and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, to Edge.org, an online publication. “We’re seeing AI going into new applications in what appears to be an exponential growth, but it's an exponential growth of applications of the mature technologies that exist. That growth will be over once we develop all of them. Then we have to wait for more breakthroughs for further advancement of AI.”

In the legal field, these limitations are apparent. AI can complete certain tasks with amazing speed and efficiency, but there are other parts of the law that require human judgment. For the foreseeable future, legal work will require humans to work alongside technology.

The Future of AI in the Law

There’s no question that the entire legal profession will eventually be transformed by AI. Arruda says the changes will benefit everyone, whether they are a young associate, paralegal or an established lawyer.

“It means less time spent on repetitive tasks and more time on the sort of exciting and creative work that attracts people to the law in the first place,” he says.

Arruda predicts that the legal professionals with the most exciting careers several decades from now will be the ones who seized the opportunity to use AI in their work. This means that everybody in the legal field needs to educate themselves on AI or risk being left behind.