Artificial intelligence (AI) is just beginning to come into its own in terms of its use by lawyers and within the legal industry. What’s the impact of this technology on the legal profession? Within the next few years, we will find ourselves on the cusp of a revolution in the practice of law led by the adoption of artificial intelligence – in particular, by in-house lawyers. Much like email changed the way we do business every day, AI will become ubiquitous – an indispensable assistant to practically every lawyer. Those that do not adopt and embrace the change will get left behind. Those that do will ultimately find themselves freed up to do the two things there always seems to be too little time for: thinking and advising.

Like many, you may be wondering about what AI products are out there or on the way, and how you use them. Welcome to the first of a four-part series on artificial intelligence and its impact on the legal industry, specifically how in-house legal departments will be affected by it. Over the course of the series I will discuss what AI is, how it can be used by legal departments, and what you – as an in-house lawyer – should be doing next regarding AI.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Before we discuss the impact of AI on the legal profession, it’s important to define it. The term artificial intelligence can be a bit misleading, at least when it comes to application in the legal field. No, we’re not talking about some type of walking and talking robot from “The Terminator” with a briefcase and tie (though that would be pretty cool). Perhaps a better description, and one that is catching on, is cognitive computing. This means teaching computers how to learn, reason, communicate, and make decisions. Cognitive tools are trained vs. programmed – learning how to complete tasks traditionally done by people, where the focus is looking for patterns in data, testing the data, and finding/providing results. Or, as I like to think about it, a research assistant who can sift through the dreck and tell you what it found. Why is this important? Because, according to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being generated every day. In case you’re not up-to-date on a quint, that’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Every day. The ability of any human to review and comprehend that level of data without help is the definition of impossible.

Going Deeper

The recent explosion in AI is due to a fundamental rule of technology: Moore’s Law. In 1965, Gordon Moore, a scientist at Intel, made a prediction based on his observation that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. His law predicts that this trend will continue, and growth in computer power will double roughly every two years while the cost of that computing power will go down. Simply put, more computer for less money. When coupled with the ever-lower cost of storing electronic data, you have the basis for the rapid rise in AI capabilities and availability. In fact, experts predict that spending on AI by companies will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to $47 billion in 2020, up almost 600%.

The reason for the huge increase in AI spending is simple: There are huge productivity gains and cost savings available from freeing humans from routine tasks that computers can handle, allowing people to focus on tasks that truly add value, things that computers really cannot do or do well. As we’ll see in future installments of this series, this goal rationale fits particularly well with the legal industry. More importantly, legal departments will need to be ready for this change and adapt quickly to the use of AI. For example, a number of M.B.A. programs are introducing AI courses. Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and France’s INSEAD School of Business along with several other top-line M.B.A. programs have added courses on AI applications. As CEOs and CFOs become more accustomed to using AI, they will expect the other members of the C-Suite – including the general counsel and legal department – to follow suit. In-house lawyers that embrace AI, will become more valuable to the next generation of CEOs and CFOs.

For more about the future of AI for in-house counsel, see the full version of this article. Or visit the larger Legal Department 2025 Resource Center from Thomson Reuters.