Contract review is a staple of corporate work in a law firm. We’ve already seen developments in this area such as the increased use and complexity of the virtual data room, and the use of alternative legal services models to deliver contract review at scale. The most recent development in this field is AI enabled contract review. The focus for Freshfields has been the transition of AI contract review to operational delivery.

What does AI-enabled contract review look like in practice at Freshfields?

We work with leading AI contract review company Kira Systems, which is able to search for and identify key provisions in contracts. Far more than just a key word search, algorithms in Kira use statistical pattern recognition to identify patterns of language and present it to the user, meaning our legal experts need not spend so much time looking for those all-important clauses.

Our approach is to use AI as an aid in the review to direct users to the right place within a contract. From there a reviewer will refine and analyse the results alongside the document in the context of the matter. The key to success is the combination of properly governed AI technology doing a lot of the heavy lifting and legal experts responsible for checking output, analysing the content and understanding the context.

AI tools measure success based on the precision and recall of their algorithms and largely, our AI tools perform very well. Variables such as a poor scan quality or particularly unusually worded clauses mean that legal technology is yet to reach complete perfection (which some may find reassuring!). The expectation of excellence in our delivery of legal work isn’t diminished with the use of more advanced technology, therefore an eyes-on review gives the confidence of output.

A full, thorough contract review with the aid of technology is our current standard position. The use of AI technology allows us to offer new solutions to problems we may not have previously been able to resolve. Working collaboratively with clients, we are identifying more innovative uses for this technology outside of traditional contract review. One method of AI contract review can be to rely far more heavily on the technology with less of an eyes-on review. For instance, as AI technology can process a large number of contracts in an incredibly short space of time, this can at least give an indication of scale but at best can be a confirmatory review that a client may not ordinarily request to be completed in a low risk scenario.

Benefits to us and to our clients

The key benefit to AI contract review is the efficiency gained. Where performance and reliance on the tech increases, this time saving can only grow meaning we can give more value to our clients.

Other immediate benefits are realised through the scanning and processing stage the documents go through when uploaded. We’re able to harness useful data at the very outset of a matter as documents are made searchable, duplicates are identified and they are categorised into contract type and language, which can then be assigned out to relevant reviewers. Both internally and at a client level, this greater insight offers immediate benefit to streamlining the workflow, even before the AI contract review has begun. In addition, the linking up of multiple legal tech tools enables a much more streamlined experience for both reviewer and client. For instance, we are able to transfer documents and contract review results seamlessly between Kira and HighQ for an end-to-end technology-enabled solution.

The success to wide-spread, consistent adoption

The next challenge comes in ensuring a large network of lawyers in various departments and jurisdictions all make use of our AI tools in a consistent way. Here enters our Legal Technology Operations team, based across the Freshfields Hub, globally. The team provides training, support, and governance of legal technology. Legal technologists are engaged by lawyers to help them to navigate through the sometimes complex considerations when using AI. Technologists will advise on consent and liability, create the relevant technology project/environments, support throughout implementation and ensure a complete closedown.

Using a centralised approach to governance, we can ensure consistency across:

  1. matter lifecycle processes;
  2. training to ensure effective use of technology; and
  3. teaching new AI models.

The centralised team can take the onus off our lawyers to maintain the depth of knowledge required to keep up with all the relevant considerations when it comes to AI technology, particularly as the market matures so rapidly.

Consider legal technology like many other functions in a given law firm; HR, billing, pitching – all operating as experts in that field so everyone else in the firm has room to explore their own specialisms.