WHY Should You Care About AI?

One of the first people I followed when I joined Twitter years ago was Jordan Furlong@jordan_law21. So, it was no surprise to me that he was one of the first to discuss Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for legal practice.

Despite the growing conversation around legal technology this year, many attorneys still seem to think such change is far away on the horizon.  Many also disbelieve or discount the applicability of AI, machine learning, and deep learning – to their legal work.  Therefore, after the recent Stanford CodeX #FutureLaw conference, I reached out to two people I saw there, and to Furlong, to help address a question I had heard from lawyers at firms of all sizes:

"Why should I care about AI?"

Campbell Yore, IP Logic Systems; Anand Upadhye, Casetext; Jordan Furlong, Law 21  (Bios follow each of their responses to the AI question.)

Campbell Yore, IP Logic Systems; Anand Upadhye, Casetext; Jordan Furlong, Law 21

(Bios follow each of their responses to the AI question.)


I ran into Campbell after one of the morning FutureLaw sessions and we discussed programming in the legal space.  Campbell replied to the AI question with the following:

"Technology offers smaller firms a new opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over the big boys.  In particular, technology can help smaller firms get work done cheaper, faster, and more efficiently thereby minimizing the advantage provided by more staff and larger practice groups in big law. For example, doc review used to be a manual task performed by legions of associate attorneys and paralegals. Smaller firms couldn't take on the biggest cases because they didn't have enough staff to get through discovery. Now, by employing automated methods, smaller firms don't need a huge staff to complete discovery and can start competing against the big firms for the biggest cases. 

"Also, because many big firms have been slow to embrace new technology, smaller firms can market their use of technology as either an improvement upon the services offered by big law or a way to offer the same quality service at a cheaper rate. For example, in my patent practice at IP Informatics, I use data, search techniques, and predictive models developed by my technology company, IP Logic Systems, to augment my own intuition and experience when advising clients and preparing work product. This use of technology allows me to deliver higher quality service (i.e. work product based on all relevant patents not a time limited subset) at a lower cost (i.e. I can perform prior art searches and draft claims in less time using technology tools)."

Campbell Yore is co-founder and CPO of IP Logic Systems Inc., a predictive analytics company that helps technology companies and legal professionals make better decisions throughout the intellectual property lifecycle.  As CPO, Campbell leads the patent product development team at IP Logic. He brings real world patent prosecution experience to IP Logic’s product design process to ensure the company’s technology delivers useful, relevant knowledge at key points in the patent operations workflow. 

Frogger image via Softpedia.com.

Frogger image via Softpedia.com.


Later that afternoon, I was pleased to run into a friend I had met at a Legal Marketing Association conference three years ago.  Anand Upadhye is the VP of Business Development at Casetext -- a technology-based solution for litigation legal research.  (It’s notable, too, that Casetext just received $12 million in Series B funding.)

While the largest and elite AmLaw firms have been able to test the waters with AI options like Casetext, there are emerging software and services for the medium to small law firm crowd.  For example, Casetext’s product Cara automatically conducts legal research..  Here's Anand's reply:

"When weighing the value of AI, I think it's helpful to ask, 'How much legal research time have you written off this year?'  After 2008, technology impacted document review.  That's pretty much been solved, and now legal research is in the technology cross-hairs.  Some major companies today follow a policy regarding outside counsel where they will refuse to pay for legal research performed by a 1- to 3-year associate, and at some of these companies -- outside counsel must agree to this arrangement prior to engagement.  Yet, the work has to be done, but at what cost?  That's where AI steps in.  

Smaller and medium-sized firms have to examine realization rates closely because they are often on the cusp of determining whether to hire a new person, or whether they can get paid on work they are doing.  Or -- is there a technology solution to meet those realization goals?  AI-backed software gives smaller players the edge through increased efficiency and increased research value.  Legal clients today are interested in working with firms that use cutting edge tools."

Anand R. Upadhye earned his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law.  He practiced law for six years, first as an Assistant District Attorney at the San Francisco District Attorney's office, then as a civil litigator specializing in products liability.  As a litigator, he tried several criminal and civil jury trials, deposed numerous witnesses and regularly represented his clients in court.  Before law school, Anand worked as a paralegal for a plaintiff's-side consumer protection firm, primarily assisting with securities fraud and other financial services litigation.


Jordan Furlong brings the focus home by rephrasing the question I posed to the group:  

"It might be helpful to rephrase the question as, “Why should I care about technology that performs basic legal tasks quickly and inexpensively?” That’s really all that AI means at this stage of its deployment: it’s tech that automates routine legal work -- and more importantly, tech that gets better at that work the more often it performs it. I think that’s something any lawyer should be interested in, either as a potentially useful tool or as a potentially problematic competitor.

Most legal AI right now is aimed squarely at large-scale commercial and litigation work, because that work is massive and overpriced and there are huge efficiency gains to be made (and therefore, lots of money to be made by the efficiency-gainer). The venture-capital funds backing the AI startups are looking for big returns quickly, so the “BigLaw” part of the market is probably where these providers will focus for some time yet. 

But the consumer/family/small business market in the US is still worth a couple of hundred billion dollars a year, and soon enough, someone with legal AI is going to plow into this market. The obvious entry point is wills and estates, and as soon as somebody figures out how to design and market a lawyer-backed, tech-powered automated online will-making service (which would barely pass the “AI” threshold anyway), lawyers in smaller firms are going to feel the impact. And that will be just the start.

The biggest mistake that incumbents in every industry make -- every single industry, and law is absolutely no exception -- is saying, “My customers won’t want that.” Never assume your customers or clients won’t be interested in something that’s faster than you and cheaper than you. Never assume that something faster and cheaper than you can’t also be as good as you, or maybe even better. And never assume that “quality” --  which is what I hear most lawyers say is their unbeatable advantage -- is as important to your clients as you think it is. Most of your clients don’t want “the best.” They want “good enough.” 

AI isn’t important because it’s “robot lawyers” or however it’s being overhyped now. AI is important because it offers the buyers of legal services alternative ways of getting something they need faster and cheaper -- and for straightforward matters, inevitably better -- than they can get it from you. That’s why you should care about AI.

Jordan Furlong is a speaker, author, and legal market analyst who forecasts the impact of changing market conditions on lawyers and law firms. He has given dozens of presentations to audiences in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia to law firms, state bars, courts, and legal associations. Jordan is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a member of the Advisory Board of the American Bar Association's Center for Innovation. He is the author, most recently, of Law Is A Buyer's Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm, and he writes regularly about the changing legal market at his website, law21.ca. 


My two (ahem) Bitcoins:  

Building on Jordan’s last thought above -- (that AI offers the buyers of legal services alternate ways of obtaining what they want faster and cheaper) -- relates to another chief reason for lawyers to care about AI:

Your clients are using and will use AI to solve

their business issues and opportunities.  

The more you understand how AI and machine learning applies to a client’s industry, the better equipped you will be to deliver top-notch legal and business advice, plus identify technological tools to help you produce solutions, ultimately enhancing your competitive edge.

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