A Legal Case for Automation
Five years ago, the ABA Journal of the American Bar Association (ABA) published an article titled “How Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming the Legal Profession.” In that article, author Julie Sobowale states, “Artificial intelligence is changing the way lawyers think, the way they do business, and the way they interact with clients. Artificial intelligence (AI) is more than legal technology. It is the next great hope that will revolutionize the legal profession.”
Today, that technology, combined with machine learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), continues to be a force of change for the better, providing advantages for users in all industries. In general, intelligent automation—consisting of AI, ML, and RPA—can accelerate and streamline repetitive, routine manual tasks that are time-consuming and labor-intensive. Those tasks can include inputting employee, client, and project/case information into a record system and searching records for information.
Intelligent automation can provide an end-to-end solution for workflows. It can digitize information in all formats—structured information found in spreadsheets and unstructured information from emails, texts, invoices, audio, and video. It can analyze the information, generate reports, and distribute the reports to stakeholders.
Equipped with cognitive abilities—such as computer vision, natural language processing, and fuzzy logic—an intelligent automation solution can understand the meaning or sentiment in messages or conversations. It can be programmed to recognize patterns and behaviors. And that all means, intelligent automation can free up users to focus more on higher-value work such as cognitive activities, including strategy and decision-making, rather than focusing on pushing “paperwork.”
Leveraging automation for legal teams
For the legal profession, intelligent automation can be a valuable tool in the business and practice of law. According to the American Bar Association, “Lawyers are under increasing pressure from clients to boost efficiency while streamlining workflows, and automation is the key to doing more with less. By automating routine processes, firms can perform more billable work without hiring more people. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) isn’t just a way of cutting costs. It is also a largely untapped avenue for law firm growth.”
Gartner predicts that by 2023, what the company calls “Virtual Legal Assistants” (VLAs), software bots designed for legal work, will handle a quarter of internal legal requests. “VLAs can help legal departments improve efficiency by streamlining matter intake, triaging legal requests, determining the necessity of legal review, and automating the routine legal workflow.”
Consider some of those functions in more detail, starting with general business.
Intelligent automation can be employed to handle a time-consuming and often error-prone process: gathering information on prospective clients, support staff, and lawyers. Intelligent bots can quickly capture, process, and analyze prospect information from legal documents, intake forms, spreadsheets, credit rating bureaus, media, and online sources, and more. And the information can be made searchable for easy access. Intelligent bots can also automatically process the paperwork for offboarding clients, staff, and lawyers.
Is a practice at risk of being out of compliance because of a client or internal activity? Bots can be programmed to look for suspicious activity on internal sources such as databases and external sources and provide alerts of potential risks.
Billing and payments
Bots can create bills from a practice’s matter management system without human workers being involved, reducing related time and costs. They can also automatically handle vendor invoices that arrive in various forms such as paper, fax, and email with attachments. According to the ABA, intelligent automation can reduce transaction costs by 32 percent.
Bots can be used to automate routine correspondence that doesn’t require a human touch but takes time to generate and deliver, such as a confirmation that a document has been received, an alert that a document is missing, or a request for a document to be sent.
Those are just a few of the general business areas where intelligent automation can help accelerate processes, improve efficiency, and reduce errors. In addition, it can benefit practitioners in all areas of law but, in particular, two areas that are labor- and time-intensive: contracts and trademarks
Handling mergers and acquisitions, commercial agreements, and other types of contracts can make the most bright-eyed associate or paralegal blurry with all the steps to follow and content, including terms, to corral. But intelligent automation offers hope, taking away much of the manual work.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “AI software, however, can easily extract data and clarify the content of contracts…It can let companies review contracts more rapidly, organize and locate large amounts of contract data more easily…”
Say you have a large global practice with clients who need to have their trademarks registered in multiple jurisdictions—tens of thousands of trademarks and many different ways they need to be processed. Entering the required data manually can be a Herculean task that could affect efficiency, with the potential to create bottlenecks and errors—all of which resulting in unhappy clients. Intelligent automation can help firms—large and small—quickly and accurately upload and manage new trademark portfolios, significantly reducing the amount of manual entry and potential issues.
Intelligent automation has the potential to help in other areas as well, including litigation strategy.
In 2014, while intelligent automation was still in its early stages, a law professor and his colleagues created an algorithm similar to what could be employed for a software bot. The algorithm was developed to predict outcomes in cases presented to the US Supreme Court. “It attained 70 percent accuracy for 7,700 rulings from 1953 to 2013.”
Intelligent automation for everyone
Would Rumpole of the Bailey approve and use intelligent automation? Probably not, unless it involved accelerating and streamlining his orders at Pommeroy’s. Even so, today’s solutions are designed for all types of users.
Many providers feature low-code/no-code platforms and tools that are easy to learn and employ so that everyone in a practice, lawyer (barrister or solicitor), paralegal, and support staff member, can become a citizen developer and make work a better experience.