Artificial intelligence (AI) is growing at a phenomenal speed and is now set to transform the legal industry by mining documents, reviewing and creating contracts, raising red flags and performing due diligence. In this (summarized) article, we look at the current state of the market and explore how things will develop in the coming months and years.

Natural language processing
This technology is able to comprehend language in its natural form. Early attempts to program a computer to understand language involved a series of rules. While this is fine for some basic concepts, it becomes complicated as you cater for exceptions to the rules. Increasing computer power means that instead of trying to codify thought processes as rules, the latest machine learning tools use statistical pattern recognition techniques to create their own rules from large volumes of examples. For example, if you show such a system a collection of documents and their translations into another language, the system can determine the statistical patterns between the documents and work out how to translate from one language to the other, without having to understand what the individual words mean or the underlying rules of grammar.

Ediscovery tools
Ediscovery software tools have been available for some time to help legal teams with document management and review. The current generation of ediscovery software includes machine learning functionality that enables technology‑assisted review. This takes place in the context of litigation or investigations and involves the analysis of large collections of electronically stored information, to determine which documents are responsive to a particular issue.

Contract review tools
A second wave of machine learning tools has recently emerged. These have two key differences from the ediscovery tools: they do acquire “knowledge” that can be transferred between matters and they operate at the clause level within the document, rather than just at the document level. As such, they are able to identify certain types of clause and extract information from documents.

Legal research tools
A slightly different application of natural language processing is to create an intelligent legal research tool, which can accept queries in ordinary language, identify the crux of the question and present the answer (or the most relevant answers) back to the enquirer. This will save time and will make future results even more accurate.

Automation refers to technologies that use rules to carry out tasks. Most of these systems are based on decision trees; a type of flowchart that poses a series of questions, the answers to which determine which branch is followed, until there are no more questions and a conclusion (or decision) has been reached. The decision tree can be created by a lawyer or derived algorithmically by a computer based on training data. These systems tend to be used for either giving advice or drafting documents.

Advice systems
Early examples of advice systems include Clifford Chance’s Cross Border Acquisitions Guide and Cross Border Financing Guide. Users can quickly and easily create a tailored report relevant to their transactions. They can use the guides’ comparative tables to assess the inconsistencies between the laws of the countries involved and find fast answers to specific queries. This enables clients to undertake an initial assessment of the feasibility of a proposed transaction before instructing external counsel to undertake a detailed legal analysis, or to sense-check legal advice already obtained. As the system can be used and accessed by the client directly, it can significantly cut costs.

Drafting systems
Automated drafting tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated. With Clifford Chance Dr@ft, clients are offered an automated document assembly system, which is based on the Contract Express software. It allows clients to generate quickly and independently tailor-made and house-styled documents within the secure Clifford Chance Dr@ft private cloud.

What’s the future?
This is a fast-moving area and it is difficult to predict with certainty how the technologies will evolve over the next few months, let alone over the next few years. However, these systems break the link between the cost of providing the service (once built, the marginal cost is relatively low) and the price charged to clients. These systems can, therefore, help provide a charging mechanism that is more closely aligned to the value received by the client than the current billable hour model that is often used for legal services.

What is certain is that lawyers will need to become more technology-savvy so that they can advise their clients on which tools to use in which circumstances. There is also likely to be a growing role for technology experts (not necessarily lawyers) to provide advice on matters as the law firm of the future takes shape.

Source: Clifford Chance report ‘Artificial intelligence and the future for legal services’.

Our innovation partner Mark-Jan Arends will host the roundtable “Innovate or Die” during the Annual General Counsel NL Conference on 19 April 2018.

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Mark-Jan Arends

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