The jury is out on artificial intelligence

Advances in technology have fuelled predictions the legal industry will have a very different look in the coming decades.

Much of the hype centres around artificial intelligence (AI) and how this can reduce legal costs and improve the quality of services for clients.

AI-based services aimed at smaller solicitors’ firms, allowing them to save time in the construction of legal documents such as wills, separation agreements and recovery claims, have been around for several years.

Large corporate law firms have also been investing in AI to, among other things, assist with high-volume document review.

But with these advances have come predictions of considerably less employment in the sector.

A report by an initiative of the Law Society of England and Wales earlier this year predicted a “savage reduction” in full-time jobs by 2050 and, in the more immediate term, the end of the partnership model, the deskilling of the legal profession as AI takes over and a dramatic drop in remuneration levels.

Just how realistic those predictions are remains to be seen.

But the AI issue is certainly grabbing the attention of solicitors.

A question about AI drew more comments than any other in the Best Law Firm 2022 survey.

The responses indicate that while AI creates a sense of trepidation for some, most solicitors don’t believe the dire predictions.

The Statista survey asked solicitors to estimate what percentage of their task could be performed by artificial intelligence in the future. Opinions varied considerably as to the extent to which AI will be used, but few believe the technology will “take over” to the extent predicted in the UK report.

Only 1pc of repondents believed AI would be used for more than 91pc of their tasks in the future

Only 1pc of repondents believed AI would be used for more than 91pc of their tasks in the future

Just under a quarter of solicitors surveyed said they believed AI would perform 0-10pc of tasks.

And 21.4pc of respondents said they believed it would be used for between 11pc and 20pc of tasks. A similar proportion thought it would be between 21pc and 30pc.

Only 10.2pc of solicitors predicted AI would be used for 31-40pc of tasks, while 15.3pc of respondents believe it will be used for between 41pc and 50pc of tasks.

Just 7.5pc of solicitors predicted AI would be used for more than 50pc of tasks in the future.

While there appears to be a consensus that a lot of solicitor work is taken up with file management and that this could be automated better, many pointed out the importance of human
intervention and interaction.

One solicitor told Statista they saw AI as a tool for administration only.

“Individual advice and service is most important to maintain professional standards,” they said.

Others said they expected it to be more widely used for transactional agreements than in other areas of law.

One solicitor said: “As the law is rules based it is ripe for automation”, while another said at least half of the work they did was repetitive and could easily be dealt with through AI.

Another commented: “A lot of what we do is paperwork but most of it depends on the person making judgment decisions or having specialised knowledge. While some could be done by a computer a lot of it can’t.”

One solicitor told Statista that AI was already being used largely in the industry for reviewing documents and populating initial drafts of large contracts, such as sales and purchase agreements (SPAs).

“But the majority of legal considerations, negotiation and client interfacing will always need people,” they said.

Others said the type of law a solicitor practices would dictate how much of a factor AI becomes in their day-to-day operations.

“AI will never be allowed send an accused to prison, participate in family law or litigation. But there is huge scope in property,” one solicitor said.


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