How the Surge in Demand for AI Expertise Reshapes the Legal Industry

To be aware of the risks of AI, legal professionals will need to be AI experts as well.

How the Surge in Demand for AI Expertise Reshapes the Legal Industry

The legal sector is undergoing transformation as the demand for Artificial Intelligence (AI) expertise continues to grow. AI technology is being integrated into traditional legal practices, introducing innovative solutions and streamlining processes. However, this rapid evolution also presents challenges and raises concerns within the industry.

Growing Client Demand for AI Expertise

There has been a surge in client demand for AI expertise, especially in the last 10 months, which has prompted several large law firms to develop their own AI client practices, hire more talent in the field or even launch dedicated platforms and products.

And while most clients facing AI-related issues were initially tech companies or startups developing AI technology, law firms are now increasingly having to deal with these aspects across multiple practice areas;, from data and privacy counseling to regulatory issues, intellectual property, entertainment, employment, health care and more.

“Every industry is clamoring to adopt AI tools because companies don’t want to miss the boat and get behind,” said Shannon Yavorsky, the co-leader of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe’s AI working group. The global law firm launched its AI working group all the way back in 2018.

According to Yavorsky, her firm’s clients have been enthusiastic about the use of AI, seeing it as a “potentially cost-saving tool” that can make them more competitive and efficient. “They want to know what other clients are doing and what tools are being widely adopted,” she said.

The Integration of AI in the Legal Industry

This AI expertise is also being harnessed internally, especially to automate routine, high-volume tasks,; including legal research, diligence, document drafting, and electronic discovery. This has the potential to significantly increase efficiency within the industry. For example, natural language search technology is now integrated into most databases and search tools, enabling computers to recognize and process human language. This not only improves the speed and ease of database searches for users but also may enhances the accuracy of search results.

A growing trend in the AI industry is the use of generative AI. This refers to deep-learning models that can generate text, images, and other content based on the data they were trained on. A report by the Thomson Reuters Institute analyzing the evolving attitudes towards the use of generative AI within law firms found:

  • A large majority (82%) of those surveyed believe that generative AI can be readily applied to legal work, and 

  • A slightly smaller majority (51%) said that it should be applied to legal work.

Concerns Regarding AI in the Legal Profession

The legal industry has traditionally been slower to adopt innovative technologies compared to other industries, with most law firms preferring to follow rather than lead in this regard. However, as history has shown, resistance to change can hinder progress and growth.

One of the major concerns is the protection of client information. As AI systems process and analyze large amounts of data, there is a risk that sensitive client information could be compromised or misused. This raises questions about data security and privacy, and how law firms can ensure that their use of AI complies with relevant regulations and ethical standards.

Furthermore, there are concerns about the accuracy and reliability of AI systems. While AI can process large amounts of data quickly and efficiently, it is not infallible. There is a risk that errors or biases in the data or algorithms could lead to incorrect or discriminatory outcomes. This raises questions about how law firms can ensure that their use of AI is accurate and fair, which will require a more in depth understanding by lawyers and legal staff of how AI systems work and generate content.

“I don’t see how you can advise clients about managing risk and adopting tech if you’re not in that same frame of mind. There is a lot of fear about these tools, especially from people without understanding or insight into the tech,” said Annette Hurst, co-head of Orrick’s AI working group. “They have a ‘just say no mentality’ rather than a risk management mentality. That is a shame, because one of lawyers’ top jobs is as risk managers.”

As AI technology continues to advance, there is much debate regarding its potential impact on the legal profession. Some individuals express concern that their jobs may be at risk in the near term due to the replacement of human labor with technology. However, others see the potential for AI to enhance the work of legal professionals by automating routine tasks and allowing them to focus on more complex and challenging work.

As with any new technology, it is important for legal professionals to adapt and embrace the changes brought about by AI, amid a growing demand for expertise with the technology driving the emergence of a new legal industry landscape.

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