No matter your industry, there are few hotter topics right now than artificial intelligence and machine learning. This includes how these technologies could bring their promises of greater efficiency and lower costs to law practice, both for private firms and in-house corporate counsel. But what does this mean – really – for lawyers in the trenches, many of whom have already seen colleagues in other parts of their organizations have their roles outsourced to far-flung office parks on the other side of the world?
In the near term, I believe it will be much ado about nothing. I think we are a very long way off from an AI replacing in-house corporate counsel or junior associates en masse. I am part of an internal technology committee within my company’s legal department. We have vetted numerous AI and “smart contract” review products over the last year and – to be honest – have been mostly underwhelmed. These products are expensive and seem much more like “cool tools” than actual products that could soon replace lawyers. While it’s certainly possible (and likely) that these products will improve, the likelihood that they will completely eliminate the need for attorneys to parse through the data they produce seems to me unlikely.
For example, AI that can review and compare insurance policy language, software products that can streamline contract life cycle management and other types of process-oriented tasks could help in-house counsel perform their jobs more effectively and efficiently. And of course those are buzzwords that senior management loves to hear.
So where does that leave us with technology solutions for in-house corporate counsel? One startup that I have kept my eye on is Priori, which uses technology to vet and place outside lawyers on behalf of corporate legal departments. This paradigm seems much more likely to “disrupt” the legal services industry with technology.
If you agree with me, then I think the in-house lawyer’s most important role in the technology space is to educate senior management about the limitations of AI. Clearly we should all be in favor of doing our jobs better – but we don’t want robots getting rid of us!
So clearly explaining the limits of tech and why attorneys are still indispensable is increasingly becoming part of our job descriptions – especially during budgeting season (which is rapidly approaching if your organization is on the federal 10/1 fiscal year).
What do you think of all this? Have you seen tech disrupting the way you practice, either in-house or on the outside in private practice? Let us know in the comments.