How AI can make legal services more affordable

By Audrey Herrington

A recent study by LawGeex, an artificial intelligence (AI) contract review platform, pitted AI against 20 top corporate lawyers with decades of experience in contract review. As part of the study, the AI and the lawyers set out to review five non-disclosure agreements — contracts used routinely in business.

And the result: In 26 seconds, the AI achieved a 94% accuracy level at spotting risks in the contracts. On average, the lawyers spent 92 minutes to achieve an 85% accuracy level.

These lawyers were not first-year associates. The participants were made up of in-house lawyers, general counsel, solo practitioners and seasoned law firm associates. They had experience at Goldman Sachs, Cisco, and firms like Alston & Bird and K&L Gates. The best lawyer identified risks at the same level as the AI — 94% — but the lowest performing lawyer only identified 67%.

Before you ditch your law degree to get a master’s in software engineering, or lament how our robot overlords will soon confine us to our homes and destroy the earth, the rise of AI in the legal profession does not have to be a negative for lawyers.

While some worry that AI in the legal sphere spells less jobs for lawyers, many in the technology industry are optimistic that it will have the opposite effect. Generally, AI does well at tasks that humans find repetitive and mechanical, such as document review for electronic discovery, basic contract drafting and review, and due diligence review of documents before corporate mergers. The use of AI for these tasks can save hours of research time, and cut down significantly on the cost of discovery.

The approximate annual budget for discovery in the United States is $40 billion. A large percentage of this cost is the human component of discovery, paying attorneys or paralegals to manually sift through millions of documents. AI has the potential to cut these costs and turn months or years of work into days or weeks.

Professionals in the intelligence community believe that these cost savings for businesses and firms will eventually increase legal jobs by increasing the amount of clients that can be served by a single organization, and lowering costs for both the business and the client.

Currently, legal services are unaffordable for much of the U.S. population. By automating the more mundane lawyering tasks, lawyers will have more time for the more complex aspects of their jobs.

Legal professionals are optimistic that AI can also perform legal research for groups that traditionally are unable to afford or access legal services. Automating would allow lawyers to take on more contract matters for less money, allowing them to complete with companies like LegalZoom, an online technology company that provides documents such as wills, trusts, basic contracts, trademark applications, and others, to customers without the use of a lawyer.

As companies like LegalZoom evolve by utilizing computer technology, lawyers can do the same and evolve right alongside these “disruptors” in the legal market. Lawyers won’t be able to stave off the entrance of AI into the legal market, but they will be able to harness AI to provide more efficient and affordable legal services to a much wider group of clients.

Audrey Herrington is a 2018 graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law. She provides insight for newly minted lawyers in the fast-changing legal field.