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AI’s Impact on Legal Professionals

April 11, 2024

Innovations in AI and large language models (LLMs) have brought about significant changes in the legal industry. The introduction of no-code tools and AI-powered solutions has revolutionized the way legal professionals work, leading to the emergence of new roles and the redefinition of existing ones.

To stay at the forefront of the industry, law firms and legal teams must embrace technology and adapt their practices accordingly. It's not enough to simply adopt new tools and software; organizations must also be willing to change their internal structures and roles. By doing so, firms can leverage rapidly developing AI technology to deliver a differentiated service and maintain a competitive edge.

In this blog, we take a closer look at “AI’s Impact on Professionals,” the third area of discussion from our 24 Voices for 2024: Trends in AI& Automation report. Discover more about how the roles of legal professionals are evolving and how they can adjust and prepare for the rapidly shifting changes brought about by AI.

Roles and How Legal Professionals Spend Their Time Will Evolve

As AI takes on more and more routine tasks, legal professionals’ efforts will shift to work that  requires critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and domain expertise. As a result, legal departments will become more active in contributing to decision-making, helping shape strategy, and ensuring that legal and ethical considerations are integrated into the fabric of the organization’s operations. Lawyers will increasingly focus on developing case strategy, crafting compelling legal arguments, and providing tailored advice by combining their legal expertise with AI-generated insights. Creativity and persuasion will be key human skills that AI can augment but not replicate.

“With an investment in more sophisticated learning tools that leverage AI, the pace at which people are able to progress in contributing and adding value could be sharply accelerated.” — Kim Wolfe. Managing Director, Head of Legal Business Solutions, Wells Fargo

Legal professionals' unique expertise, ethical judgment, and strategic decision-making remain irreplaceable, with AI serving to enhance efficiency and accuracy in legal tasks without substituting their fundamental roles. But they must embrace continuous learning and develop new skills like data literacy and digital fluency to navigate the evolving landscape shaped by AI. They will also need to adopt new collaborative methods with AI and focus on critical oversight functions such as ensuring ethics, eliminating bias, and maintaining accountability.

Additional Ethical and Regulatory Guidelines Are Coming

The rapid development of AI has led to concerns about data quality and ethical issues, including biases and the reliability of AI models, which affects not only the legal industry but many others as well. While nearly half of UK lawyers believe the legal profession should regulate its use of AI, others look to government intervention, as seen in the US government's efforts to establish AI guidelines and the California Bar's new guidelines for lawyers using AI. Anticipate further ethical and regulatory frameworks to be developed by state governments and professional organizations to address these challenges.

"I think this new fascination with AI stems from the fact that lawyers live in words. This is nota ones and zeros conversation anymore, it’s natural language. Lawyers can have this conversation with the technology. But without proper education and governance around its use, you are exposing yourself to risk." — Joy Heath Rush, Chief Executive Officer, International Legal Technology Association

Lawyers face the ethical obligation to understand and mitigate the risks associated with using AI in their practice, despite the lack of official policies in many organizations, as highlighted in a recent ILTA survey. This responsibility includes becoming knowledgeable about AI ethics, adopting risk management strategies, and choosing AI tools that comply with legal and ethical guidelines.

Given the rapid pace of AI innovation, lawyers must verify AI-generated content to ensure its reliability, particularly in legal documentation, treating it with the same scrutiny as a senior member reviewing a junior's work. Law firms are encouraged to develop risk frameworks for AI use, starting with structured scenarios to better control and comprehend AI outputs, and adjust their risk management strategies as AI technologies evolve and their application broadens.

Law Firm Business Models Will Evolve

The traditional billable hour in the legal industry is being redefined by AI, which streamlines time-consuming tasks and allows lawyers to devote more time to complex, expertise-driven activities, such as strategy and client engagement, and enhancing the value they provide. The potential for AI to enable new services suggests a future where legal professionals can generate value and revenue in innovative ways.

I think the future will be similar to what we saw when digital legal research tools were introduced. The role of the law librarian changed, but the cost of legal research didn’t go away; it instead shifted from people to technology. And it didn’t result in less time being billed, but rather a reallocation of that time to more strategic work and greater profitability for the legal organization.

“Generative AI has flipped the script – in the past, lawyers were reluctant to take time away from billable activity to try new things, but now they are proactively asking their employers. This about-face is not surprising when you consider the fundamental changes AI could bring about – factoring the firm’s whole base of knowledge in when drafting documents.” — Jae Um, Founder & Executive Director, SixParsecs

It should also be noted that the 2023 Legaltech News Law Firm Tech Survey revealed that nearly 45% of legal professionals believe generative AI will reduce their dependence on billable hours, as firms explore alternative billing methods to align with client expectations and maintain profitability. This remains to be seen, but proactive research into these alternatives can prepare firms for a smooth transition to AI-enhanced operations.

AI is Changing Education and Mentorship

AI usage has become widespread, with 79%of people in a recent McKinsey survey reporting some exposure to AI. The adoption is even higher among younger generations, signaling its growing impact on law schools and the future mentorship within law firms. The Law Society suggests that automation, evolving client needs, and new workplace technologies will drastically alter the skills and talents law firms and in-house legal departments need moving forward.

“We already face a massive gap between law school and legal practice. And with these technologies, it could further aggravate this gap if we do not educate our students accordingly. How do we change the way that we talk about these technologies in legal education? One way is that we might need to shift the way that we’re approaching teaching in law school.”  — Dr. Megan Ma, Assistant Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology, Stanford University

Vanderbilt Law School's establishment of the Vanderbilt AI Legal Lab (VAILL) and Stanford Center for Legal Informatics' upcoming CodeX mentors' program exemplify how AI is transforming legal education by integrating AI into the curriculum and developing tools for training. These initiatives aim to prepare law students for a future where legal services are increasingly delivered through AI technologies, focusing on both the application within the law and building technological skills.

Similarly, Harvard Law School's collaboration with the Berkman Klein Center on the Initiative on Artificial Intelligence and the Law(IAIL) addresses the evolving challenges and opportunities AI presents to the legal profession, emphasizing the importance of reimagining traditional roles and mentorship approaches in light of AI's capabilities.

As AI begins to undertake tasks previously assigned to interns and junior associates, legal professionals must adapt their mentorship methods to foster the development of more complex, multidisciplinary skills from an early stage. The future of legal mentorship will emphasize creative, nuanced client advising and judgment, shifting away from repetitive tasks to more meaningful, skill-building work.

Adapting in Response to AI and Future Technologies

The successful firms of the future will be those that can adapt to changing technologies and embrace the possibilities offered by AI. By introducing and evolving roles within their organization, these firms will be able to fully utilize the potential of AI and stay ahead of the curve. The legal industry is undergoing a transformation, and those who can adapt and embrace the changes will thrive in this new era of legal practice.

Access the full 24 Voices for 2024 report to discover what 24 leading voices in legal are saying and what more you should know about trends in AI and automation:

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"From start to finish, my leaders are willing to guide me and let me try new things. This keeps work fresh, exciting, and fun so I don't burn out or get bored."
"I have clear direction in my work tasks and priorities. I also feel encouraged to put my family first and maintain a healthy work life balance."
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