Introduction to AI

Introduction to AI


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term which is commonly bandied about in legal technology circles. But what exactly does AI mean today - and do lawyers need to be concerned about being replaced by ones and zeroes any time soon?


What is AI in 2020?


Anyone who grew up in the 90s will remember the manifestation of artificial intelligence portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the form of a rather well built android sent from the future (2029 to be precise) to fight baddies or goodies (depending on whether it was the original Terminator or the sequel). Although that future date is creeping up on us, today’s robots can barely manage to climb stairs.

On the other hand, AI is already working in law firms. But it’s not yet doing any of the core work of lawyers. What we consider AI today is essentially a combination of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) which can help to automate various routine tasks. In particular, it can analyse large volumes of data to identify pertinent information, spot discrepancies or find patterns, all of which would normally take much longer if done manually. Some of the main features of AI include:

  • machine learning – learning certain tasks and improving skills with direction and feedback from humans
  • natural language processing – understanding verbal or written natural language queries and providing meaningful responses
  • image recognition – the ability to make sense of images or non-digitised text
  • speech recognition – the ability to digitise human speech


AI is often very clever by the standards of computer programs. But it is important to state that the concept of a truly ‘intelligent’ artificial entity which could pass the Turing test is arguably still decades away.


How is AI used by law firms?


Certain AI tools are already being used by most lawyers - often without realising it - such as autocorrect or sentence prediction features in word processing and email products. But some AI functionality is only available to a small number of firms with the resources to test out the latest technology. Here are a few examples of artificial intelligence which is specific to the legal sector:

  • Billing automation - time recording tools integrated into practice management systems can help to streamline end of month billing.
  • Digital dictation - voice recognition systems are now sufficiently advanced to create client letters with minimal (or no) input from a human secretary.
  • Chatbots - these take the form of virtual receptionists integrated into the law firm’s website, designed to streamline the process of handling online enquiries by potential clients.
  • Contract analysis - this kind of AI software can scan contracts or other legal documents, looking for any wording which needs to be updated in light of new legislation etc. New bespoke contracts can also be assembled using software which increases efficiency and relevance.
  • Predictive coding - this is a method of technology assisted review (TAR) used to assess the relevance of high volumes of documents for purposes of electronic disclosure (e-disclosure).
  • Case prediction - AI can be used to predict likely outcomes of cases by analysing historical court judgments to find patterns (eg see Lex Machina).
  • Legal research - NLP is used heavily in search engines to help users find the most relevant information. This applies equally to consumer search engines such as Google and sector specific search engines such as those provided by LexisNexis.


So lawyers can already make use of many AI tools to help them do their job more efficiently. Artificial intelligence is arguably making certain roles within law firms redundant - primarily those involving routine tasks which can be automated. But, for now at least, the prospect of the autonomous robo-lawyer is still firmly within the realm of science fiction.



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About the author:
Alex Heshmaty is a legal copywriter and journalist with a particular interest in legal technology. He runs Legal Words, a legal copywriting and marketing agency.