The reality of Artificial Intelligence


In the second of two articles, Stephen Brown, legal IT specialist and consultant at Lights-On Consulting, offers practical steps on introducing Artificial Intelligence to day-to-day practice, and considers what the future might hold for AI in the legal profession.

This article was first published in Solicitors Journal.

Stephen Brown Legal IT Consultant at Lights On Consulting
Stephen Brown, Lights-On Consulting


AI ‘machine-learning’ technology represents a huge opportunity for growth, and law firms can lead the charge by preparing for and adopting AI technology.

AI is already changing the way we do business, and will continue to do so.

According to recent research*, global CEOs would appear to agree – 85% of business leaders believe AI will significantly change the way they do business in the next five years, with nearly two-thirds seeing it as a bigger force than the internet.

Cutting through the hyperbole

AI can work in your firm by reducing risk, improving efficiency, or allowing your legal teams to be more productive.

Reducing risk

As cost management is one of the main causes for complaint, how can you reduce the risk?

AI can be combined with predictive analytics to analyse all the matters within your financial management systems, and report whether or not this matter will complete within the original costs budget.  Simple solutions available today can deliver a similar function, but an AI solution can process more data and perform more ‘what if’ scenarios.

For example, an AI solution could consider the complexity of a case by reviewing documents in the DMS for key phrases, and historical performance of this team and fee earners to manage costs effectively, to analyse the burn rate of this case and cases which match the matter profile.

Improving efficiency

AI doesn’t always need to be headline-grabbing to make a difference. It can improve efficiency by removing the monotonous tasks from your firm.

Consider the flow of information (data) in your firm – where do you have teams of people reviewing information (data) and performing actions-based logic?  Where this exists is a candidate for an AI solution.

I heard of one firm that employed a team of people to manage enquiry mailboxes.  The task involved reading the email and assigning the enquiry to the appropriate team.  An AI solution was implemented to complete the job, which allowed the team to focus on more value-add tasks.

Another example is using AI to extract key information from documents stored in a DMS and automatically profiling these correctly – this delivers an increase in ROI for your DMS, as search yields improve results and the ability to improve knowledge across the firm.

Improved productivity

Reviewing documents and completing an action based on the content of that document is a staple activity of law firms.  There is a large number of document-based AI solutions that allow legal teams to be more productive, such as reviewing NDA’s, litigation discovery, contract and lease review.


Historically the challenge was identifying a provider or having the financial resource to embrace emerging technology.  With the financial barrier now removed and a rise in the number of suppliers delivering solutions, the paradigm has shifted.  The challenge now is focussing on a specific issue that can make a real difference.

AI and the cloud

Before embarking on your own AI journey, it’s important to understand the role of ‘The Cloud’, before asking some important questions.

Not all AI systems are held in the cloud. It is acceptable and not uncommon, for a firm to have local AI services, but this relies entirely on the in-house computer hardware resource, capability and security.

The preferred AI deployment model is cloud-based, not least as the space and operational systems that support AI are generally bigger than most in-house IT systems. Also, by definition, the data AI systems need to do what they do, must be substantial.

The majority of AI providers run their services via the cloud, and are probably making use of data centres provided by Microsoft, Google or Amazon.

There has been an explosion in the number of AI providers that are running their services in this way, but some AI providers have built their own cloud.

Does size matter?

As a user of AI, you shouldn’t need to care whether the cloud behind the chosen system is holding large or small amounts of data. What you need to know is that it is secure, robust and will meet all the key requirements you specify.

Where to start?

Particularly in the last 12 months, the numbers of AI providers and suppliers has rocketed. So choice is not an issue, but how do you find the one which is the right for you and your firm?

To create a shortlist of providers, talk to IT, business and innovation experts for their recommendations.

Be curious

As with all business partnerships, particularly with technology, choosing the provider that is the right fit for your firm is vital.

To begin the process of selection, start by compiling a list of questions:

  1. What do we need and want AI to do? Ask yourselves which area/s of the law do you want AI to support? This should come from identifying your firm’s challenges and opportunities, for example if there’s the potential to save time but generate fees from rapidly checking and updating commercial property leases, and if this is the case, then this should definitely feature in your ‘AI brief’.
  2. Where will my data be stored, and who has access to my data? This is important to ensure that UK laws and SRA regulations governing the use and storage of data is adhered to, so it is vital to establish in which jurisdiction in the world the data is held to be sure of compliance.
  3. Which cloud provider will be used? And this would be either one of the big data centres mentioned before, i.e. Google, Amazon or Microsoft, or an ‘own cloud’ system.
  4. How long have you been an AI provider? An established player will have been around for at least three years. Any less than this and there could be risks attached, especially if this is a new provider to market. That said, AI and AI provision is categorised as an emerging technology, and there is a steady stream of new entrants because of this.
How long will it take?

From a standing start, law firms should expect to take between six and 12 months to research, review, interview and appoint their AI provider, as well as for the chosen provider to get up and running and the AI system to be ready to work.

  • Allow three months for the initial engagement stage.
  • Once selected, allow time for your chosen AI provider to trial the system. This early stage is entirely dependent on what you want AI to do and the tasks you wish it to carry out, and is critically important to the performance and impact of AI on your firm, as AI is your ‘friendly computer’ which needs to be taught and to learn.
  • So, your engagement model will need to factor-in time for your AI provider to curate your data, audit it, and ask the right questions to make your AI teaching steps align with your objectives and desired outcomes. The quality of the data provided in the early stage is absolutely key to deliver the results you want.
  • There will be a bedding-in period, as with all IT systems. AI will need to gain your trust and confidence so in the first stage of implementation, it may be sage to run manual checks alongside the AI processing to ensure the findings and actions are the same, and accurate (again this will depend on the quality and quantity of data the system has to learn and learn from in the first stages). Over time, this will scale back so the level of manual checks will diminish.
What to expect?

AI will continue to embed itself into more and more areas of our lives, and the same is true for law firms and lawyers. Currently the top areas in which AI is most widely seen is, perhaps unsurprisingly, those with the greatest volume of documents and data, so contracts, property leases and standard document review. These specifics also represent those for which AI delivers the greatest savings, in people, time and costs.

When it comes to law firms comprehensively understanding their clients, AI delivers vital insights, given its capability to consume data and analyse what it finds. The contribution AI makes to sentiment analysis for marketers, reputation managers, and custodians of your firm’s brand and proposition, will continue to grow, because it provides instant information about perceptions and feelings for the firm and its work, that impacts and helps shape the strategies surrounding the firm’s CRM and overall client satisfaction.

But the Artificial Intelligence explosion won’t stop here

AI is already featuring on tenders and pitches for legal work, and what was once an optional, nice-to-have add-on for some businesses seeking to engage a forward thinking law firm, within two years this will become a critical and must-have function.

So, law firms should take note and if they haven’t already, begin their research and make a plan for Artificial Intelligence.

The landscape will continue to evolve for the AI providers themselves. There will be growing numbers of niche AI providers that are specialists in specific aspects of legal service, whether it be commercial property leases or NDAs for example. (Take a look at ‘LISA’, described as the world’s first impartial AI lawyer that creates legally binding NDAs

AI truly represents a valuable tool that enables repetitive, regular legal work to be handled faster and more efficiently, today, but even more so tomorrow. For legal professionals, it could be described as the path to liberation, which frees them from the time-consuming, but essential, tasks, so they can invest more time in the high value, higher earning work.

For a conversation about how Artificial Intelligence could enhance your law firm, contact the team at Lights-On Consulting.

*Source: PwC’s 22nd Global CEO Survey.