Getting to grips with technology-speak…

Ask a lawyer about their specialist area of law and they’ll be happy to talk all day. Ask them about the technology that supports their legal practice and they’ll mostly clam up. Why? Because the technology industry seems to have a secret language all of its own that normal business people – and I include lawyers in here – struggle to understand. Two different, but related, terms are cropping up a lot recently; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chatbots.

This first article is designed to help you understand what AI is, and why you – as a fellow lawyer – should even care.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Search “What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)” on Google and you’ll get more answers than you can shake a stick at. But a simple explanation is… “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

So, it’s all about computers being given ‘intelligence’ that enables them to learn from experience and then improve their problem-solving capabilities.

We’ve probably all seen machines (aka robots) in factories performing tasks that used to be done by humans, but the machines do them faster, more efficiently and cheaper than their human counterparts, helping to improve productivity and thereby improve the bottom line.

The next step-change in efficiency is to then apply AI, also called machine learning, algorithms to enable machines to learn and through self-learning improve process and accuracy. The new combination of automation with AI technology means an ‘intelligent’ and adaptable process can be applied, such as defect detection for quality control.

Another application of a machine learning algorithm might be to help you pick from the massive amount of data that’s freely available on the internet.  Perhaps self-selecting for resource reliability and relevance. Of course, this all depends on the quality of the original source data and the algorithm itself, which has recently sparked interesting debates on unintended consequences and inherited bias.

There are data mining tools out there, but adding in some data analytics and AI, you can turn that data into easy to understand information more quickly.  One potential use case for a corporate commercial legal team may be that you need to run a credit check on a new business client – the AI tool could combine information from Companies House, from their website, from social media accounts– transform that data into a meaningful risk or credit score, which is much quicker and easier to understand.

So why should I care?

For legal services firms, as a knowledge-based service industry, AI technology and software generally is increasingly recognised as a tool for gaining a competitive edge.

AI when applied to large databases or disparate, unstructured, pieces of data is helping businesses to understand their own and their clients’ businesses better. We’re seeing this applied to industries as diverse as healthcare, finance, utilities and e-commerce.

AI is already being used to answer legal questions online. Any firm that has – or is thinking about – a digital marketing strategy will need to know about this. Richard Hinton last week wrote about the new price transparency rules impacting most legal firms from December. The application of AI may help firms present potentially complex fee scales in a more meaningful and relevant way.

Legal Workflow has useful examples of what’s happening with AI in law firms today. If you would like to learn more about this subject we have some useful blog posts here or register below to receive our technology bulletin, Legal Workflow Decoded.

Next time we discuss the world of chatbots and how they can enhance customer experience.

Martin Langan, Solicitor and Legal IT Consultant, Legal Workflow