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Bar Bulletin: The rise of the artificial intelligence attorney
Source: Geddes D. Anderson Jr.

Happy New Year and welcome to rise of the artificial intelligence attorney — the AI attorney — and a shake-up of the pyramid revenue structure in law firms.

The traditional revenue structure of teams of associate attorneys billing at high hourly rates to review ESI, conduct nationwide research on a body of law and prepare multiple versions of lofty memorandums will not survive the rise of artificial intelligence.

Clients will, at some point in the near future, refuse to pay for mundane legal tasks because AI attorneys can do those tasks with greater accuracy and in less time.

For example, an AI attorney can prepare the thousands of documents necessary to complete a complex real estate closing in minutes rather than days.

Even in the infancy of the technology, AI attorneys can read, research and offer answers complete with references to support legal conclusions.

They also use machine learning to learn from prior communications with the user and become more efficient with repetition.

If you ask an AI attorney a legal question, it will analyze literally billions of documents constituting an entire body of law on the subject and return an answer in a matter of minutes.

For example, you could ask an AI attorney to analyze the exposure a client has in connection with possessing marijuana while attempting to comply with Florida’s recently approved medical marijuana legislative initiative, and whether the client has criminal exposure under the federal mail and wire fraud statutes.

When it comes to natural language processing, AI attorneys can reliably interpret what the user actually means and return accurate results.

AI attorneys have the ability to interpret, identify and describe images in a way that is similar to human attorneys.

At the end of the day, AI attorneys carry on conversations much like an advanced Siri that can debate all positions of a legal issue.

AI attorneys also can assist with sifting through terabytes of data to allow lawyers to do their jobs more efficiently. They can effectively winnow down results and provide only the most relevant answers in language that is understandable.

Most importantly, AI attorneys never go home, never get an attitude and speak only when spoken to.

Doesn’t this sound like a lot of fun?

In 2016, Baker Hostetler, Bryan Cave, Womble Carlyle, Lathan & Watkins and other law firms in the U.S. and the United Kingdom formally “hired” AI attorneys to conduct legal research and analyze large databases of information for their clients.

Baker Hostetler, an Ohio-based law firm, and Bryan Cave, a Missouri-based law firm, hired AI attorneys to become part of their bankruptcy teams.

The Bryan Cave law firm formed a “TechX group” that is a group of partners and associates who use its AI attorney in other practice areas.

Law firms that hire AI attorneys are marketing the partnership to clients as a tool that helps human attorneys analyze legal issues faster, leaving more time to advise clients in a focused manner.

Human attorneys spend less time on legal research and more time representing the specific need of the client.

Partnering with an AI attorney creates a competitive advantage for law firms who seek to retain current clients and establish new relationships.

Even law schools are getting into the artificial intelligence game.

Vanderbilt Law School is exploring the use of AI attorneys as a tool to help train its next generation of lawyers.

Proponents of AI attorneys have to overcome the pyramid revenue model by convincing law firms that an AI attorney will actually make the law firm more profitable.

The current AI buzzword being tossed around by proponents is “scaling.” The claim is that AI attorneys allow human attorneys to perform at a higher level because they are able to do more work in a shorter period of time, and without introducing errors into the work product.

Scaling sounds great, but it also sounds like fewer billable hours and smaller invoices, assuming the firm obtains no new clients.

The idea of scaling is a hard sell to law firms.

The better buzzword to use in the proliferation of AI to law firms is “obsolescence.”

The AI attorney is here to stay. Law firms will have to embrace AI or they run the risk that clients will divert their work to firms that have embraced the new technology and the efficiencies that come with it.

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