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AI is the New Plastics: Insights from the Connecticut Technology in the Legal Landscape Panel

I joined the Connecticut legal industry in Hartford on September 27th for the Thomson Reuters “Technology in the Legal Landscape” panel on “the three As” transforming law: AI, analytics, and automation. Kalel Dennis, Customer Collaboration and Innovation Manager for Thomson Reuters, managed the panel consisting of Greg Varga, partner at Robinson + Cole, Glenn Dowd, partner at Day Pitney, and Zac Kriegman, senior data scientist with the Thomson Reuters Innovation Labs in Boston. I paraphrased below the panel’s insights on how these tech trends are actually manifesting in practice.


Kalel: How do you use AI in your daily workflow?

Greg: AI impacts the day to day of the practicing lawyer, most tangibly in research and document management. A program like Relativity retrieving documents is more efficient than an associate spending hours searching through the proverbial haystack. And in today’s world, efficiency (and embracing new technology) matters, with legal startups siphoning off services due to cheaper rates and nimble efficiency compared to a law firm. This new competitor makes it harder for firms in general to compete in the marketplace. Adopting AI show clients the value a law firm can still offer.

Zac: AI in my world starts with taking large data sets and running calculations from them. But from there, our AI work has expanded, such as building artificial neural networks mimicking the human brain. We at Thomson Reuters use our extensive data to train artificial neural networks. Our goal: can we make it do human things? Can we train AI to write sentences, read text and create summaries? Not yet, but we’re working on it!

Glenn: We use AI for technology assisted review (TAR). Products such as Relativity and Brainspace let us analyze relationships between documents and people. We similarly use Deal Proof in Drafting Assistant, and leverage that AI to look for transactional details, like mismatching parens. We also use AI to help assess cost. Clients insist on fixed fee arrangement. So AI is used to assess the presumed cost of litigation.

Kalel: Do you require purchases you approve for the firm to have AI embedded in its technology?

Glenn: No, because AI is such a broad scope. Remember the Graduate? When William Daniels asks Dustin Hoffman’s character what he’ll do with his life? He gives him one word of advice: plastics. Fast forward to today, AI is the new plastics.

Greg: I’m looking for things that help us do things efficiently. I’m looking for solutions that get the tech averse to embrace new ways of doing things. If it's tagged AI, then great. Call it what you want, we want results. What tools are going to be most helpful? What works? What will people use? What doesn't work? What alternatives are out there? These are my questions sifting through the products in the landscape, because no longer can a law firm keep its head in the sand. We have to stay current make informed decisions in doing so. (An attendee noted that insurance industry clients are using AI. As lawyers, we have to help clients understand it and help use it. And how regulators will let them use it).


Kalel: At home, you already see automation in VPAs setting up routines (turning off lights, setting alarms, turning on cameras when you leave home or go to sleep). Autonomous vehicles like Tesla semis can create convoys, link systems and keep aware of all cars around them (in theory). In legal, Drafting Assistant can autogenerate a table of authority in a brief. Basically, computers can observe surroundings and do certain automatable tasks. With these examples in mind, is automation in the law a bad thing?

Greg: It is a good thing, but conceptually, where is the line between automation and AI? How far can AI go automating, or in the same breath, replacing what our brains do and our training/education do?

Zac: Right now, automation and AI, to the extent those are separate talking points, are tools. These are the tools we have available to use. We’re still far off from automated writing of a brief or artificially intelligent arbiters deciding cases.

Glenn: Good or bad is irrelevant. It is. It's here. Don't be the guy shaking your fist at a steam shovel. Figure out how to use it. Adapt, capitalize, thrive.

Kalel: Are there things specific to law should we protect from automation?

Glenn: Things involve creativity, like determining the theme to a case, how to present to jury, persuasive components of argument. Perhaps more than accountants or engineers, there are uniquely creative aspects of law practice that will be difficult to automate in any way.

Zac: What is creative and what isn't? Computers can mimic creativity. They can read posture and expression in facial recognition. There are computers painting art and composing music. But there’s not gardener computers. If a computer can do something, then there’s no area it shouldn't be invited into. The distinction between law and creative things today compared to tomorrow is hard to predict. It is hard to predict what tasks will be difficult for computers to take in the future. We have seen more and more engineering jobs will be replaced by technology and it is happening in law. But the last jobs to replace will be more physical and less mental. Computers will not be giving closing argument in person to a jury anytime soon.

Greg: There are a lot of tools out now using automation. My example is software that summarizes depositions. So summarizing a deposition, writing a brief, your ability to do those tasks is not why a client hires you. Why you get hired is your creativity and ability to analyzing complex multifaceted problems. Are machines going to replace that? No. They won’t do an interview, take a deposition, or try a case.

Attendee question: But is there technology that helps judges draft opinions? Kalel. No, although some practice areas are less nuanced and are easier to predict past performance.

On Analytics

Kalel: Are firms handing over work product to improve analytics?

Greg: As a rule, no. That's out stock and trade. But if helps improve our work for clients, there are limited ways where a no can become a yes. But with this, there are Rules of Professional Responsibly to consider.

Glenn: Moneyball is here. Analytics are very important to law firms.

Kalel: With today’s solutions for matter management, time and billing (3E Mattersphere), document management and assembly, do the three As affecting matter management increase LPM?

Greg: Yes. We’re looking for tools to help us be more efficient, take better control of files, train people, and do a better job for clients. I can give the example of collaboration tools. I’m not on conference calls all the time. In the cloud, we have collaboration for cases staffed with attorneys from different offices. Also, take document management: documents go into Relativity to get characterized. That's a haystack. What do you do with needles? Print and throw it in a binder that may make a witness file? Now we have electronic filing systems, we can put docs in cloud. No more rolling massive briefcases through airports. That revolutionized my practice.

Glenn: The pace isn't slowing down. The challenge is cheaper faster better. That has to be the mantra.

Greg: Yes. Tech makes your life as a lawyer better. And easier.

Attendee Question: But what about when the program screws up, is that your malpractice?

Greg: Look, these are tools. You use these tools. Your brain and eye does the final QC.

Attendee Question: Is tech eliminating practices?

Greg: No, it is not a substitute for skill, talent, and knowledge. Land use, for example, still requires lawyers presenting creative solutions to zoning boards. But outside counsel, corporate counsel is measuring your spend. They will not pay for tech. Tech now does what was associate work. Is there a tension there? Yes. And tech is not the only marketplace threat. Accounting firms are stealing work. Law firms see losing work/margin at the fringe. But no, the law requires excellence in advocacy, analysis, and counsel.

Glenn: Many professions shrink because of tech. Travel agents is not as robust a career choice as it once was. Online tools makes them niche, like corporate or group travel. The world used to be where people called and asked you questions. This required you to know things. There used to be clients who’d call for the FMLA employee requirements. That’s no longer true, and you do see practices condensing. But while the routine will go, sophistication will last.

© 2018 Peter Colin, Jr.