AI in Law Firms Down Under? Australian Law and the Rise of Legal Tech

It is no surprise that artificial intelligence (AI) is often compared to the Industrial Revolution which had significant impacts on humankind. AI has entered various fields such as healthcare, information technology and recently, the legal industry. The aim of this article is to explore the uses of AI further and evaluate if it poses any threats to the industry.

An article by John Bui

Within the field of law, AI is being used increasingly in the following forms:

  1. Legal analytics which are helping lawyers gain data from previous cases to inform their decision-making processes.
  2. Software templates for document automation which allow law firms to quickly create documents based on data input by them.
  3. AI tools are often used by firms to predict the outcome of litigation.
  4. Chatbots in law firms’ websites are increasingly used to engage with new customers who have preliminary enquiries.

These examples illustrate the growing importance and usage of AI within the legal industry.  However, with the advent of such technology, we also need to be wary of certain negative implications that AI may have such as automation of existing jobs.

The AI revolution and Australian law

In their recent journal article, the Law Society of New South Wales explored the duties and responsibilities that solicitors have to uphold amid the relatively new AI-wave in the industry.

In New South Wales, the list of Solicitors’ Conduct Rules (2015) consists of all fundamental duties and obligations of a solicitor. It is especially important to analyse these duties in the context of AI. For example, if a lawyer over-relies on AI technology such as in cases where lawyers use AI-prediction tools to check how a case will pan out, it will inevitably have an impact on the solicitor’s obligation to remain independent. A solicitor must make judgments and decisions independently, without any influence from others. Excessive dependence on AI can affect the lawyer’s ability to think and act independently. Undoubtedly, using AI for predicting outcomes of cases may influence the lawyer’s decision-making. Similarly, a solicitor must keep all matters confidential. When discussing AI, confidentiality may be an issue when using machine-learning technology. This is because all this data will need to be supplied to the machine which may pose a threat to confidentiality.

The benefits of AI

If used in regulation, AI can be a true asset for lawyers. This is especially true for smaller firms with lesser employees. Smaller law firms do not have the resources that big law firms do. Because of this gap, they often face disadvantages, even though the team may be competent. Artificial intelligence can help small firms by providing information, much like how an employee would. Moreover, for documentation purposes, AI can be very beneficial because it makes all document management processes very efficient and time-saving. Document automation is the use of intelligent templates which have helped firms fill many legal forms faster. Even legal research has become more streamlined with AI-driven technology which allows firms to look for case laws, and other legislation quickly.

In Australia, the most common application of machine learning and AI within the field of law is Technology Assisted Review (TAR). TAR is used in the process of discovery and allows lawyers to review detailed electronic documents. TAR helps lawyers save time as lawyers are not required to review all documents, sometimes millions of documents, before litigation. More often than not, many of those documents are irrelevant.

Using machine-learning technology like TAR can prove to be helpful as lawyers can apply their skills and time to tasks that actually require more expertise. Junior lawyers and paralegals who would previously be tasked with sifting through numerous files and documents, can now spend more time with clients themselves.

Conclusion

While there are concerns about solicitors’ over-reliance on AI, the significance of the benefits it offers cannot be understated. Primarily, all firms wish to become more client-centred. By using AI-driven technology for multiple tasks, lawyers can afford to spend more time with their clients. Additionally, lawyers can also have more time to come up with unique strategies to tackle legal matters.

Furthermore, the concerns regarding automation of existing jobs can also be eliminated. Reports from the University of New South Wales also argue that while AI can take over certain responsibilities of lawyers like providing basic advice, it cannot completely replace lawyers. Human expertise will always be required in litigation and court matters, thereby rendering those concern about AI to be null and void. In fact, AI should only be viewed as a means through which we can enhance our lawyering abilities. Similarly, while AI can be used for predicting outcomes of a case, the final decision-making and judgement still depends on individual lawyers.

The Australian legal industry, like any other legal industry, is extremely diverse. This is not only in terms of the kinds of law practiced in Australia, but also in terms of size of law firms, the various locations where law firms operate in, and the various services they offer.

Using AI to empower law firms will definitely provide a competitive advantage to lawyers working there. But from an analytical standpoint, it is also important to note that the change that AI will bring about will not be uniform across the Australian legal landscape as a whole. This does not negatively impact the legal industry in Australia in any way. But, to make greater strides in the industry as a whole, every firm, small or large, should try and adopt technology and innovation. Research states that AI-powered chatbots increase sales. This holds true even for law firms that have embedded chatbot enquiries on their websites. It helps lawyers deal with tasks at hand, while also enabling the firm to receive new enquiries. There is a lot of potential for artificial intelligence to make legal experiences less stressful and more efficient. As long as solicitors are mindful of their roles and responsibilities while using technology and AI, the combination of legal prowess of lawyers, and efficiency offered by AI will only lead to great results.

Published under licence CC BY-NC-ND. 

Author

  • John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. He has over 10 years’ experience in family law and commercial litigation. John is also a Nationally Accredited family law Mediator and Arbitrator.

John Bui Written by:

John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. He has over 10 years’ experience in family law and commercial litigation. John is also a Nationally Accredited family law Mediator and Arbitrator.