What Lawyers and Clients Need to Know About the Use of Artificial Intelligence

Last summer, I was at an Intellectual Property conference here in Colorado. As a lawyer, it’s one of my favorite continuing-ed events of the year as all of my local colleagues and friends also attend. One seminar listed on the agenda was about attorney ethics and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology in the practice of law. Techfan that I am, I was eager to attend.

Among other topics, the speaker mentioned in detail an AI platform that auto-generates certain types of patent applications. At one point he detailed the functional extent of this system.

The room was full of patent attorneys — people who make their living drafting patent applications.

I looked around and saw that everybody had a look of horror on their face. It was the look that said, “The robots are coming to take my job away.”

I went back and talked to my partners and said, “We have to get ahead of this.”

Why AI and Why Now?

Like any industry, the legal sector has had pressure on it for a number of years to bring costs down. Clients don’t like seeing billable hours creep up or otherwise pay for inexperienced lawyers to do straightforward work. Private practice lawyers, like myself, are constantly under pressure to do things cheaper, faster, better.

In the grand scheme, we, too, are always looking for ways to streamline our processes and make our output better for our clients. So when I learned more about this AI vendor, I saw an opportunity to leverage the power of intelligent automation to not only do more work for less cost to our clients, but also to increase the reliability and accuracy of those pieces of the drafting process that are somewhat mechanical in nature to begin with.

Practical Applications of AI

First, it’s important to understand that there’s a bit of term-washing going on with AI. There’s a difference between true artificial intelligence systems and systems that are just good at performing automated processes.

At our firm, we employ some platforms and highly skilled personnel (paralegals and support staff) that make repetitive tasks or routine legal projects much quicker and more efficient. While we have expertise at using these systems, that doesn’t mean they are utilizing true artificial intelligence.

In one form, true AI in the legal realm can be more narrowly described as a natural-language processing system. For instance, in the context of a patent application, drafting claims is an integral and time-consuming part of the process. It requires real legal language nuance and creative legal thought — the lawyer needs to specifically describe the invention and there are specific formats and legalese for many portions of this part of the application.

However, drafting other parts of a patent application can be very mechanical in nature. With the proper AI systems, a lawyer can draft the important legal language up front and the system can develop the rest of the patent application, or a large part of it, almost automatically. Final revisions and editing then takes much less time.

In more transactional practices, contracts tend to go through a number of changes. There are similar systems available that can analyze the other side’s suggested changes and automatically accept them based on what the lawyer has indicated to the AI platform that their side is willing to concede or modify.

The end result: Documents that are created in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost to the client, and with much more accuracy in the first draft.

Should You Be Concerned About the Use of AI for Your Cases?

Artificial intelligence as it is starting to be employed is certainly new technology. You have to be aware that it is essentially the proverbial “robot” doing stuff, not a person. There are going to be glitches. But, in one sense, we have always had automated systems doing “stuff” for us. Whether that be document review, legal research, docketing, report generation, etc.

At our firm, we always provide that personal touch and careful review to make sure things are correct. Just as when I assign a task to a younger associate or paralegal, I’m still the one who’s held accountable. I still need to put my eyes on it and make sure it complies with laws, regulations, attorney ethical obligations and quality standards, plus the client’s own preferences — the same inquiries that every lawyer needs to make for all aspects of his or her practice, whether outsourcing to a younger associate or a third-party service.

Why Our Firm Embraced AI

We are still at the forefront of AI being a readily adopted technology for lawyers. The practice of law is not a fast-changing industry. Its professionals are typically not very good at adopting technology. Across the board, law firms and lawyers typically have conservative work philosophies.

This is where it’s great to be in intellectual property law. A lot of our clients are technology focused and software-savvy companies, so they are well suited to be receptive to these types of technologies. It’s part of our firm’s core ethics to be at the forefront of adopting cutting-edge technology like this.

Some firms that use AI will hide it in the background and just use it as an internal tool, solely to drive their own costs down. It might not be overtly client facing. But our firm uses it as a selling point, basically to say, “We’ve thought of ways to make this cheaper, better, faster for you.”

And who doesn’t want that?

Questions about protecting your intellectual property? Schedule a consult.