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How artificial intelligence is streamlining document management
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How artificial intelligence is streamlining document management

Artificial intelligence, Paul Wyatt

It is finding its way into everything from virtual assistants to driverless cars, and now artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising document management processes within legal firms, writes Paul Wyatt.

Built on sophisticated algorithms and machine-learning capabilities, AI can make decisions and take steps that would once have required human intervention. As a result, it can streamline workflows and greatly improve office efficiency.

Auto classification

One of the ways in which AI can assist a law practice is by undertaking auto classification of documents and emails. Rather than a secretary or clerk needing to make a judgment about each item as it arrives, AI can analyse the metadata within the item and then allocate it to the most appropriate file or data store.

Initially guided by a series of pre-determined rules, sophisticated AI tools can also learn from experience. By monitoring how items are handled by law firm staff, the tools can improve the decisions they make resulting in increasingly accurate classification of items. In this way, the tool is not learning just by watching the actions of an individual but by the firm as a whole, thus further enhancing its capabilities.

Entity extraction

Another way in which AI can add value is by undertaking entity extraction from documents. The tools can scan each document and identify key elements such as people’s names, their company, geographic location and contact details.

Such AI-assisted mining of data is enormously valuable in a busy firm. It can allow a lawyer to search a document and quickly find who is involved in a particular matter, when it has taken place and relevant key details.

The AI tools can also understand context, which reduces the likelihood of erroneous matches. For example, if it identifies the name ‘Paris Hilton’ the tool will understand from the surrounding details whether that refers to a person or a hotel. It would also be able to differentiate between ‘apple’ the fruit and ‘Apple’ the computer company.

Find similar

If a law firm member is reviewing a document and wants to find similar items, the AI tool can rapidly deliver a list of options. It does this by scouring the document repository and locating all other documents that have close similarities to the original document.

To make selection easier, the list of found documents can be ranked in order of similarity, making it easier for the staff member to quickly identify the one they are seeking.

Future AI capabilities

The usefulness of AI when it comes to document management continues to grow. Future capabilities will include being able to detect sensitive personal identifying information (PII) such as credit card numbers, religions and private addresses. The AI can flag documents that contain PII and alert a staff member that a decision is needed on how that document should be handled.

Another emerging AI capability is termed “document clustering”. This gives users the ability to submit a large number of documents to the AI tool, which will then create a map of their linkages.

In this way, staff members can quickly come to understand how documents relate to one another and can compare them within a wider group context. When a document becomes part of a cluster, it can be readily compared to determine its similarities to other items.

AI will continue to become increasingly integrated into the document management process. By making informed decisions and streamlining workflows, industry experience shows it can save at least an hour of work for each lawyer in a firm every week. When that is extrapolated over the period of a year, significant cost savings can be realised.

Far from being a little more than the subject of science fiction movies, artificial intelligence is quickly becoming a powerful business instrument. By taking the time to understand its capabilities and investing in the most appropriate tools, law firms can ensure they continue to provide the highest levels of service to their clients.

Paul Wyatt is the APAC sales director at NetDocuments.  

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