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‘Get the basics right’ when implementing AI into legal workflows

In a rapidly evolving legal landscape, the transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging tech has – and will continue to – revolutionise legal workflows. This makes AI not just a tool but a catalyst for redefining legal operations and enhancing client service delivery moving forward.

user iconLauren Croft 03 May 2024 Big Law
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Over the course of last year, AI tech and platforms like ChatGPT made global headlines (which you can read about here) and have since begun to reshape legal workflows.

While there is still some fear in the profession that the rise of such tech could mean the beginning of the end of lawyers, clients are demanding efficiency more than ever – and a recent report from Dye & Durham recently revealed that in 2024, firms will turn to AI more and more in a bid to keep talent and drive efficiency.

Particularly as these emerging technologies become more commonplace in legal workplaces, firms that utilise AI effectively will gain a competitive edge against rival firms.


In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Gilbert + Tobin partner and chief innovation officer Caryn Sandler said that within BigLaw firms, the integration of AI into daily workflows is still in its early stages.

“Relatively basic forms of AI have been present in workflow tools for many years. These tools provide competitive advantages when they, for example, simplify and standardise routine processes or when they facilitate the smart delivery of knowledge management resources,” she explained.

“The strategic use of AI in e-discovery, contract review processes, and due diligence are other examples where AI has enhanced legal delivery in BigLaw firms. Leveraging these technologies to reduce large document sets, and to focus the reviews, frees up time and energy that enables our lawyers to work more efficiently and to focus on the complex areas of law.

“The integration of GenAI into BigLaw workflows is still in its early stages; however, we have already seen its potential in finding relevant knowledge resources, assessing internal policy requirements and procedures, reviewing and critiquing communications, and contributing to marketing activities. Properly used, GenAI has the potential to provide competitive advantages in service delivery times, consistency of service, compliance and providing valuable market insights.”

Mills Oakley partner Dalvin Chien works within the information and communications technology and digital law space and said that AI has impacted workflows more so across various other practice areas, including M&A and litigation.

“If I were to comment simply based on my experience as a technology lawyer with an understanding of the underlying technologies, for high-volume, rote tasks, utilising AI technologies can make processes more efficient and, in some cases, less affected by human error. This is more commonly seen in areas such as discovery work in litigation and mergers and acquisition, which tends to be high volume, requiring categorisation of relatively simple data taxonomies and, in some cases, form filling,” he said.

“Using generative AI technologies to complete these tasks frees up lawyers to focus their attention on performing the legal analysis, and for junior lawyers can help them develop those more analytical legal skills earlier in their career.”

This is also something legal technology providers confirm. On a recent episode of LawTech Talks, produced in partnership with LexisNexis, LexisNexis executive vice-president and chief technology officer Jeff Reihl, executive vice-president and chief product officer Jamie Buckley, and Asia-Pacific managing director Greg Dickason said that ChatGPT and similar generative AI have been an absolute “game changer”.

“As soon ChatGPT launched, that was a game changer in generative AI. So, we really quickly started experimenting and positioning the company toward it. One of the first things we did was talk to a number of our customers to try to better understand how generative AI could help them. And we had a lot of one-on-one conversations with customers. We also did a broad survey with them, and when we did that, we found out there are four primary areas where GenAI could really help,” Buckley explained.

“One is around asking complex legal research questions. The other one is around drafting legal documents. So, you can create a first draft of a complex legal document just from a simple prompt, which is a really cool scenario. Another one is around summarisation. So, we have a lot of long legal documents, like in our content set, and GenAI is great at summarising them very succinctly. Then also the ability for lawyers to upload their own documents and be able to ask questions on it.”

Practical use of AI in legal workplaces

For legal workplaces, implementing these kinds of tools can have a massive benefit on workflows and efficiency.

“If you’re a lawyer, you’re coming into the office, and you go do research work, and often you have to read through lots of cases, lots of content. Now you can ask the tool to summarise it for you. You want to create a draft for your customer that might take you a couple of hours before,” Dickason said.

“Now, that first draft, not the final draft, but that first draft is done within a minute or two. That base level knowledge work is what it automates and very effectively, it’s transformational.”

“A lot of them are saying the job of a junior associate is probably going to change in a law firm because a lot of that initial research, this large language model is doing that initial drafting and providing the references that they’re seeing that happen from the large language model. So, we’re going to have to see an evolution of the different types of jobs that different law firms do and who does those jobs, but they’re all very excited about [generative AI].”

Using AI for document filing as well as basic research tasks and other less “sexy” legal work is also becoming more common, giving lawyers the space to work on new key skills.

“Inevitably, with the reduction in historically human-performed high-volume tasks, there will be a reduction in hours of that specific type of work, but this is true for any new technology, which, as we have seen in the past, creates new opportunities and different types of ‘work’ for lawyers as it becomes more entrenched in our legal environment,” Chien added.

“Having practised exclusively in this space for over 20 years in various guises, in-house, government, academia, and private practice (now in a leadership role), I’ve seen a lot. Any time an area is disrupted or is close to being disrupted, new skills will have to emerge. In the context of automation, it’s generative AI today, it’s Web 4.0 in the next five years, and it’s a combination of generative AI, Web 4.0 and advances in quantum the decade after that.

“It’s important to get the basics right and to identify the spheres of law that impact these as well as new spheres of law that will be developed. This will help lawyers deal with generative AI today and new areas of disrupting technology after that, not just those in the automation category.”

Moreover, AI can leverage a firm’s established processes and knowledge banks to further benefit lawyers and clients, according to Sandler.

“That means that AI brings more value to lawyers and their work when it contributes to their existing work processes rather than replacing those processes. For example, we have found that AI works best for our lawyers when it acts as a form of virtual assistance or colleague, assisting them to draft a document based on an existing precedent and helping them modify it for the circumstances of their transaction, as opposed to drafting an entire clause or document for them.

“Our legal staff recognise the opportunities that AI can offer in terms of improving their ways of working, relieving them of routine or time-consuming tasks and allowing them to focus on other ‘high-value’ aspects of client delivery,” she added.

“And because the AI tools are only as good as their underlying models, lawyers recognise that they have a vital role in evaluating the output of these tools for issues such as hallucinations, and in applying their legal experience and reasoning to complex legal problems, something no AI technology can yet replicate.”

As for how AI will continue to impact legal workflows moving forward, there is likely to be more innovation in the legal profession than ever before, as discussed on LawTech Talks.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. It was just 18 months ago that ChatGPT was launched, and look how far things have progressed already. There are new models coming out literally every day, and so keeping up with that is something that we do full-time,” Reihl said.

“We’ve got engineers in the lab already looking at some of these new models, what the capabilities of those new models are, and how we can take those capabilities, integrate them into our products. But you’re just going to see a ton of innovation that’s coming out.”

Dickason agreed – and emphasised that for this tech to have a positive impact on legal workflows, lawyers and firms have to “lean in” and actually utilise it more and more.

“If you’re a lawyer in the profession, it’s definitely going to shape the profession. The profession is changing. Lawyers are going to be able to provide services to more people and actually going to have a bigger impact in society, which is exciting. This isn’t a zero-sum game where AI is going to take some of your work. I think it means you’re gonna be able to expand what you can do. That’s exciting,” he said.

“But I do think that those who use AI, those who use GenAI, are going to out-compete those who don’t. And that’s the really big thing. I don’t think lawyers are going to go away. I think this is going to be a brilliant thing for our profession. But I do think that you need to lean in and use it because it’s going to make you more effective and more efficient.”