In-house legal teams are turning to virtual legal assistants in light of “extreme pressure” to improve efficiency and provide responsive services to their businesses.
According to global research and advisory firm Gartner, internal pressure on legal departments to increase their responsiveness and efficiency is leading them to look toward automation, AI, machine learning and natural language processing.
In three years’ time, lawbots will handle one-quarter of internal legal requests, Gartner predicts.
“While virtual legal assistants (VLAs), legal chatbots, and lawbots may seem like hype, their use in legal departments can yield significant benefits,” Gartner Legal & Compliance director Zack Hutto said.
“This will significantly disrupt the legal technology marketplace.”
VLAs can help legal departments improve efficiency by streamlining matter intake, triaging legal requests, determining the necessity of legal review and automating routine legal workflow, the firm noted in a statement.
According to a Gartner survey of legal professionals, increasing productivity in these ways is the top driver of automation. VLAs can also ease employee concerns about anonymity in situations where they perceive a risk in simply asking for information, such as whistleblower reporting and harassment claims, the firm continued.
“Legal departments will benefit through increased efficiency gains, improved employee satisfaction, and from more opportunities to retask legal experts to higher value activities,” said Mr Hutto.
“These sought-after benefits will open up the market to new entrants who can provide self-service applications with AI and conversational interfaces.”
Legal bots are already demonstrating value and versatility in citizen and consumer law, Gartner said, including having been developed to provide legal guidance for victims of crime and people seeking divorce in the UK.
“Consumerisation of chatbots across wider society is fueling employee expectations and reinforcing the trend towards VLAs,” said Mr Hutto.
“Moreover, platforms such as Amazon Lex, IBM Watson and Slack enable legal-focused vendors and services providers to rapidly address the needs of various legal functions and domains without having to develop a core technology or infrastructure backbone.”
As a result, Gartner is predicting that one in four legal requests will be handled by VLAs by 2023, but advised caution of overreliance on VLAs, saying they should be adopted as part of a broad legal services strategy “because a piecemeal approach with poorly designed VLAs may be confusing or intrusive rather than helpful”.
“Poor lawbot solutions might create an even greater burden on legal departments,” said Mr Hutto.
“At a minimum, lawyers could [have handle] manual rework, and at worst they may have to work to repair relationships with put-off internal clients.”
The firm further predicted that 33 per cent of corporate legal departments will have a dedicated legal technology expert to support the increasing automation of core in-house workflows, by 2023.
“This is largely because while standardised, repeatable legal workflows have great potential for automation, existing in-house counsel may not have the technology leadership needed to support these initiatives,” it posited.
“For example, just 5 per cent of legal departments indicate that all commercial contract management is treated as new and managed manually. In the next three years, 40 per cent of corporate legal departments intend to increase spending on legal IT systems or software by 10 per cent or more.”
“Despite the clear opportunities to automate, and the intent to do so, most legal departments simply don’t have the staff for legal analytics,” said Mr Hutto.
“Just one in five report having a technology or innovation counsel or access to a data analyst.”