Over half of lawyers see AI as a threat
Legal tech adoption remains at the forefront of the private practice landscape, as firms of all sizes experience challenges relating to talent attraction, sustainable growth, increased efficiency and cyber security, new research has revealed.
Thomson Reuters has released new research on technology trends shaping the legal sector, including the use of, and attitudes towards, generative AI, in the form of a new report, Tech & the Law 2023.
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According to the report, around two in five legal professionals across in-house and private practices (39 per cent and 40 per cent respectively) are experimenting with generative AI. Within private practice, 69 per cent of private practice professionals surveyed believe that generative AI will improve workflow efficiency, and over half (51 per cent) agree it will help them serve clients better.
However, legal professionals are also cautious about the potential risks with many expressing concerns around data safety, bias programming and potential for disputes, with job security also coming up as a concern in the report.
Despite the majority believing generative AI will increase efficiency and reduce costs, 59 per cent believe that generative AI would bring more complex litigation and disputes – and more than half of private practice professionals (51 per cent) believe generative AI will threaten lawyers’ job security in certain areas of the law.
Carl Olson, vice president of proposition at Thomson Reuters, said that “generative AI is not a threat but a catalyst for transformation, and it is set to revolutionise the sector as we know it”.
“Legal professionals are cautiously optimistic towards large language models – they are assessing the many risks and opportunities the technology offers the future of their sector,” he said.
“AI has the growing capacity to augment human intelligence, not replace it. It can help lawyers work more efficiently, and alongside human expertise, AI has the capacity to deliver unprecedented accuracy. As the technology continues to evolve, law firms and legal departments will need to harness AI’s potential whilst educating their clients about the risks involved with navigating large language models.”
The Tech & the Law 2023 survey was conducted on behalf of Thomson Reuters by Agile Market Intelligence and received a total usable sample of 1,542 responses, with 1,342 responses from Australia between 15 May and 30 June 2023, and 200 responses from New Zealand between 29 June to 19 July. The survey collected 1,080 fully completed submissions, including 771 private practice respondents and 309 in-house professional respondents.
Within the private practice respondents, 35 per cent were from a boutique firm, 41 per cent were from mid-sized firms and 25 per cent were from larger firms.
More than three in five private practice professionals (64 per cent) said their firm’s level of tech investment will increase over the next 12 months. If the level of tech investment within law firms isn’t up to scratch, they will face issues with staff retention – 34 per cent of respondents who stated their law firm is not innovative are also ready to leave for a more innovative firm. Consequently, 60 per cent private practice professionals said that talent retention and attraction is a key business challenge for their firm.
Additionally, more than one in four private practice professionals (28 per cent) agree that know-how and precedent solutions have the greatest positive impact on their ability to succeed – yet 75 per cent of private practice respondents said that there is an insufficient amount of automation replacing manual processes at their firm.
Law firms of over 250 employees were revealed to be under the most pressure, with 63 per cent of respondents employed at these firms confirming that the economic landscape’s impact on their clients is a major business challenge. Over one in five legal professionals (23 per cent) working for a large firm also said they would leave for a more innovative firm.
As such, 43 per cent of legal professionals in large firms are experimenting with AI cautiously, as well as actively educating their clients about generative AI and its risks.
Within mid-sized law firms (11–250 employees) and boutique law firms (one–10 employees), talent retention and the economic landscape’s impact on clients were revealed to be the top business challenges. However, a majority of boutique firms (76 per cent) and mid-sized firms (73 per cent) cited lack of automation in processes as a key tech challenge.
Over two in five practitioners at a mid-sized firm (44 per cent) said their firm is experimenting with generative AI and proceeding with caution – but nearly three in five boutique firms (57 per cent) said they have no concrete plans to adopt generative AI.
According to the report, talent retention and attraction is a major challenge for 60 per cent legal professionals. Additionally, over 50 per cent of private practice professionals are experiencing challenges related to the economic landscape impacting their corporate clients and find it challenging to keep up with their clients’ shifting expectations.
“Law firms continue to look for growth opportunities while managing increased client expectations with the pressures of an uncertain economic landscape. Organisations are operating in a demanding macroeconomic climate, and law firm advisers are experiencing the consequential effects,” the report states.
“The war for talent continues with firms seeking to attract and retain the best talent in the market, enabling them to maintain competitiveness on the global stage.”
Therefore, the report notes that over the next year, the top three priorities for most firms will centre around talent, technology and cyber resilience.
Seventy-one per cent cited attracting and retaining talent as a top priority. In contrast, only half of the law firm professionals in the Tech & the Law 2022 report said it is a top priority.
Sixty-five per cent of private practice respondents said they are aiming to accelerate their digital transformation and 58 per cent of those surveyed recognise the data risks and threats associated with cyber attacks, highlighting cyber resilience as a top priority over the next 12 months.
New ways of working
Over half of legal professionals (51 per cent) value more efficient processes highest in their ways of working and only 22 per cent believed their firm’s investment in technology will stay the same over the next year.
“Many law firms are already using legal technology tools for research and automation. The appetite is there among the firms who are yet to adopt, with one-third of those surveyed wanting their firm to adopt automated workflow solutions,” the report states.
“More than a quarter of legal professionals surveyed emphasised the importance of integrating generative AI into their firm’s operations. While not widely used today, generative AI is high on the wish list.”
According to the report, research and document automation tools will deliver the greatest positive impact moving forward, with 28 per cent of respondents stating that know-how and precedent solutions are the greatest driver of positive impact.
Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they spend up to an hour a day on legal research, down from 67 per cent, signifying an increase in the use of legal research tools. When looking for legal research tools, most private practice professionals said they look for software that offers primary research sources as this inspires greater trust in the accuracy of information.
Eighty-two per cent of respondents said they look for primary law sources for more accurate and trustworthy data, and 73 per cent said they look for research technology with up-to-date content.
“Generative AI is quickly finding a place within the professional landscape. For lawyers, it can expedite processes by automatically reviewing large volumes of documents, identifying critical information and flagging potential risks,” the report states.
“The overall attitude towards generative AI is optimistic. A majority of legal professionals believe that generative AI will increase efficiency and reduce costs associated with research, review and analysis.”