By Scott D. Bailey, Global Director of Research Services at Squire Patton Boggs LLP
Everywhere we look we see the AI robots. The cover of the New Yorker recently depicted an android giving a handout to a jobless human on the street; the new film Blade Runner 2049 revives the confusion between man and machine; and now all over the legal industry media, the future involves AI taking over at least part of a venerable profession once entirely occupied by humans. The buzz is deafening.
Thinking that law firms are perfect and worthy enterprises composed of intelligent human life doing complex and creative work into perpetuity is one thing, believing that machine learning or AI technologies could displace the human lawyer, law firm administrators, or legal research specialists entirely is quite another. Most experts fall in the middle and believe that “AI-style” technology (or software) is likely to transform the practice of law in areas where systematic applications can save time and increase accuracy, making room for higher level, higher value work. Regardless of the level of buy-in to the AI hype, the investigation of what AI means to you and your firm is a worthwhile conversation to have, and one that will yield authentic collaboration and genuine human insight if handled correctly. The questions we seek to answer about our business operations as a firm are in many respects more important than the answers for the future of the legal industry. Now that we have these first generation AI tools available to us, what do we hope to accomplish? What will our future ideal “legal Alexa” answer? What “why” do we start with?
As the Global Director of Research Services at a large law firm, I am charged with helping to evaluate these new AI products and services. Often this evaluation process starts with the products that are early to market. Eager to enhance and benefit from the herd, large law firms move in a pack to evaluate emerging products and determine their value to the industry and for their individual culture and identity. Budget season is cluttered with ideas of what to drop and what to add, if we are fortunate enough to add. We must choose carefully and involve the right stakeholders. How do we do this? It is important to focus on what questions we want to answer as a firm rather than whether the available tools fit our practice. Thinking about what questions we want to answer puts us in a position of driving the market toward more valuable tools. We do not have to bite at the first promise of AI, but we need to engage our firms in a holistic discussion about what objectives are important to them, and the potential role of AI in meeting those objectives. We need to have a strategy, and it starts with the humans talking to each other.
An AI strategy involves assembling the stakeholders in a systematic way and evaluating not just “AI-style” products out of the box but the questions that the specific firm wants answered. The right people need to be involved across the firm, which is critical. If a litigation firm wants to start with accurately pricing the phases of litigation for Alternative Fee Arrangements, then there are several options for them technologically. But if they choose to start this process without access to billing data or buy-in from the finance department and financial technology, that will be a significant issue for them. Streamlining research processes will require the involvement of the research teams and the practitioners who use the research tools, not just practice area leaders.
- Key Humans/Stakeholders (practice and administration leads and power users and performers)
- Strategy (what is your firm’s direction and specific objectives?)
- Questions to Support Strategy (what questions help you get there?)
- Existing Data Sources for AI (who “owns” these and where are they?)
- Existing and Proposed Technology/Tools (go back to step 1 for success metrics/feedback loop)
This AI strategy is a loop process and involves thorough evaluation and metrics to determine success and direction, but it all starts and ends with the humans. If these humans are selected with care and precision and can remain communicative and engaged in the AI strategic process, the AI “replicants” and their results will be more effective. At the very least, the conversation will yield collaboration and enhance knowledge and insight within your human organization even if you do not adopt a first generation AI tool in your firm. Sometimes the journey is more valuable than the destination.