The Data-Driven Lawyer and the Future of Legal Technology

One of the most fundamental challenges that law firms, legal departments, and individual lawyers face today is inextricably tied to data. Data volumes continue to grow at exponential rates, and “big data” is an issue across just about every legal function. This is true whether you’re talking about solving a research or discovery problem, sketching out a legal strategy, assessing the merits of a case, or performing a multitude of tasks that a lawyer now confronts.

Additionally, client expectations have changed and there are relentless demands to be more efficient and deliver more cost-effective services. Whether you are a lawyer, legal librarian, or paralegal, your work involves finding and synthesizing relevant information more quickly, even as the body of information we’re sifting through continues to grow. This is a problem that must be addressed because the pressure from clients is not easing up.

Fortunately, there are already effective solutions in the marketplace today that target many—though certainly not all—of these data-related challenges. Technology-focused companies have been active in the legal research area for almost half a century now, and they have learned a lot about how to manage big sets of data. These providers are also investing heavily in the promise of language-based technologies that can scan, interpret, and synthesize the written document. These solutions are empowering the “data-driven lawyer,” for whom the big data phenomenon represents an opportunity, rather than an intractable problem.

So how is the industry today preparing to accommodate the data-driven lawyer of tomorrow?

Providing Better, Cleaner, and Richer Data

Technology companies in the legal research space add millions of documents to their repositories every day. Such quantities require purpose-built platforms that are able to process massive data volumes at very high speed. Additionally, these massive data volumes must be enriched so that additional insights can be extracted. With the help of advanced data parsing technology and document meta-data enrichment, raw data is cleaned, enhanced, refined, and structured so it is more readily searchable and can be mined for specific insights that are directly relevant to today’s legal questions.

Why start by commenting on data? Because clean, enhanced data underpins successful implementation of virtually every application of advanced technology in the legal industry.

Moving Beyond Futuristic AI Hype: Machine Learning and Its Power Today

It’s almost impossible to attend a legal technology conference today and not encounter multiple discussions about artificial intelligence (AI). We’ve been told—and many in the profession have begun to assume—that AI is the future of law. While still in its infancy, artificial intelligence-powered tools are at a point where new insights are now possible.

Most of what’s happening in the legal space related to AI is connected to machine learning. There is plenty of confusion about these terms in the media, but for our purposes it’s probably best think of AI as a broad technology category whereby machines carry out the kinds of “smart” tasks we associate with human decision making. Machine learning is a subset of AI—a powerful application of AI technology in which we expose machines to lots of data and provide them with ways to learn on their own and become incrementally “smarter” over time.

Current discussions of AI in the legal context tend to be hyperbolic and focus on concepts like “robot lawyers.” This is unfortunate for at least a couple of reasons. First, it generates fear among highly skilled professionals that they may soon be at risk of being replaced by machines. While machines may indeed one day perform some of the tedious, repetitive tasks that preparing thoroughly for legal matters can entail, we are a long way away—if ever—from replacing the extraordinary levels of nuanced judgement and expertise demonstrated daily by experienced legal counsel.

I prefer to describe the use of artificial intelligence technology as powering a new era of ‘augmented intelligence’ for lawyers. Lawyers are still making key legal judgments but now have powerful tools to draw new legal insights.

There’s another reason that the hype around AI does a real disservice to legal technology discussion: it overshadows truly meaningful work in the area of machine learning. Solutions today are already improving the interaction between humans and computers, rapidly evolving a lawyer’s ability to answer questions and draw important legal insights from ever-growing data collections.

AI technology is making it possible for legal professionals to interact in a more natural, conversational way with computer systems. The language of law—which is very specialized and highly context sensitive—is being mapped into computer systems so that the mountains of legal data that we now have access to can be mined more effectively. The promise: we will get better results more quickly and efficiently, and at a lower cost.

Knowing the Once Unknowable: The Power of Legal Analytics

An equally promising technology whose potential can be overlooked amid all the AI hype is data analytics. Data analytics is offering real utility and value to legal practitioners right now. Legal analytics power better decision-making in a number of legal practice areas such as patent and trademark law, copyright, securities, antitrust, and commercial litigation.

Data analytics powers new legal insights by mining massive data sets: docket data, legislation, case opinions and client contracts to name a few. By processing this enriched data, lawyers can draw conclusions about opposing counsel, judges, litigation parties, and contract drafts in order to reveal insights that were not previously knowable.

Legal analytics is also being used to help firms improve the ways they approach the business of law. It does so by providing factual data from millions of litigation records about the behavior and performance of law firms and individual lawyers—including data points like win rates, cases with resolutions, time to injunction, etc., in specific areas of law. Analytics can also be used to track broad industry trends relevant to activities like strategic planning, business development, and marketing.

Advancing Better Legal Insights Through Technology: The Future Is Bright

Tomorrow’s data-driven lawyer will have the opportunity to benefit from all of these technologies. Conversely, the lawyer without access to these technologies will be at a significant competitive disadvantage.

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