Several months ago, we conducted a survey with professionals across the legal sector in hopes of gaining some insight into thoughts and opinions around the use of AI in the industry. The results, summarised in a presentation which you can download below, were varied and provide some excellent insight into a subject which continues to spark debate amongst industry experts and opinion-leaders in the legal space. We are delighted to now be able to share these results with you.
When you consider the hype surrounding artificial intelligence (and its applications within the legal sector specifically) over the past few years, it may initially be unsurprising that attitudes towards its use in this context were generally very positive – however, descriptors such as ‘frightening’ and ‘over-rated’ were still frequent enough to warrant consideration. Clearly there's still some scepticism to overcome which, coupled with an apparent lack of consensus around what exactly AI is and what it means for legal tech, suggests that understanding of these new developments may be limited; at best, inconsistent. This can be at least partly explained by the tendency for AI and its applications to be sensationalised in press and media coverage (think: Sophia the Robot). In particular, claims that AI poses a threat to the legal profession and will inevitably 'replace' lawyers does nothing for industry acceptance of new technologies, and tackling these misconceptions will be key to furthering the successful adoption of AI in the industry in the future.
With regards to adoption rates, more than half of our respondents reported making use of AI in their work already, and many indicated that it was useful in some way. Admittedly, given the relatively modest sample size used for this survey, the results were not intended to be extrapolated to the wider legal community. However, these findings do provide some interesting insight into discussions around the issue of inertia in the legal sector - a market which is often criticised for its relatively slow pace of adoption. If we are indeed now dealing with a case of late (or even early) majority adoption of AI technologies, is it really fair (or accurate for that matter) to continue to characterise the industry in this way?
On the other hand, a significant majority of respondents indicated that there were activities or tasks currently undertaken in their organisation which could be carried out or otherwise improved using AI, yet only half reported that their organisation was even considering implementing or extending implementation of AI in some capacity. This begs the question: why the discrepancy between problem recognition and taking steps towards finding appropriate solutions? US-based law firm, Thompson Hine, recently published a report discussing the so-called ‘innovation gap’, which describes a similar idea. Naturally, their findings refer to more than just a hesitance to invest in new technology, but they do highlight a dilemma in which value and potential are recognised, only to be undermined by barriers to adoption which are difficult to overcome.
And what of these barriers? Our respondents reported pragmatic considerations such as budget constraints and lack of skills/knowledge, which are certainly valid and highlight the importance of making new AI solutions more accessible in terms of both cost and training required. However, it's hard to ignore the possibility that some firms may be hesitant to embrace AI due to the inflated notion that doing so requires radical, paradigm innovation across firms. In actual fact, the majority of responses in our survey pointed towards using AI to support more routine, everyday tasks such as legal research and contract analysis. This suggests that we should be placing more emphasis on the idea that AI doesn't necessarily need to turn law firms' operations completely on their heads to qualify as true AI - real innovation in the legal sector may well be best achieved with an approach that encourages incremental change, which will ultimately be more sustainable in the long-run anyway.
Given the quantitative nature of this study, it is impossible to accurately infer the underlying motives behind the responses collected, however we believe the results help shed some light on the shift in attitudes towards new technologies in recent years. Everybody’s talking about AI, and it’s a topic of conversation that we will continue to engage with as we work with our legal customers to better understand the needs of this industry. We’d like to say thank you once again to all of the individuals who took part in our survey and, as always, encourage anyone interested in this subject to get in touch to share your own thoughts around the results presented here.