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Firms Should Embrace Augmented Intelligence, Not Artificial Intelligence

Open any newspaper, and you’re sure to read something about artificial intelligence (AI). The technology has captured the public's imagination in a big way, but with mixed responses. For every article heralding that AI ushers in a new era of efficiency, cost-savings, and productivity, there’s at least one other that warns of impending job losses, mass unemployment, and perhaps even a robot apocalypse.

The truth, however, lies somewhere to the side. Legal professionals don’t need to start fearing for their jobs just yet. Rather they can rejoice that they will be freed up from repetitive work and be able to focus on clients, their needs, and leveraging their knowledge and insights. But they do need to get used to the new working environment that AI will bring. In fact, instead of focusing on AI itself (as trendy as it currently is), more time should be spent on looking at augmented intelligence.

Augmented Over Artificial

Augmented intelligence is a term used to describe how human intelligence is supplemented by technology. A good example of this would be the invention of SatNavs and how this fundamentally changed the way most of us drive around foreign areas. In contrast, AI is technology that has been developed to imitate human intelligence.

Augmented intelligence is fast becoming a popular way of describing the current situation professionals are finding themselves in when it comes to AI. In short, instead of fully replacing lawyers, AI is expected to assist them and augment what they already know.

Current Uses of AI

AI system Luminance, for instance, helps lawyers read through complex contracts and legal documents at record speed. Meanwhile, TermFrame, AI technology developed in-house at Pinsent Masons, helps its lawyers assess legal risk based on historical documents and legal precedent.

Then there’s chatbot technology and voice assistants like Amazon® Alexa®—AI that helps speed up communication between people in the workplace. Finally, you have AI that can assist with daily operations, from hiring the right people to ensuring that the right people are assigned to the right projects and new business opportunities.

The key trait with all of this AI is that it exists to help people with otherwise time-intensive and laborious tasks.

How to React to AI’s Adoption

When lawyers are considering the future of their workplaces, they shouldn’t necessarily react with fear. Instead, they should be embracing the many opportunities that AI will bring as more and more businesses adopt it.

Instead of wasting time sifting through legal documents, lawyers will have more bandwidth for higher-level, strategic thinking. Contracts and NDAs will be reviewed more quickly, and lawyers will no longer have to stay fully up-to-speed with ever-changing legislation. M&As will be sped up, with better deals struck because parties won’t be busy manually reading contracts and other legal documents.

However, the attitudes of many older legal firms have now reached the end of the road. Many lawyers have almost become victims of their own success, with solid costs to match. There are now three fascinating driving forces behind the new legal era: new tech, new client expectations, and changing expectations of a new, younger breed of lawyers.

In simple terms, 95% of legal firms will be out of business in five years if they stick to the old status quo. The issue lies not in the idea that they are not changing—because they are. It’s that they are changing far too slowly. They need to keep up with the exponential rate of change that the market and customers are going through, but frustratingly, some are still stumbling along in a linear growth mindset.

The Downsides of AI

Of course, to every plus, there is inevitably a downside. With AI, there is a largely unanswered question that lingers over the fate of junior lawyers. Many lawyers cut their teeth with endless reading and research. But many AI systems are able to outperform humans when it comes to trawling through documents and picking out key phrases and sections for consideration.

One consequence, therefore, of AI entering firms would be that entry-level lawyers may have the opportunity to take on work and decision-making that would have previously been the remit of their superiors.

For established legal professionals, there may be the temptation to leave everything up to the machine. However, there will be a degree of oversight and interpretation that lawyers will have to undertake when dealing with AI. Computers still lack human-level critical thinking, which means that they won’t be able to interpret results, speculate, or imagine scenarios in a courtroom. For as long as AI is unable to deal with personalities, creativity, insight, emotions, chemistry, and the unpredictable nature of humanity, there will be a need for a human to be in charge.

The Power of AI

The real power of AI doesn’t lie in its ability to decimate entire job roles but in its ability to free up time and resources. The law profession of the future is going to be far more efficient and strategic as a result of AI adoption. In turn, this will lead to a certain amount of re-skilling or changing job roles within the legal profession.

That said, AI shouldn’t be something that the industry pushes back on for fear of their jobs. If law firms see AI for what it is—a form of augmented intelligence, then lawyers will be happy to adopt the technology. Much like SatNav technology, the sooner we begin to use AI, the smoother a drive it’ll be for everybody.


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