Why lawyers need the machines: setting the story straight on AI – Jim Chiang
29 April 2021

Why lawyers need the machines: setting the story straight on AI – Jim Chiang

Published on 29 April 2021

Why lawyers need the machines: setting the story straight on AI – Jim Chiang

From muscle-clad Terminators to bullet dodging Agent Smiths – the media certainly presents artificial intelligence (AI) with cautionary scepticism. And when it comes to legal technologies, the story we’re being told is unfortunately following the same tired trope.

Jim Chiang, Founder and CEO of the AI application My Legal Einstein, says it’s time to change the AI narrative. With over 20 years’ experience in big data management and AI algorithm development, he’s eager to set the story straight.

AI: looking behind the media spin

According to Jim, the media is consistently shining a negative light on AI and amplifying the fear surrounding new legal tech.

“We’re constantly seeing the media forwarding this narrative of AI replacing jobs or making them obsolete.

“As someone who works in the AI space, my goal is to find ways for technologies to augment the intelligence of lawyers. I want to remove the mundane aspects of a lawyer’s job, so that they can focus on the strategic aspects.

“We aren’t looking to create AI that replaces lawyers. Nor do we want AI to tell them what to do. Because, realistically speaking, AI isn’t able to make judgement calls with the same sophistication of a human. We’re simply looking to create technologies that make lawyers more efficient,” he says.

The space where AI is coming into its own

Although AI is already invaluable across a fast-growing number of arenas, Jim says there’s one area in the legal sector where it’s particularly gaining traction.

“Right now, many legal tech vendors are creating programs to make contract lifecycle management more efficient.

“These programs are designed to speed up the time it takes to create or deploy a contract. They typically do this by rapidly checking contracts to make sure the terms needed are included.

“AI is also becoming extremely useful when reviewing third-party contracts. These contracts often contain information that’s ‘hidden’ or difficult for the human eye to find. And this is the precise information that holds the biggest risks in contract law. Missing it could be catastrophic for you or your client.  

“AI is very adept at understanding free form text, so it has a natural application here. It can review contracts rapidly to highlight any potentially dangerous terms that need your attention.

“I believe AI is only going to become more popular in the contract space in the years to come,” he says.

What automation really looks like

Faster processes, less administration, better job satisfaction. It all sounds great in theory – but it can be hard to visualise what automation looks like in practice.

Jim explains that his platform, My Legal Einstein, shows how AI can give lawyers more time to do what they do best.

“As any lawyer can tell you, when a client presents you with a contract that they’ve received from another party, a large part of the review process could be labelled as ‘project management’.

“When negotiating a contract, the process lawyers usually follow involves passing a redlined Word document from one colleague to the next. But this process can get murky, since it can easily become unclear as to who has the next action item, or which edits have been approved. 

“So there’s a lot of chasing people up and sorting through comments to get a document client-ready… It’s fair to say this type of work is not necessarily the highest value task a lawyer could be bringing to the table. 

“Our AI breaks the contract down according to topic, making it easy for specific team members to jump straight to the part most relevant to them. For example, the financial terms of a contract are highlighted so your finance team can immediately direct their attention to that section.

“Importantly, our technology allows everyone to work on the same document concurrently. You can collaborate and annotate the document at the same time as your colleagues – in a format that only your internal team can see.

“Meanwhile, you can also make comments and notes to the third party to negotiate the contract terms and conditions,” he says.

The outcome? Very little project management, and a lot more time and energy directed into the aspects of contract review that will bring your client the most value.

Roadblocks to new technology adoption

Through talking to lawyers and introducing them to My Legal Einstein, Jim says he consistently sees the same issue come up when it comes to adoption among firms.

“It isn’t so much the individual lawyers who are resistant to change – in fact, the vast majority welcome processes that make them more efficient.

“The barrier is the sheer volume of work lawyers have on their plates. Thanks to the pandemic, US firms have been cutting budgets. This means they have even fewer people focusing on day-to-day client-facing activities – and less support staff available to set up new processes. 

“And unfortunately, firms need to invest significant time upfront to introduce a new system or process effectively and get teams up to speed.

“So, although many firms do genuinely want to become more efficient and adopt new technologies, the process is usually slow due to their limited internal capacity,” he says.

Breaking down the barriers

The perpetual ‘busy-ness’ of a lawyer’s job doesn’t seem to have an obvious solution in sight. So, how then can the legal industry embrace efficiency-related technologies more rapidly?

It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: lawyers need more time to adopt new technologies, but they also need to adopt the technologies to have more time. It’s a seemingly unsolvable paradox.

However, Jim believes there is an answer.

“Every new technology needs to be as accessible as possible. It needs to be easy to buy and install – and instantly intuitive.

“We say that users of our technologies should be able to get value within the first five minutes. Time to value is absolutely critical for us.

“That’s why developers should be working alongside legal practitioners to determine what works about the technology and what doesn’t. They need to really understand where it can add most value.

“Because I’m not a lawyer, I’ve always considered it vital that I partner with legally-qualified individuals. And to always seek feedback and input from the legal teams using our technologies,” he says.

Value of the CLI

Aside from being time poor, Jim believes lawyers still need an extra ‘push’ when it comes to embracing change around technology.

“The ‘evil AI’ myth needs debunking, and we need our industry to be excited about the possibilities on offer.

“Organisations like the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) are pivotal in shifting this mindset. They’re showcasing how firms are embracing innovation and reaping the benefits – and that change is possible. They’re also offering thought-leadership on how legal teams can assess their processes and push themselves to create something better. 

“The legal sector has a long road ahead in reaching its technological potential. But the CLI is working hard to get us there faster,” he says.