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Are Law Firms Embracing AI? Not So Much, Survey Concludes

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

In a profession reluctant to leave black robes and white wigs to history, it's not surprising that lawyers have not kept up with technology.

Even the most progressive law firms have a long way to go before a robot takes over the scrivener's job. While all attorneys have smart devices, relatively few really know how to use them.

According to a recent survey, law firms are using less artificial intelligence than brain power. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

Tech Resistance

"What is your firm's stance on the use of legal AI tools?" posed Altman Weil in its 2017 Law Firms in Transition Survey of nearly 400 law firms.

A mere 7.5 percent of the law firms said they use AI, with the largest firms scoring just 9.4 percent. Midsize firms were the most oblivious, barely registering 5.7 percent.

The survey does not explain why lawyers lag in adapting to technology, but some studies suggest it is integral to the profession. Attorneys tend to discourage risk-tasking.

"If tech startups represent one end of the culture spectrum, characterized by a 'fail fast, learn faster' environment, the practice of law is on the opposite end, with lawyers unwilling to experiment with different ways to find the right answer," according to Thomson Reuters.

Cost Resistance

Even a solo practitioner can afford a digital assistant to manage a calendar, send email, and make electronic deposits.

But the latest software robot, which can handle legal tasks like workflow management and contract review, is no tech gadget. A small firm will need to spend about $30,000 to set up such a system, and a firm with 500 users will have to budget $250,000.

Connie Brenton, senior director of legal operations at NetApp and chairman of the board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), said AI technology takes "significant resources to get up and running." Speaking at Legalweek: The Experience 2017 Conference, she joined other experts in explaining the financial reality of AI.

"We're talking years before AI fundamentally changes the way we practice law," she said.

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