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Why AI Adoption Challenges for Small Firms Aren't as Tough as They Seem

May 23, 2023 (7 min read)


 This post was originally published in September 2019 and was updated in May 2023. 

As attorneys, we are all acutely aware that we must adapt to the ever-changing technological landscape to stay competitive. 

Although adopting artificial intelligence (AI) is important for all lawyers, it is particularly critical for solo attorneys and those in smaller law firms, simply because technology enables small firm attorneys to do more with less. For example, e-discovery, contract drafting, legal research, and other such tasks could easily consume the majority of an attorney’s workload if not automated. For small and solo attorneys with limited capacity, artificial intelligence can be the pseudo staff member that alleviates this workload and helps small firms run smoothly

Of course, there are obstacles to adopting any new technology, and incorporating AI-powered legal technology can come with its own set of obstacles—especially for smaller firms with limited resources. In this article, we discuss why AI adoption is important, barriers small law firms might encounter, and tips for overcoming them.

How Can AI Be Used in Legal Research?

Anyone who’s been through law school knows that legal research can be especially time consuming. At big firms, partners have the advantage of associates, law clerks, and paralegals who can perform deep dives into the mass of cases and secondary content and emerge with the information needed to bring a successful case. For small and solo firms though, the luxury of this task force is often only a dream; each attorney must be responsible for their own legal research.

But that’s where AI can make life easier for everyone. With the right technology, small and solo firms can match (or even outperform) firms that have hundreds of associates at their disposal. 

AI-based legal research software can mine archives of legal precedents to find supporting documentation to bolster a legal argument. The more it’s used, the more it automatically “learns” and gets smarter, which makes it faster and easier to find and digest relevant documents. This may eliminate the need to have multiple people simultaneously digging for supporting facts or precedent on a case—one attorney can easily unearth what they need using AI.

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Barriers to AI in the Legal Industry

AI-powered legal technology has been on the market for several years and continues to rapidly improve. So why wouldn't an attorney use AI? There are several barriers to adoption, which we'll discuss in greater detail below, with the goal of helping you overcome these barriers. 


While AI-powered legal software provides many benefits to attorney, it has historically been financially unattainable for small firms. Large firms have the resources to bring bots like Harvey on board or custom train bots like Lancelaw, one of the first legal artificial intelligence programs designed to streamline work and assist attorneys. 

As AI-enabled software becomes more widespread, small law firms can level the playing field with more accessible tools entering the arena. Most legal research platforms offer packages, specifically tailored to the needs of small and solo firms, that include AI functionality. 

While much of the technology available through these platforms has extractive AI, or AI that pulls relevant data and summarizes, many legal research providers are including generative AI. Generative AI drafts or creates unique, new content based on the data that has been extracted from existing content, saving attorneys an immeasurable amount of time. By leveraging these more accessible and tailored options of extractive and generative AI tools, small law attorneys can compete with larger firms. 

Still, the cost of the latest, greatest technology can be an aspect that gives most small firms pause. But it's worth noting that if the cost of hiring more people has been a barrier to your firm's growth, a vetted generative AI platform comes at a fraction of the price of a new hire. This puts attorneys in a position to take on more cases and scale at a quicker pace. 


Every attorney is bound by rules of confidentiality laid out in their state Model Rule of Professional Conduct. It can be scary to consider putting client information into an AI-powered tool, but it may not be a breach of your duty to confidentiality. The American Bar Association recommends getting informed consent from your client regarding the use of AI in their case and likelihood of a similar outcome without the use of AI. Data breaches and the security of AI-powered research software may also raise some red flags. It's important to do your due diligence when choosing a legal research provider to determine what protections are in place and if the benefits outweigh the risk for your clients.


Like all technology, AI-powered programs are not infallible. Artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT are open source, meaning they pull information from any publicly available source. These programs called large language models (LLMs) can sometimes "hallucinate"—confidently delivering inaccurate answers in any authoritative tone. It's these inaccuracies that give attorneys pause when it comes to using AI programs. It's possible to train LLMs that power research platforms only collect information from a specific database of vetted content. Using a platform trained in this way significantly limits errors that may occur. 

Ongoing Support

AI-powered legal research platforms are not new to the legal industry; however, widespread adoption of these solutions has been slow. In previous years, many AI programs required IT support and a steep learning curve that many small firms could not support. However, new AI-powered legal research platforms are much more intuitive and have minimal costs to get up and running. Ongoing support from legal research companies means that small firms have all the guidance they need—if they need it—while integrating AI into their firms. 

Should Attorneys use Artificial Intelligence?

While automation and AI are an added (though increasingly necessary) bonus for bigger firms, they're in the "need-to-have" category for small firms. Similarly, while big law firms may choose to employ AI and automation at will, the small firm attorney would wise to make the technology part of their workflow. The time saved translates to greater profits and/or better work-life balance. 

Of course, there are valid concerns, but there are also steps that can be taken to mitigate any risk and protect you and your clients. As you look to adopt AI-powered legal research for your firm, ask questions regarding security and privacy, determine where the program is pulling information from, and use your professional judgment when providing legal advice to your clients. 

The use of new technologies, like artificial intelligence, may also be part of an attorney's ethical obligation. Many state professional rules require attorneys to stay up to date on new technology changes and how it can benefit their clients. To learn more about your ethical obligations, check your state Rules of Professional Conduct or attend a CLE course

AI Solutions for Lawyers

Generative AI-enabled research solutions are just coming to the legal industry. In the meantime, there are many extractive AI programs that can enhance the efficiency of your research. Predictive legal language analytics can offer small firms an advantage by analyzing judge's past decisions, enabling you to pinpoint the type of arguments a judge finds persuasive. 

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AI can also make legal drafting and analysis easier. Brief Analysis -- only on Lexis+ -- scans an uploaded document and uses AI to recommend cases, treatises, and other relevant documents. Using the Lexis+ database, Brief Analysis allows you to find previously file briefs, making winning briefs to help you find new arguments or improve your own legal documents. 

Legal research platforms have been investing in AI programs and integrating those features into their research platforms. Features like Lexis Answers use AI to surface answers to legal questions quickly. AI integration with Fact & Issue Finder searches across multiple content types presenting comprehensive research in an interactive dashboard. These features streamline research and help attorneys work more efficiently. 

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With LexisNexis, attorneys can gain access to a robust database of reliable information integrated with artificial intelligence features and be at the forefront of the generative AI revolution.

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