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Artificial Intelligence: The Not-So-Secret Weapon of the Small Firm Attorney

September 04, 2019

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

Although embracing automation is important for all lawyers, it is particularly critical for solo attorneys and those in Small Law, 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 an attorney’s entire workload if not automated. For small and solo attorneys with limited capacity, dedicating this kind of time to this work is simply not an option. And with few staff, artificial intelligence, or AI, can be the pseudo staff member that helps small firms run smoothly.

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 reams of legal records 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. Nowadays, there is no reason a solo attorney shouldn’t feel every bit as equipped as a Big Law attorney with an army of researchers at their fingertips. 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.

Barriers to AI in the Legal Industry

While it’s true that robust, AI-powered legal research software has historically been financially unattainable for many small firms, this is simply no longer the case. Now, most legal research platforms actually offer packages specifically tailored to the needs of small and solo law firms. Similarly, many legal research platforms used to require a lot of IT support and implementation ramp-up time that many small firms did not have the bandwidth to support—but thankfully, this is also no longer the case. As AI-based software has gotten better and more agile over the years, it has also gotten significantly easier to install and maintain. With price and implementation no longer barriers, every small firm should be taking advantage of the legal research and AI options available to them.

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 be wise to make the technology part of their everyday workflow. The peace of mind and time saved will be well worth the effort.

Other AI Solutions for Lawyers

Language analytics is another vein of AI that can offer small firms an advantage with informed and streamlined legal research. For instance, there is a judicial analytics tool that analyzes a judge’s past decisions, enabling lawyers to easily pinpoint the types of arguments a particular judge typically finds most persuasive, how they typically rule on certain motions and more. As one can imagine, these types of insights can make or break a case and be the difference between winning a lawsuit and losing one—regardless of firm size.

 What’s next? While it’s difficult to see what breakthrough innovations are on the legal industry’s horizon, it’s fairly certain that big data and analytics technologies are going to fuel them.