Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has adopted artificial intelligence (AI) into its business in an attempt to boost efficiency and improve the morale of its lawyers. However, the firm’s head of legal risk consultancy Matthew Whalley believes this is only the beginning of how law firms can use AI.

BLP has begun using AI software known as RAVN within its real estate and commercial practices to extract specific pieces information from large documents. The work is essential in many cases but is often time consuming and tedious work, which is passed on to junior lawyers.

One criticism of AI is that it takes work away from junior lawyers but Whalley says that using the software allows these individuals to engage in more interesting work.

“They’re doing more complex tasks,” says Whalley. “The main thing they aren’t doing is reading through a foot-high stack of documents with a highlighter and then going back through them all and typing what they’ve found into a spreadsheet.

“They’re able to do more interesting work, which they actually want to do.”

As well as boosting the morale of the firm’s lawyers the use of AI means that partners do not need to bring in additional staff or ask members of their team to work longer hours to finish this type of work on time.  Although no estimates are available as to how much this has saved the firm, RAVN allows BLP to reduce the costs associated with making lawyers work longer hours.

However, for Whalley the use of AI during the processing aspect of legal work is only the first step in the technology’s potential.

“The efficiencies are the short term goal,” says Whalley, “but the insights you get from turning unstructured contractual data into structured data that you can generate reports from is incredibly valuable.”

AI has the potential to change how law firms interact with their clients and take them from being solely legal advisors to even more influential strategic business advisors. This becomes possible as firms gain more access to data that they have previously missed out on.  

“To become strategic business advisors you need to have a better insight into peoples’ businesses than you have on the discreet legal task that you’re looking at,” says Whalley. “You can begin to deliver insight based on what people do, which is data-driven insight rather than just gut feeling. 

“There’s a difference between insight derived from what people say that they do and insight derived from what people actually do.”

By tracking what agreements businesses have signed in the past, firms will be better placed during future negotiations. It also allows law firms to spot potential shifts in a client’s business strategy by revealing changes in how clients negotiate certain points within a contract.

However, despite BLP’s use of RAVN the firm is not the only one in the market looking to implement AI into its business. The sector is keeping a watchful eye on IBM’s AI software Watson, which has so far received $1bn worth of investment from the design technology giant.

Thomson Reuters has recently picked up Watson and will use the software to analyse complex data and present the information to law firms and professional services clients.

However, the use of AI may not be suitable for other less traditional law firms. LOD co-founder Simon Harper has stated that the alternative legal services provider has no plans to use AI despite the firm’s close connection and financial backing from BLP.

Harper believes that lawyers will be at the centre of legal services for the foreseeable future but LOD does use technology to help strengthen the relationship between contract lawyers and clients.

“LOD uses technology to facilitate how the lawyers are working and how the clients are getting the information,” says Harper. “So one piece of that is around how we match the right lawyers with the right clients on the right assignment.”

The firm uses a cloud-based portal called LOD.Net to allow contract lawyers to keep their details and rates up-to-date making it easier for clients to find a suitable lawyer. Once the match is made LOD also uses technology to inform clients about the work the lawyers are carrying out, specifically within LOD’s managed service teams.

This is done by providing clients with analytical data and management information about the work the lawyers have carried out. However, the information is not accessed by clients directly but instead is summarised by the LOD team themselves.

“An interesting thing about how clients want to work with technology is that they don’t necessarily want to be dealing with different platforms for every legal service provider they’re working with,” says Harper. “They want things to work in their current work flow.”

Despite LOD having no plans to implement AI Harper does think that technology will advance to a point that it is suitable for its business model. With its links to BLP this could come sooner than expected should the firm have success gaining insights into the behaviour of its clients.