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AI and Automation Experts Transform Law Departments

Across the globe, the traditional legal profession is still very labor-intensive. Higher salaries and the limited use of automation has driven up the cost of performing even the most mundane routine tasks. That's going to change. The disruption has already begun.

The intense pressure from senior executives on their legacy corporate legal department has pushed lawyers to consider robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing benefits, according to the latest worldwide market study by Gartner.

In fact, they now predict that law robots (or lawbots) will handle a quarter of the typical enterprise internal legal support requests by 2023. The virtual legal assistant (VLA) will be commonplace.

Legal Process Automation Market Development 

"While VLAs, legal chatbots, and lawbots may seem like hype, their use in legal departments can yield significant benefits," said Zack Hutto, director at Gartner. "This will significantly disrupt the legal technology marketplace."

VLAs can help legal departments improve efficiency by streamlining matter intake, triaging legal requests, determining the necessity of legal review and automating the routine legal workflow. According to a Gartner survey of legal professionals increasing productivity in these ways is the top driver of automation.

VLAs can also ease employee concerns about anonymity in situations where they perceive a risk in simply asking for information, such as whistleblower reporting and harassment claims.

Legal departments will benefit through increased efficiency gains, improved employee satisfaction, and more opportunities to retask legal experts to much higher value activities. These sought-after benefits will open up the market to new entrants who can provide self-service applications with AI and conversational interfaces.

According to the Gartner assessment, legal bots are already demonstrating value and versatility in citizen and consumer law. For example, they have been developed to provide legal guidance for victims of crime and people seeking a divorce in the U.K. market.

Moreover, platforms such as Amazon Lex, IBM Watson and Slack enable legal-focused vendors and services providers to rapidly address the needs of various legal functions and domains without having to develop a core technology or infrastructure backbone.

Gartner predicts a quarter of internal legal requests will be handled by VLAs in just a few years. Its experts caution, however, that legal departments risk an overreliance on VLA. They should be adopted as part of a broad legal services strategy because a piecemeal approach with poorly designed VLAs may be confusing or intrusive rather than helpful.

Gartner predicts that 33 percent of corporate legal departments will have a dedicated legal technology expert to support the increasing automation of core in-house workflows, by 2023. That's because while standardized, repeatable legal workflows have great potential for automation, existing in-house counsel may not have the technology leadership needed to support these initiatives.

For example, just 5 percent of legal departments indicate that all commercial contract management is treated as new and managed manually. In the next 3 years, 40 percent of corporate legal departments intend to increase spending on legal IT systems or software by 10 percent or more.

"Despite the clear opportunities to automate, and the intent to do so, most legal departments simply don’t have the staff for legal analytics," said Mr. Hutto. "Just one in five reports having a technology or innovation counsel or access to a data analyst."

Outlook for Legal Automation Applications Growth

Gartner analysts believe that as core in-house legal work becomes increasingly reliant on technology, legal departments will shift their talent acquisition and retention strategies to address the need for dedicated legal technology experts.

Forward-thinking legal leaders need to make moves to hire these skills today. They are already at a premium across multiple business functions, so it’s unlikely to be quick or easy.

In the near future, these skills are likely to become scarcer as automation becomes more mainstream in several areas. Therefore, the savvy chief counsel or lead attorney is already recruiting the talent and expertise required to develop a sustainable competitive advantage.

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