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23 March 2020

Less than a quarter of UK lawyers use AI-assisted tech, research finds

Major study finds lawyers lack faith in their firms' and legal departments' ability even to capture data

Photo of Mari Sako

Professor Mari Sako: "We have a picture of a relatively low level of take-up of, and training for, lawtech."

Less than a quarter of UK solicitors use technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI) despite the hype surrounding its adoption, according to a survey of 350 lawyers.

The in-depth survey, which was conducted by Oxford University and the Law Society of England and Wales, highlights low use of innovative technology and subsequent training within the legal profession with respondents having little faith even in their organisations' ability to capture data — a key requirement for any AI-assisted technology.

Just one fifth (19%) of respondents agreed that ‘My organisation captures data effectively so that it can be used by legal technology’, while 41% disagreed.

Asked whether their organisations understand the challenges posed to lawyers by new technologies, 53% of lawyers in private practice agreed, a figure that fell to just 19% for in-house lawyers.

The reseaerch comes hard on the heels of a survey of top 100 law firm financial directors by Thomson Reuters that found more than one in four large UK law firms believed advances in AI posed a significant threat to their profitability.

The report’s lead author, Professor Mari Sako, of the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, said: “Given the widespread hype around legal practice innovation in general and AI-assisted law tech in particular, we have a picture of a relatively low level of take-up of, and training for, lawtech among our survey participants.”

Only half of the respondents had received any form of law tech training in the past three years with 71% of respondents saying they anticipated the need for training in data analytics — the most sought after training. This compared to just 3% who had already received this type of training.

Some 44% of survey respondents said they would be interested in receiving training in innovation techniques while 7% had already been trained in this area.

In terms of technology uptake, the survey found that the most commonly used AI-assisted technology was legal research (27%), followed by due diligence (16%), ediscovery (13%) and regulatory compliance (12%).

The most commonly used lawtech as whole was document/knowledge management (80%), followed by time recording (69%), document automation (43%) and extranets/deal rooms (37%).

The report also explored the extent lawyers are now working in multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs).

While 87% of respondents worked with other lawyers and 53% worked with paralegals, just 24% of respondents worked with IT or legal innovation specialists, 11% with legal project managers, 4% with data scientists and 4% with process mapping experts.

Some 40% of lawyers worked in MDTs according to the report’s definition – with a higher proportion doing so in in-house legal departments (49%) than law firms (36%). 

‘Confirming our supposition that the deployment of AI is associated with MDTs, respondents working in MDTs were more likely to use AI-assisted lawtech than those not working in MDTs,” the report says.

Sako added: “The survey provides a clear consensus on the benefits of lawtech training. There is no clear consensus, however, on whether lawyers would become multi-disciplinary individuals, or work in multi-disciplinary teams. Further research is needed on this issue, to facilitate the emergence of a tech-enabled, tech-savvy, solicitors’ profession in England and Wales.”

The survey also uncovered the need for more training on the legal issues surrounding AI and technology. While just 12% of respondents said they had had training in this area, 65% said they anticipated needing this type of training.

Alongside Sako, the report’s other authors are John Armour, professor of law and finance, and Richard Parnham, legal AI researcher, both also at Oxford University.

Further reading on AI

Advances in artificial intelligence fuelling law firm profitability fears, survey finds

More women must enter male-dominated legal tech to guard against AI bias, conference hears

EU unleashes ambitious AI regulatory agenda 'to make tech optimists of us all'

Law firm investment in automation lagging behind other sectors, survey finds

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