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05 January 2018

AI is out, augmented intelligence is in for 2018

Chatbots and conversational search will be the focus for legal technologists next year, say Jeff Pfeifer of LexisNexis and Josh Becker of Lex Machina who give their predictions on what's hot and what's not.


For the legal tech industry, 2017 continued the trend of positive, upward momentum relating to the adoption of innovative, cutting-edge technologies among law firms and GCs, especially advanced analytics, machine learning and related applications.As technology continues to proliferate and reshape the legal industry, there are several that we think are poised to have a breakout year in 2018. Here’s a snapshot of these technologies, including how they could impact the way attorneys work and practice law, as well as other issues and challenges that come with technology adoption and development.

Search becomes conversational: The rise of chatbot frameworks and machine learning-enabled knowledge graphs promises significant improvements to traditional search. The future of search lies in the form of extended conversations between attorneys and machines instead of a simple query-and-response process. This will allow attorneys to explore an issue iteratively, or evolve their understanding of a topic, via a series of clarifying questions from machines, which will guide users to new, related concepts, data sets and legal insights they might have overlooked. 

Augmented intelligence replaces artificial intelligence as the new preferred phrase of legal professionals: AI has largely been perceived as a threat to the legal profession. In fact, AI and analytics are helping attorneys become much more knowledgeable, efficient and productive than ever before. That said, we believe the industry will move away from the term, embracing “augmented intelligence” instead. More than just semantics, the shift reinforces the idea that technology exists to help legal professionals perform complex, data-intensive work more efficiently, not replace them. 

Chatbots enable human-like interaction with systems: Once the exclusive domain of B2C offerings, new use-cases for B2B legal chatbot solutions are now on the horizon. Amazon’s recent release of its Alexa framework for business application development promises an acceleration of solutions leveraging this exciting technology. In the legal world, chatbots could act as a first point of contact for legal matters and play an increasingly important role in driving potential business to law firms.  

Integrating legal technologies across the entire workflow will deliver greater efficiencies: Regardless of how each technology performs in isolation, when lawyers must transition between separate tools for research, analysis, annotation, collaboration, etc., tasks remain largely disconnected. To realize the vision of the data-driven lawyer, existing technologies must be linked together and integrated across the entire legal workflow to drive greater efficiency and productivity. In 2018, look for technology allowing users to switch seamlessly between applications, access data and analytics within full-text case law, and more efficiently draft and collaborate on documents for clients. 

Technology innovation must demonstrate ROI:  Speculation about how technology innovation may change the practice of law has dominated recently. In 2018, we will see law firms and GCs focus on how technologies are delivering real utility and value today. In particular, the conversation will shift towards measurement to ensure they are delivering tangible results. For example, the rapid adoption of analytics-powered solutions among AmLaw 200 firms and Fortune 500 GCs was driven by the measurable ROI from these tools. Peer benchmarking, law firm effectiveness, time to trial and other metrics are all now measurable as a result of data-driven analytics. Similar measurable value will be expected from other advanced technologies.   

Legal tech “incubation” programs are increasingly important: Rising numbers of legal tech start-ups are entering the industry, fueled by increased access to legal data, adoption of cutting-edge technologies and an investor community that sees tremendous opportunity. However, the legal industry’s slow adoption of new technologies can put start-ups at odds with investors eager to see a return on investment. This increases pressure on start-ups to move from incubation phase to a viable business. In response, several legal tech accelerator programs have launched to provide start-ups with knowledge and expertise on everything from technology, product development and marketing to building a strong company culture – thus setting them up for success. 

Despite slow industry adoption, these developments suggest there is good reason for optimism among firms and law departments who take the time to evaluate new tools carefully. Applications that simplify data-intensive legal workflows and enable more intuitive and efficient interactions between humans and machines will prove their ROI and free lawyers to focus their energies on better serving clients.

Jeff Pfeifer is VP Product Management at LexisNexis, and Josh Becker is CEO of Lex Machina.

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