09 Feb 2022

Artificial intelligence and the art of noise over substance

Paul Longhurst of 3Kites looks beyond ‘innovation theatre’ to outline AI’s practical benefits for law firms, in-house legal teams and their clients

Artificial Intelligence technology concept with text AI made of electronic circuit board with microchip above planet Earth with connected network, data exchange and computing, elements from NASA

Shutterstock; NicoElNino

The Global Legal Post has commissioned 3Kites and Kemp IT Law to contribute a column which provides regular and easily digestible content on various technical themes in language which can be understood by those who prefer to use technology rather than immerse themselves in it. 


Many law firms make a great deal about their AI initiatives. In truth this is often a case of catching the attention of prospective clients by appearing to be investing heavily in this field when the reality is often little more than a pilot project – or ‘innovation theatre’ as it’s unkindly, but sometimes accurately, called.

Of course some firms have gone much further than this and invested heavily in real line-of-business solutions which seek to reduce the time taken to respond on matters or to lower costs where this can be done without affecting the quality of advice. 

However, all too often we hear about AI initiatives without seeing the real benefits – it is as if someone has arrived at an answer without first hearing the question. So what is all the noise about and where can it really help?
A definition is often the way to a lawyer's heart so here is one for AI: systems that are able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages… the apparent ability to think and learn.

Machine learning

Machine learning is a form of AI whereby systems adapt to reflect what they ‘learn’ about a specific area. One example of this would be having a system analyse large numbers of MRI scans along with the results of any abnormalities found so that it can understand what a clear scan looks like as opposed to one that clearly identifies, say, malignant growths and, most importantly, those giving an early indication of problems thereby providing the greatest chance of successful treatment.

Humans will struggle to analyse as many images and identify subtle patterns which point to early diagnosis whereas a system accelerates this process by using human-learned skills in volume and at speed. 

Translating this to the legal sector, systems can be tuned to analyse case files in order to identify patterns which are present whenever these cases are clearly lost or won allowing firms to arrive at a decision for, say, insurance clients which save the expenditure of time on cases that are likely to be lost. 

It may be that some assessments are incorrect but if, on balance, the vast majority are right it will be an effective tool in an increasingly competitive market. And what of those cases where the outcome is not clear? 

Case studies

This is where judgement can be applied by the experienced lawyer, where their skills really make a difference and where clients will see the benefits of extra effort. In 3Kites’ AI seminar in 2017, we presented an example of this approach whereby Allianz in France analysed case patterns to provide an indication of settlement costs and timescales as opposed to trial durations and damages if the same cases were contested. This provided case handlers with helpful, experience-based guidance when deciding which path to take. 

AI can also be usefully applied to the extraction of details from documentation in order to shortcut the (initial) analysis that would otherwise require a degree of human effort which can be subject to increasing inaccuracy as data volumes increase. Our seminar covered examples from: 

  • Vodafone (where contract management uses automated triage to help determine if lawyer input is needed)
  • Riverview Law (which, before its EY acquisition, automatically allocated inbound documents to the right department based on extracted data), and 
  • Brandwatch (where the use of self-service contracts in this social intelligence business is supported by a system identifying what is outside pre-approved parameters). 

Other relevant examples of AI include legal research (IBM’s Watson has been used in a US initiative called Ross which has ingested bankruptcy and IP data to reduce research times from around 10 hours down to a few minutes), due diligence analysis and abstracting key terms from complex agreements such as ISDAs to provide improved visibility of obligations and risks. 

These are some of the practical applications in use with law firms today, and that really is the point here – they are practical and providing real value at scale… not simply making noise. 

Paul Longhurst is a director of 3Kites consulting. The next article in this series Navigating Legaltech will consider the pros and cons of cloud computing from both a technical and contractual (with input from Kemp IT Law) viewpoint, this also being the subject of our joint seminar in March 2022. Send your suggestions for further topics to paul.longhurst@3kites.com.
About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT Directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.

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