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Automation in Law – what is the status quo?

Automation in the law still lags behind its potential, while other industries demonstrate impressive advancements through automation.

As the digital transformation efforts in the legal industry have become more mature and focused on practical, tangible and measurable outcome, the focus has shifted to legal automation. As machine learning based “AI” tools are still limited in their abilities and scope, the focus naturally drifted to automation. Even though this concept seems familiar from other industries, it’s mostly uncharted territory.

Apart from document automation solutions such as ContractExpress, HotDocs or LawLift, which have been around for quite some time, the legal value delivery chain is mostly manual, i.e. not automated.

There are many reasons why the legal industry is lacking behind the overall automation trend:

  • Current business models which focus on “billable hours” and “fully engaged” teams. In this business models there is, there is often little interest in becoming more efficient due to automation.
  • Many lawyers are still unaware of how automation could look like in their respective field and how it can be operationalized. Lawyers are quick in labelling their work as “bespoke” or “too complex”.
  • There are not many “automation tools” in the market which could cater to the specific needs of law firms and/or legal departments.
  • Often is not easy to spot the areas, workflows and processes that are suitable for automation – and automation in the legal domain can be tricky to achieve.

This is why this area depicts the fundamental definitions, ideas and concepts of legal automation to provide a framework for automation.

The core idea of legal automation is to transfer recurring tasks and into a technology-based repeatable, hence automated, process. In other words, legal Automation refers to the design, management, execution, and automation of repetitive legal decision-making, tasks, workflows and processes based on pre-defined rules. It allows law firms, legal departments and lawyers to streamline, accelerate, manage and measure legal and legal-related work.

By automating legal work significant improvements can be made in:

  • Efficiency
  • Productivity
  • Accuracy
  • Audibility
  • Job Satisfaction

To varying degrees, all legal areas include repetitive, “standardizable” legal inquiries and assessments subject to automation. For highly bespoke and complex cases an automation might not be feasible. However, a large part of legal work is prone to standardization and thus automation. The ratio between bespoke and standardizable legal work is often wrongly estimated – erring on the site of the uniqueness and complexity of the task at hand. In fact, complex tasks also consist of many smaller sub-tasks easier to automate. Consider the whole process of manufacturing a car – a very complex process which cannot be automated in its entirety, especially when it comes to planning, testing, quality, strategy and also parts of the manufacturing itself. The same applies to legal tasks. The aim is not to automate 100% of a legal task but where it seems suitable and yields efficiency gains.

Legal Automation software – in all their many shapes and forms – enables to build, model and execute decision and process logic. From a technical perspective, legal automation software generates an output (documents, emails, data sets, etc.) from an input layer.

Legal automation is possible in all legal areas. Some areas of law are more prone to automation than others. Areas of law with a high vicinity to automation

  • Clearly defined (legal) rules and processes
  • Complexity of the underlying logic is not too complex
  • question and problems which routinely and often recur
  • Low level of fact finding

A new approach to legal automation is to start “small” and focused. This means to identify the most annoying and most recurring legal tasks and to start strategically adding automation layers.

The area of legal automation is underdeveloped. A recent study shows that less than 4% of Top100 UK law firms have already established automation software – it’s time to up the game.