Fears that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace lawyers entirely is greatly misplaced, as technology is unlikely to fully supplant human ingenuity in the legal profession any time soon, if ever. Still, technology-driven changes are already surfacing in law firms. AI has begun replacing law firm staff in traditional research and data entry positions. While at first glance this looks like nothing more than a decline in manpower, it actually carries great benefits for the traditional law firm model in terms of productivity and data analytics.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are data pipelines that can be used by law firms to automate data entry and basic processes. Combined with AI that normalizes and cleans up data, APIs and AI together can quickly replace once critical and costly functions needed to support the foundation of the law firm hierarchy. Automated access to data also has other benefits—and not frightening ones like reducing the need for skilled lawyers. In fact, automated access to data can streamline law firm operations, increase innovation, and enhance business development efforts.
Reducing Overhead and Human Error
Automating data entry and law firm processes through APIs has numerous benefits, but two, in particular, are pertinent to the traditional law firm model: reduced overhead and enhanced productivity. In other words, by automating traditionally burdensome tasks, lawyers not only save time, money, and costly manpower but can also ensure the data they are collecting is more accurate, organized and readily usable.
Streamlining Litigation Management
Consider the time, money, and effort spent gathering and reviewing the documentation from a particularly high-profile case. At the least, the process would entail employing an army of paralegals or legal assistants to comb government databases and websites to locate key filings, download them, categorize them, and compile updates to send to the lawyers assigned to the case. The lawyers would then likely perform some duplicative work, shuffling through the filings to categorize and digest them.
By finding ways to funnel court data like dockets entries and filings through a matter and document management system, firms can streamline processes that traditionally required substantial amounts of human labor. For instance, plugging into an API to automatically download docket entries and documents filed on a particular case means the firm no longer needs to hire assistants or data entry specialists to manually locate and organize that information. This system can also keep lawyers constantly informed of what’s happening on their cases through automatic alerts about new filings or case updates.
The effect of automating case updates and data collection will have a far-reaching impact on traditional law practices, particularly within BigLaw. Attorneys who work at the top of a structured hierarchy of staff can break from this traditional model to bolster their profitability or launch their own practices while hiring less support staff to help process data. Even lawyers within small law firms and solo practices can find ways to cut back on costly overhead through AI and APIs.
Leveraging Structured Data
Beyond streamlining data entry processes, AI and APIs can be used to automate the structuring and classification of legal data, resulting in cleaner data that is ready to use. Technology can remove a great deal of the human error naturally associated with data entry and classification. From classifying docket entries, parties, attorneys and law firms, and issues, machine learning can substantially reduce the human intervention needed to perform such laborious tasks. Structured, enriched data is necessary for integrating with existing internal applications and developing reliable reporting and analytics.
This is invaluable from a business development perspective because structured data from APIs provides opportunities for law firms to easily connect newly filed court records to the internal data points they’re already tracking. Consider, for instance, a scaling approach within a firm that involves assessing which clients are most profitable. By integrating structured court data from APIs, attorneys can easily pinpoint their most profitable relationships by reviewing the costs of litigation, billing rates, case length, and which specific types of cases or clients drive the most profit.
Enhancing Business Development
AI and APIs can help lawyers channel efficiency in their work, positioning them to achieve much more with much less. Once a law firm hooks APIs up to its customer relationship management solution (CRM) or practice management system and creates a steady stream of data, it can automate a tremendous bulk of its business development efforts in the litigation context with minimal additional effort.
Consider, for example, the effort required to search for all of a particular client’s new cases filed within a specific case type and/or jurisdiction. A manual search of dozens of state and federal court databases would be tedious and time-intensive and may also miss out on cases where the client’s name is misspelled. The combination of a simple tool like an automated search function, running daily to find new cases involving top clients, coupled with APIs, can drive powerful results.
APIs allow law firms to input new leads generated from automated searches directly into a CRM or practice management system. The system can then feed alerts in real-time to either a lawyer in the firm who represented the client on that type of case, a practice group, or to a business development team to strategize how to best reach out to that client. This not only saves time but also keeps lawyers and business development teams on the cutting edge of emerging, relevant information they can act on immediately to drive new business.
Law firms can also power innovation in their practice by developing competitive intelligence and market share analytics. With bulk access to court data via APIs for all cases involving their key clients, law firms can get a better picture of their client’s entire litigation portfolio. This helps reveal what percentage of a client’s complete caseload they are receiving compared to competing firms and can uncover new and potentially profitable business opportunities to target. On the flip side, it also can expose areas where a law firm is losing market share to competing firms and will need to redouble efforts to strengthen client relationships or shift priorities and prepare for reductions in volume.
Lawyers should be running toward, not away, from AI and automation. Beyond saving money by reducing overhead, lawyers within firms can help generate new revenue streams founded on reliable access to structured court data. From channeling efficiency in processes to making decisions based on more reliable data, leveraging AI and APIs can transform the way lawyers approach the practice and business of law.
About the Author
Josh Blandi is the CEO and Co-Founder of UniCourt, a company using machine learning to disrupt the way court records are organized, accessed, and used.