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AI becoming a priority for SME legal firms

  • June 19, 2017

You’ve probably heard all about artificial intelligence and its growing use in a number of widespread industries. And if you haven’t observed its use in a business context then you will surely have seen it in films like ‘iRobot’, ‘Ex Machina’ and, well…‘AI’. But the idea that businesses could harness the potential of artificial intelligence in a legal setting and use it to their firms’ advantage was surely only a distant dream?


Legal firms have increasingly adopted artificial intelligence led programmes for a few years now, indeed we wrote an article for Totally Legal on that very subject only last year. However, until recently this advanced technology was the sole preserve of firms with vast resources – and deep pockets – but that all appears to be about to change.

AI priority for legal firms

According to recent, extensive analysis conducted by our team here at Clayton Legal, small and medium sized legal firms both recognise the importance of the use of AI, regard it as an opportunity to be embraced and do not feel threatened by its impact on their business.

As one of the respondents to our research project, Andrew Kwan – solicitor advocate at Clear Law – put it, “This approach allows us some advantages including being agile within a changing legal market. Therefore I can see the utilisation of AI as being an opportunity to deliver greater value to clients, both individuals and businesses, by removing some of the administrative elements of the process.”

And it’s not only senior professionals who are experiencing this optimism. Miriam Khan – a junior colleague of Khan at Clear Law, made the point that AI and human skill sets should complement each other rather than take opposing sides, “The profound purpose of AI is to save the need for time, cost and energy on manual labour and increase efficiency. Why do a job that a computer can do for you?”

Opportunity for skills development

Our own managing director, Lynn Sedgwick, also commented on the increased adoption of AI by small and medium sized firms. “While firms such as Linklaters and Clifford Chance have moved to use AI in several different areas, this is very much about driving efficiencies, rather than eradicating jobs. AI is becoming a priority for legal firms and the smaller practices that we spoke to are also hoping to generate higher fees and ensure that processes can be and will be outsourced to machines.”

“For employers, this has huge benefits but it also offers their people more interesting work, making the workplace a more satisfying place to be in, in a marketplace where retention is key.  For legal professionals at all levels, the introduction of AI represents an opportunity to develop new skills, and for those who are open to change, to increase their value in the marketplace. The interpersonal and technological skills required to adapt to the new AI infused working environment are likely to bring benefits to all that choose to engage with them.”

“The human element can’t, at least yet, be replaced by a robot. Andrew Kwan really sums it up when he says: ‘I do not see AI removing the elements where you are a compassionate human. You can’t remove this from a process and expect a great result for your client.”

We would love to hear you views on the role that AI has to play at small and medium sized firms – do you agree with Lynn that the introduction of AI represents an opportunity to develop new skills and increase individuals’ value in their marketplace? Or do you believe that AI could ultimately lead to jobs being cut?

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Or to see some of our other insights take a look at our blog

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