Law firms are slow to adopt AI-based technology tools, ABA survey finds

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Artificial intelligence-based tools continue to be used by only a very small percentage of law firms, according to the ABA’s 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report this month.

Just 7% of respondents to the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s survey reported that their firms use AI tech tools, a decrease of one percentage point from a year ago.

Meanwhile, 23% of respondents said their firms were not interested in purchasing AI-based tools and nearly 34% said they did not know enough about AI to answer the question regarding their firms current or planned usage of such tools.

Alexander Paykin, a Legal Technology Resource Center board member, says he thinks the legal industry has been slow to adopt AI-based tools because the available products have yet to demonstrate they can consistently produce the results vendors promise. He points to his experience with the AI-based legal research offerings he has tried out in recent years to back up his point.

“I find cases that I regard as dispositive, authoritative, key cases on a particular topic often won’t come up with AI and instead the algorithm will find you some absolutely random nonsense,” says Paykin, who leads the Law Office of Alexander Paykin in New York City.

Roughly 35% percent of respondents to the ABA survey listed the accuracy of AI technology as one of the major concerns about implementing AI-based tools, while 33% percent said cost was a major issue.

Attorneys working at firms with more than 100 lawyers were by far the most likely to report their firms use AI technology (17%), a finding Paykin says was likely attributable to the fact that larger firms have a greater ability to pay for expensive technology than their smaller counterparts.

The slow adoption of AI tools comes even as reports have emerged that COVID-19 has produced a period of rapid technology implementation in the legal sector.

Legal analytics offerings have been utilized to a far greater degree than AI tools, according to the ABA Survey. Roughly 45% of attorneys reported that their firms used legal analytics in the prior year, a drop from 49% the year before.

Firms with more than 100 attorneys were the most likely to use such tools, and the most frequent reasons cited for utilizing legal analytics were to conduct legal research (29%), develop case or matter strategy (19%), understand judges (15%) and business development (14%).

The answers to the ABA survey questions were gathered from ABA members in private practice between March and May, which happened to be the initial months COVID-19 disrupted life across the U.S. The survey included five questionnaires, and the questionnaire that included queries about AI and legal analytics received 629 responses.

The full survey report, which includes five volumes, is available for purchase online.

On Monday, the Legal Technology Resource Center released the first in what will be a series of articles featuring data from the survey report and expert analysis.

The initial article focused on cybersecurity and reported that even amid a period of heightened cybersecurity risks the use of certain security tools remains at less than half of survey respondents. For example, the article says 43% of respondents use file encryption, 39% use email encryption and 26% use whole/full disk encryption.

Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents reporting that their firms have experienced a security breach rose from 26% last year to 29% this year. The article also highlights that 36% of respondents reported that their firms have cyber liability insurance policies, up from 26% in 2017.

“Certainly, firms are wise to have policies in place, but a policy is only one component of an appropriate comprehensive, risk-based security program and itself offers no protection from attack nor any guarantee of actual coverage,” states the article written by John G. Loughnane, a partner at Nutter McClennen & Fish in Boston. “The responsibilities and challenges could not be any clearer—and the profession needs more attention on the issues beyond merely increased insurance purchases.”

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