Growth in AI tech for the legal profession is improving how the legal sector operates, new study finds

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) assisted lawtech is changing the way law firms operate by making them more efficient and collaborative, a new white paper from the University of Oxford has concluded.

A research team spent three years studying the impact of AI lawtech – technology that aims to support, supplement or replace traditional methods for delivering legal service – on legal sector working practices, recruitment behaviours, training needs and third-party collaborations.

The project aimed to identify how constraints on using AI in legal services can be safely relaxed to unlock its potential, and further improve the way the legal sector operates. The report found:

  • take-up across England and Wales is high, with around 50% of lawyers surveyed reporting using AI;
  • lawyers are working more efficiently, acquiring new skills, and working with more diverse groups of people;
  • a division of expertise between lawyers who are involved in the development of AI lawtech, and those who use the technology as consumers;
  • a rise in jobs requiring lawtech skills, particularly for non-lawyer roles;
  • a significant change in lawyers’ skills training priorities over the next three years;
  • future lawyers may stop regarding themselves as traditional lawyers, and instead part of an emerging profession of legal technologists;
  • a positive impact of AI technology on internal operational efficiencies; but
  • current restrictions around access to, and use of, data required to train AI lawtech models may inhibit wider application of the technology.

John Armour, Professor of Law and Finance and project lead, said:

‘Our report paints a broadly positive picture of the impact of AI lawtech on the English and Welsh legal sector. What we are seeing is lawyers’ use of the technology to work more efficiently, and more collaboratively with other specialists. Perhaps the most significant uncertainty that surrounds the development and usage of AI-assisted lawtech is the issue of when client data can, and cannot, be used to aid the solution’s development.’

The paper advocates for a change of government policy regarding access to publicly owned data. It also calls for guidance from professional and data regulators to bring clarity about data usage in AI-lawtech solutions development, to help further unlock its potential.

Mari Sako, Professor of Management Studies at Saïd Business School, who co-led the research into the impact of AI-lawtech on law firm business models, added.

‘We’re starting to see a clear division of expertise between lawyers who are involved in the development of AI lawtech as producers, and those who mainly use the technology as consumers. As more lawyers develop their technology-related skills, it will be interesting to see what impact these changes have the wider legal profession. It is possible that, in future, lawyers with these skills will stop regarding themselves as being traditional lawyers, and instead regard themselves as being part of an emerging profession of legal technologists.’