An exploration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently affecting the legal profession, and how AI is likely to impact the future of family law.
By Diana Shepherd, Divorce Financial Analyst, and Aimee Laurence, Professional Legal Writer
There are always questions and concerns about how new technologies are going to impact the professional sectors – from daily operations to the jobs of people working in that industry. Today, we are starting to see the impact that Artificial Intelligence is having on the legal profession and family lawyers; fortunately, the majority of those impacts are positive. Legal AI technology is designed to complement a lawyer’s knowledge and effort, which frees them to spend more of their time doing important work – such as advising clients, negotiating divorce agreements, going to court, and settling family law disputes. Below, we’ll explore how AI is affecting the legal profession today, and where this partnership is likely to go in the future.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a Nutshell
Artificial Intelligence is the technology that can imitate certain actions and processes of the human mind, and it’s how we refer to the ability of machines to perform tasks that thus far have required human intelligence and effort. “Machine learning” is the term for when computers use algorithms to analyze data in order to find patterns and draw conclusions from the data. The business of family law is starting to undergo major changes because of the ever-increasing development of legal AI software and technologies.
AI and the Future of Family Law: Research and Review
Software with AI components can make it faster and easier to analyze legal documents, and AI-powered machines can review legal documents and flag certain portions as being relevant to the case at hand. Once a lawyer has flagged a type of document or a portion of a document as relevant, AI uses machine learning algorithms to find more documents that are relevant for the same reasons. This is an excellent step forward because machines can sort through documents much more rapidly than humans, and their results can be statistically verified.
If the software unsure about the relevancy of a document, that document can be forwarded to the lawyer so they only have to review some documents instead of all of them. Legal research is seldom exciting and often time-consuming; in an ideal world, research has to be completed quickly and efficiently, so AI that can use natural language processing to understand a document’s contents will have a big positive impact here.
Developed in partnership with Columbia University, eBrevia uses industry-leading artificial intelligence – including machine learning and natural language processing technology – to extract data from documents. Recently acquired by Donnelley Financial Solutions (DFIN), the eBrevia platform helps attorneys review up to 90% faster and more accurately.
Due Diligence (including MSOL and the Dreaded Financial Statement)
Law associates and junior partners often spend a lot of their time on due diligence to gather background data on their clients and/or the case. Due diligence includes checking the facts and figures that they’ve been given as well as in-depth examinations of the legal decisions and precedents on similar prior cases so that a family lawyer can offer the right advice to their clients. AI software does not replace a junior attorney, but it can help them to be more accurate and efficient, and to ensure that nothing is missed in the due-diligence process.
For example, eBrevia’s “Diligence Accelerator” extracts content from legal documents, populates due diligence templates, and shows users the most relevant portions of the documents being reviewed. This allows lawyers to complete the due diligence process faster and more accurately: in fact, the software can analyze a batch of 50 legal documents in less than a minute.
AI software can also help clients to complete forms required to establish the facts of their case, offering hints about where to find missing information when a client is stuck, and reminders to finish filling out the forms when a client has been avoiding the task. The spouse who did not manage the family’s finances during marriage can become overwhelmed or paralyzed when faced with collecting and documenting the Marital Standard of Living (MSOL) as well as completing a Financial Statement (or Affidavit); there are AI-driven platforms and software that can help to make these tasks easier and more manageable for the client.
Reviewing Prior and Proposed Agreements
The majority of the work that many family law firms do for their clients is reviewing and analyzing both prior agreements (including prenuptial agreements) and proposed settlement agreements (created by their firm or by opposing counsel) to see if there are any issues or red flags in the language or the details that could negatively affect their client down the road. The family lawyer will flag certain items, edit or propose changes to the agreement if necessary, and give their client counsel about the implications of signing the current agreement and/or whether they should consider trying to negotiate a better deal in one or more areas. AI can help lawyers review and analyze these agreements, and AI tools have been shown to sort through agreements and contracts faster than humans, so it’s only a matter of time until law firms adopt these technologies.
The Future of Family Law: AI can Help to Predict Outcomes
AI can analyze data to make educated predictions about how legal proceedings will turn out; with the right data, an AI’s predictions can be more accurate than a lawyer’s. Two of the most frequent questions asked by clients are: “How likely am I to win at trial?” and “How much is this likely to cost?” In other words, they want their legal counsel to predict the future. AI that has access to years of trial data at the local courthouse as well as billing information for similar cases can provide reasonably accurate predictions about how a case will go and how much it will cost – although there will still be a margin for error because family law litigants can allow logic to take a backseat to emotion when it comes to decision-making. Only one party needs to be unreasonable (e.g., turning down a generous settlement proposal to fight to the death over everything from the house to a set of bath towels) to impair the accuracy of any prediction.
AI Solutions for Self-Represented Litigants
According to “How Much Does a Divorce Cost on Average in 2019?” by Terin Miller, “The national average cost of divorce is about $15,000 per person. The cost includes attorneys’ fees, court costs, and the cost of hiring outside experts like a tax adviser, child custody evaluator, or real estate appraiser… The time involved is what often determines the cost. For instance, the average divorce takes between four months and 11 months. And if a trial is necessary, it can take more than a year.” (The Street, 2019).
For couples without sufficient income or assets to require/afford to hire a lawyer, there are AI-driven online tools to help them reach a settlement. For example, Wevorce offers a self-guided solution that includes a Divorce Readiness Quiz, Co-Parenting Plan, Spouse Location, Asset Division, and Document Creation – in addition to access to mediators and coaches for up to 3 hours a month.
The undisputed granddaddy of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is Modria, a proven, scalable solution, designed by the team that pioneered online dispute resolution at eBay and PayPal. An acronym for “Modular Online Dispute Resolution Implementation Assistance,” Modria combines law, economics, and psychology with intuitive information and communications technology to help Self-Represented Litigants (SLRs) manage and resolve their disputes. It alleviates the pressure on courts by empowering SLRs to resolve disputes online – and if they can’t agree on a solution, either party may invite a mediator or other expert from within the platform to help them resolve the issue.
The Future of Family Law
“By 2025, we predict a profound transformation of the profession due to the quickening pace of technological developments, shifts in workforce demographics and the need to offer clients more value for money,” states “Developing Legal Talent: Stepping into the Future Law Firm” a 2016 Deloitte UK report. “Law firms must have a clear strategy for dealing with these changes now if they want to remain competitive and ensure they attract the best talent to support their business. If the pace of change continues to accelerate as we predict, the tipping point is likely to occur around 2020.”
Deloitte estimates that 114,000 legal roles will become automated by 2036, and in the next few years law firms will be forced with updating their talent strategy to consider AI. “Advances in technology mean that an ever greater number of traditional, routine tasks within the legal sector can be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms,” noted Peter Saunders, who leads Deloitte’s Professional Practices Group in the UK. “Some firms are already making use of virtual assistants or e-discovery tools. However, there is more that the legal sector can do to use automation and technologies.”
The bottom line is that now is the right time for family law firms to create a technology strategy that includes AI. Ask a partner or associate who embraces new technologies to present the case for AI at a dedicated meeting with your firm’s partners – who may have to put aside their resistance to and/or concerns about change in order to learn about the benefits of AI as well as the costs associated with postponing the decision indefinitely. Adopting AI technology will allow your firm to redirect time, money, and resources away from lower-level roles towards highly-skilled roles for elite lawyers and IT professionals to implement and manage new technologies. Artificial Intelligence has already started to change the face of the legal industry, and this transformation will only get more pronounced with time. So get on board now – or risk becoming obsolete in a few years.
Originally published on FamilyLawyerMagazine.com, August 27, 2021