Gartner says legal departments are facing intense pressure to increase their responsiveness and efficiency. Virtual legal assistants (VLA) may use a combination of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP). A Gartner survey of legal professionals cited increasing productivity in these ways as the top driver of automation.
“Lawbots” will handle a quarter of internal legal requests by 2023 predicted the analyst noting that VLAs can help legal departments improve efficiency by streamlining matter intake, triaging legal requests, determining the necessity of legal review and automating the routine legal workflow.
“While VLAs, legal chatbots, and lawbots may seem like hype, their use in legal departments can yield significant benefits,” said Zack Hutto, director in the Gartner Legal & Compliance practice. “This will significantly disrupt the legal technology marketplace.”
VLAs can also ease employee concerns about anonymity in situations where they perceive a risk in simply asking for information, such as whistleblower reporting and harassment claims.
“Legal departments will benefit through increased efficiency gains, improved employee satisfaction, and from more opportunities to retask legal experts to higher value activities,” said Hutto “These sought-after benefits will open up the market to new entrants who can provide self-service applications with AI and conversational interfaces,” he added.
Hutto noted that the consumerization of chatbots across wider society is easing employee acceptance of the technology, raising expectations and reinforcing the trend towards VLAs.
Gartner cautions, however, that legal departments risk an overreliance on VLA. They should be adopted as part of a broad legal services strategy because a piecemeal approach with poorly designed VLAs may be confusing or intrusive rather than helpful.
“Poor lawbot solutions might create an even greater burden on legal departments. At a minimum, lawyers could have to handle manual rework, and at worst they may have to work to repair relationships with put-off internal clients,” he remarked.
Gartner predicts that 33% of corporate legal departments will have a dedicated legal technology expert to support the increasing automation of core in-house workflows, by 2023. This is largely because while standardized, repeatable legal workflows have great potential for automation, existing in-house counsel may not have the technology leadership needed to support these initiatives.
For example, just 5% of legal departments indicate that all commercial contract management is treated as new and managed manually. In the next 3 years, 40% of corporate legal departments intend to increase spending on legal IT systems or software by 10% or more.
“Despite the clear opportunities to automate, and the intent to do so, most legal departments simply don’t have the staff for legal analytics. Just one in five report having a technology or innovation counsel or access to a data analyst,” elaborated Hutto.
As core in-house legal work becomes increasingly reliant on technology, legal departments will shift their talent acquisition and retention strategies to address the need for dedicated legal technology experts.
Forward-thinking legal leaders need to make moves to hire these skills today. They are already at a premium across multiple business functions, so it’s unlikely to be quick or easy. In the near future, these skills are likely to become scarcer as automation become more mainstream in several areas.