Blog Post

How Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Works with Lawyers

May 11, 2020

Legal departments and law firms face more demand than ever. From excessive caseloads to ever-evolving legislation, compliance and regulations, legal professionals are struggling to keep up with the rapidly growing workload.

Now more than ever, in-house legal departments and firms have a lot to gain from simplifying and streamlining their processes through technology. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a business technology that automates routine, rules-based tasks with software “bots.” The capabilities of RPA develop further when combined with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) applications that work alongside humans to enhance insights and productivity.

Let’s explore how the technology works side-by-side with trained legal professionals to improve both daily tasks and overall business objectives.

Legal RPA and AI in plain English

How is an RPA bot or AI tool able to work like a lawyer, exactly? Before the technology can get to those tasks, humans first have to tell it how to do its job.

To create a software bot for RPA, engineers program it to carry out the steps of a particular rules-based task such as data entry. For example, a bot might be trained to recognize key terms in an email that trigger a specific task, like uploading case information to an e-filing portal.

A successful RPA deployment can automate processes that would take hours upon hours for professionals to complete, and with a greater possibility for human error or negligence. However, bots usually don’t “learn and improve on the job” the way many AI tools do. They perform a single, repetitive task or set of tasks in a certain way that doesn’t have much variance.

By contrast, with AI tools, engineers or data scientists create algorithms that learn specific characteristics of the information being analyzed. For example, an AI fraud investigation tool is trained to recognize concepts, linguistics and emotional and behavioral signals within data that might indicate fraudulent behavior.

When that model is applied to new fraud investigations, the tool can instantly identify similar patterns based on this existing knowledge — and the more data it analyzes, the more accurate it becomes. “Intelligent” AI tools can augment efficiency gains from RPA by processing complex datasets and generating useful insights quickly.

How humans and robots can work together in the legal process

Why don’t more lawyers adopt AI or RPA, or a combination of the two, given the obvious benefits?

One issue may be a lack of understanding of what it takes to implement AI and RPA — and trust in whether these technologies will be effective. Just 10% of lawyers claim to be unfamiliar with AI tools, according to the ABA; however, an entire one-third of firms with more than 500 lawyers cited concerns about cost and validity.

This is a justifiable concern. Implementing and integrating AI-powered systems can incur significant upfront costs, not to mention the ongoing cost of user licenses. However, the smart legal firms leading the charge understand that the advantages of AI-powered solutions far outweigh the initial costs.

Experience with AI and RPA tools and assurances of their validity can go a long way toward securing buy-in. While these tools carry significant overhead expenses, their efficiency also results in a reduction in law professionals’ costly billable hours.

However, it’s somewhat of a double-edged sword: although clients will be pleased by the cost savings achieved with AI and RPA, lawyers may fear for their jobs.

To address these fears, McKinsey suggests creating an internal “AI academy” that educates employees on AI and RPA best practices. If that’s not in the cards, appointing a small team of lawyers to be internal AI champions can also do the trick.

Most RPA and AI solutions don’t aim to replace human workers, but help them work smarter, not harder. This can mean freeing up their time for more important work, improving data accuracy or generating insights that inform and improve their human judgment.

Why robots need humans

Legal RPA and AI cannot operate without human assistance and intervention. Since robotic process automation software bots can’t learn on their own, they must be manually updated whenever there’s a change to the routine processes they automate.

An AI tool can review and analyze contracts far more quickly than any lawyer; however, humans must still validate the AI tool’s analysis and make final decisions around terms and language. Legal professionals should consider their relationship with AI and robotic process automation a symbiotic one. Humans can’t catch the trends among hundreds of pages of documents — but robots can’t catch the significance.

The average legal department headcount ranges from 19 people in a small company (those with expenditures of less than $1 billion) to 306 at a large organization (one with more than $10 billion in expenditures). Those professionals stand to benefit from countless hours saved on menial tasks in exchange for a new wealth of insight with the help of RPA and AI. Are you one of them?

If you want to keep up with the industry demands and support your teams, it’s time to think about taking advantage of these technologies in your firm or department. If you’re thinking about leveraging RPA or AI in your current processes, contact us today.