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Legal Automation Blog

Legal Automation: 7 Ways Law Departments Do More With Less

Jeffrey Wolff
Jun 17, 2021 2:00:00 PM

Lawyers are feeling the pinch: every year they’re expected to deliver better results with a lower price tag. Meanwhile, data volumes continue to skyrocket, driving up the cost of eDiscovery and making day-to-day operations increasingly unwieldy. 

While legal teams of all types need relief from this mounting pressure, corporate law departments face additional pain points. Businesses no longer treat their legal costs as fixed and immutable, exempt from budgeting efforts. Rather, they now expect law departments to reliably forecast their spend and stick to their estimates, all while meeting the traditional requirements of exemplary legal work and rolling with the unpredictability of litigation. 

What corporate legal teams need is a way to get their work done faster, without sacrificing accuracy. That’s where legal automation comes in. 

In this blog post, we’ll define legal automation, explain why it’s important, and offer seven examples of how forward-looking law departments are applying automation to work more efficiently and effectively. 

Contents: 

What is legal automation?
Why is legal automation important?
Common use cases for legal automation
1. Legal research
2. Technology-assisted review
3. Document creation
4. eDiscovery data culling and processing
5. Contract review and management
6. Legal holds
7. Timekeeping and project management
Forward-thinking law departments are focused on legal automation

What is legal automation? 

Legal automation is the process by which legal teams apply technology to streamline, simplify, and speed up the completion of legal work. With legal automation, computers perform basic repeatable tasks so that lawyers don’t have to painstakingly do it themselves. That means legal teams can get more work done—quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively. 

Automation already exists in all facets of modern life: something as simple as a coffee pot with an internal timer that automatically makes coffee at the appointed time is an everyday example of an automated task. Many of these automated processes start on their own when a certain trigger occurs, like a robotic vacuum that starts when the house’s occupants leave for the day. Others may need to be initiated by a person or by a preceding automated process. Either way, once the automated process has begun, it will run until the task is complete, never once experiencing boredom, distraction, or aggravation. 

Many, if not most, people have their bills on auto-pay and their thermostats or lights on automatic cycles, increasing their comfort, saving money and time, and ensuring that routine tasks occur without interruption. Likewise, many of the more repetitive, boring, error-prone tasks within the practice of law can also be automated. 

Why is legal automation important? 

As we noted in the previous section, automating tasks saves people from having to remember to do them and removes the frustration associated with tedious repetitive tasks. But legal automation offers even greater benefits. 

First, legal automation can complete tasks dramatically faster than humans can. This increased efficiency saves time and money—both of which are valuable commodities in any legal office. For example, automating contract creation can speed up contract approval by as much as 70 percent and increase productivity by more than 50 percent. 

Second, legal automation reduces the risk of errors. While a human may get bored or distracted during a repetitive or mundane task like document review for eDiscovery, a computer will never get sidetracked. It will not miss a keyword that it has been programmed to recognize or—in the case of artificial intelligence (AI)—that it has learned is important. When a single error can have dramatic consequences, as when a sensitive document is incorrectly tagged as non-privileged during review, automation can help legal teams avoid those risks. 

Third, by freeing up time and removing the stress of careless errors, legal automation gives legal teams more time to add value for their clients. When lawyers have more time, they can spend it thinking strategically, communicating about concerns, and offering better advice. That translates to more satisfied clients and better business all around. 

Legal automation isn’t just the future of practicing law—it’s here today. A study from research firm McKinsey estimated that nearly a quarter—23 percent—of the work that is currently performed by lawyers could be automated using available technology. 

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So, where can your corporate law department get started with legal automation? 

Common use cases for legal automation 

While there are numerous opportunities to implement legal automation, these seven use cases are a good place to start your law department’s automation journey. 

1. Legal research 

Lawyers don’t have time to dig through stacks of library volumes to find a case anymore—and their clients wouldn’t pay them to do it even if they did. Fortunately, most lawyers today were introduced to automated legal research in law school, when they learned how to use online legal research systems like Westlaw and LexisNexis. These tools automatically scan the text of tens of thousands of legal opinions, allowing legal teams to quickly identify case precedents based on keyword searches and easily determine whether those cases are still good law. 

Today, there are even more sophisticated legal research assistants, such as ROSS Intelligence, that use AI to analyze a legal or factual dispute and identify cases that are similar to it. 

Automating legal research saves hours of monotonous, slow work. It also frees legal teams from the physical constraints, not to mention the cost, of maintaining and using a library of hard-copy law reports. By digitizing case law libraries, online legal research systems allow lawyers to do legal research anywhere—even in court. Automated legal research is also faster and more thorough than manual research approaches. 

Check out: In addition to the examples already mentioned, Casetext is a lower-cost legal research tool that may be more accessible to smaller law offices that need to start making the transition away from their physical libraries. 

2. Technology-assisted review (TAR) 

One of the most common applications of legal automation is in the never-ending work of eDiscovery. To control costs and manage ever-larger datasets, legal teams increasingly turn to tools like technology-assisted review (TAR), also known as computer-assisted review (CAR). 

TAR relies on aspects of automation as well as AI to learn, from a human reviewer, what documents are relevant, privileged, or otherwise important. TAR learns by watching a human reviewer categorize documents and decides for itself what words, terms, and phrases may be of interest. As it learns, the TAR system begins to identify documents that share those characteristics, floating them to the top of the pile for the human reviewer to evaluate. This results in a very accurate, complete review while saving the human reviewer from having to examine each document in detail. 

Using TAR in review can reduce the length of review by as much as 40 percent, with attendant cost savings. And it’s been well accepted by the courts since at least 2015, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck noted in Rio Tinto PLC v. Vale S.A., 306 F.R.D. 125 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), that “the case law has developed to the point that it is now black letter law that where the producing party wants to utilize TAR for document review, courts will permit it.” 

Check out: ZyLAB ONE applies both automation and AI to streamline the review of documents in over 750 formats, enabling teams to quickly and efficiently complete review within any budget. 

3. Document creation 

Sometimes, creating a new document requires thoughtful analysis, persuasive logic, and a bit of creative inspiration. Other times, creating a new document just means making a near-carbon copy of an existing document, updated to reflect the current client or situation. In these far more common situations, lawyers end up scanning through countless exemplar documents to find the best previous versions of clauses or paragraphs, copying and pasting that text into a new document, and changing identifying features such as names and dates. This is monotonous work that invites careless errors. 

Automated document creation removes this workload so that legal teams can focus on more important work that requires strategic thought. Automating document creation involves using document templates for standard document types such as contracts, memos, letters, court filings, or any other repeated document. From those templates, the document creation system may prompt the user to fill in a form or may automatically insert text from a library of clauses or other standard text blocks. More sophisticated document automation software can also identify entity names, dates, locations, and other customized fields and update those fields or flag them for review. 

Check out: Documate estimates that it reduces attorney drafting time by as much as 90 percent by using templates and forms to automatically generate standard legal documents. 

4. eDiscovery data culling and processing 

As we mentioned above, the continued growth of corporate data volumes risks driving up the cost of eDiscovery. The way to control those costs is to minimize the amount of data that make it through each stage of the eDiscovery pipeline. That means culling and processing—eliminating worthless and redundant data and ensuring that all data is in the correct format for review—are some of the most important stages of cost-effective eDiscovery. 

These stages are also all but impossible to complete without legal automation. Automated systems detect duplicate and near-duplicate files and eliminate them through a process of deduplication and near-deduplication, identify image files and apply optical character recognition (OCR) to render those images into readable text, eliminate meaningless system files through a process of deNISTing, and much more. 

Check out: ZyLAB ONE’s end-to-end eDiscovery workflow automatically minimizes irrelevant data within a collected dataset and ensures that all data is in a review-ready format. 

5. Contract review and management 

Chances are that no one went to law school hoping that they’d someday end up sitting in a quiet room reviewing contract clauses all day, every day. But without careful review and management of contracts, businesses run the risk that they won’t know all of their contractual rights—or their obligations. So, it may be boring work, but someone has to do it. 

With legal automation, though, that someone doesn’t have to be a person. Automated contract review and management systems can read and analyze contract text to automatically identify and evaluate contract terms, extract critical information such as dates and entity names, and compare new contracts against a standard library of contract clauses to highlight differences. In fact, we may soon see an increased application of blockchain technology to create automatically executing “smart contracts. 

Check out: Kira Systems promises to help legal teams better understand their clients’ contracts by automatically highlighting and extracting key provisions—so that unusual contract clauses never take the law department by surprise. 

6. Legal holds 

No one wants to be accused of spoliating evidence during eDiscovery—and standardized legal hold processes are a key line of defense against spoliation claims. When you have a routine, automatic means of issuing legal hold notices and following up with regular reminders and other communications, you stand a much better chance of defeating an accusation that you’ve intentionally or negligently lost or destroyed electronically stored information (ESI). 

Automated legal hold systems guarantee that you never miss a notification or a reminder. With automatic hold notices, easy-to-use workflow templates, and scheduled reminders, custodians will always be aware of their preservation obligations. Better yet, automated legal hold software can also generate audit reports that can help an organization defend its eDiscovery process in court. 

Check out: ZyLAB Legal Hold uses automation to provide legal teams with a powerful, intuitive, defensible approach to legal holds. Its customizable reminder scheduling, automatic audit reports, and standardized workflow templates ensure that custodians know their obligations and legal teams can rely on consistent and repeatable processes. 

7. Timekeeping and project management 

Manually tracking time spent on legal projects is not only inefficient, but it’s also typically inaccurate, resulting in flawed timekeeping data. But wait: do corporate lawyers really need to track their time? After all, they’re not billing clients. 

Don’t be so quick to dismiss the value of timekeeping for corporate law departments. While the billable hour may not be a staple of corporate life, “in-house attorney timekeeping information can be [a] rich source of relevant law department data,” and failing to track time “deprives law departments of information they could otherwise use to benefit their attorneys, operations, and organizations.” By tracking time spent on various legal tasks and projects, legal teams everywhere can better understand their spend and monitor their costs. Automated time-tracking systems make it fast and easy to keep accurate tabs on what work individual lawyers are doing, which helps supervising attorneys and legal operations staff distribute work fairly and identify inefficient and low-value tasks for further automation. 

Check out: Timely is not geared toward lawyers specifically, but it allows workers of all types to automate their time-tracking, maximizing the information that they gather and thereby improving their efficiency. 

Forward-thinking law departments are focused on legal automation 

Regardless of where you choose to begin, the benefits of legal automation are too great to leave on the table. From saving time and money to producing better, more accurate results and providing better client service, automation offers corporate law departments a new way to practice. 

If you’ve already implemented these legal automation tools, remember that there are myriad other ways to apply legal automation to streamline and simplify your legal practice. Perhaps you can use an automated system to simplify your matter intake process or expedite your responses to requests for public records. By focusing on legal automation in all its forms, you can help your corporate law department move into the future.