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Insights from Associates at the Cutting Edge of Legal Practice

In order to stay ahead of the curve, more law firms are adding technology-based options to their everyday toolkit—and no, this wave of innovation isn’t coming to take lawyers’ jobs. 

What happens when legal and tax professionals embrace artificial intelligence (AI) to ease their workloads and focus on human-centric tasks? Everyone wins, according to interviews with several Canadian lawyers and accountants.

Law may not be as quick-moving to adopt technological change as other sectors, but the more enterprising law firms recognize the power of technology to transform the way they work. AI-enabled tech eases the burden on the often-heady job of legal research, as Jackie Ferreira, an associate at Stikeman Elliott, notes. “Thanks to ongoing advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, the vast majority of our materials are now digital, searchable, and provide intuitive ways of parsing through more resources in less time. At the end of the day, this means better-informed answers for our clients in a more efficient way.”

Alix Lapkovsky, an associate at Richter, agrees, saying, “[Blue J Legal’s software] gets you over that first research hump which I find is something I deal with a lot, due to so much information overload.”

Samantha Lucifora, a senior associate at Monkhouse Law, believes every facet of the legal profession would be different if AI software didn’t influence in-house tasks. “AI really advances the work you’re doing. It improves processes and ultimately makes us more efficient.”

She stresses that younger associates can play a key role in bringing AI tech to their firms “because younger staff are more flexible and open to change and in tune with what is happening in the tech world. They can identify value in things coming up.”

Dawson Horning, an associate at Ahlstrom Wright Barristers + Solicitors, laughs when he recalls how often he’s heard from clients signing stacks of paper in his office that lawyers are the only profession still relying on paper. “That drives me nuts, especially when I realize it’s not necessary and our work can be done more efficiently, and it’s important for younger lawyers to drive it along.” 

As for the repetitive adage that AI will replace humans and take over their jobs, such paranoia is unfounded in legal and accountancy fields. As a Deloitte report highlighted earlier this year, “…automation, by removing routine work, actually makes jobs more human, enabling the role and contribution of people in work to rise in importance and value. The value of automation and AI lies not in the ability to replace human labor with machines, but in augmenting the workforce and enabling human work to be reframed in terms of problem-solving and the ability to create new knowledge.”

Ferreira addresses the fear of AI taking jobs from lawyers by telling us, “I’m thankful that artificial intelligence has impacted the legal field because I can perform routine work more efficiently, and can then focus more of my energies and time on a broader range of thought-provoking problems.”

Horning adds, “I think that these types of tools will become commonplace in 10 years because they can do the initial work of focusing the lawyer in on relevant research. It makes no sense to have a lawyer charging hourly rates to sit there and filter through irrelevant case after irrelevant case that won’t ever make it to the client.”

He recalls how he faced some pushback over bringing new software tools to his firm, but “these discussions were productive in the end and we needed to talk about everything before we implemented something new into our business.”

Summing up what many interviewees believe to be AI’s critical value-add, Lapkovsky says, “AI isn’t a replacement but instead makes us better professionals at the end of the day.”

Blue J Legal’s software, such as Employment Foresight and Tax Foresight, can be instrumental in helping professionals shave off much-needed time to apply to other responsibilities, thus lowering the cost to clients. Automating manual tasks is essential in a field where paperwork can pile up to the eyebrows regularly. 

“AI tech cuts down on the time I have to spend reading a significant amount on the front-end,” says Horning. “I don’t end up wasting time reading so much case law, where only a few cases are relevant in the end.” 

He says tools such as Employment Foresight make his service “cost-effective to clients who are coming to us because they’ve been terminated, and they aren’t looking to spend thousands of dollars to get a few questions answered.” He adds that this technology “facilitates access to justice and everyone leaves happier and more confident in the decision-making process.” 

What excites associates such as Lucifora about AI tech and Blue J Legal’s software is the ability to boost the number of clients, too. “Being able to help more people is certainly beneficial and being able to focus on tasks I like. I also like how I can get lower-level tasks out of the way in order to have the basic information I need and then take that information to the next level.”

Bringing innovation to the workplace is essential for legal firms to take the next step forward, these experts say. Some already have enjoyed success in this area, such as Stikeman Elliott being recognized as the highest-ranking Canadian law firm on Financial Times’ Most Innovative Law Firms for Legal Expertise list. “While we certainly see the value of new legal technologies,” says Ferreira, “we invest significant resources into making sure we stay in the know, and we also recognize that being innovative means being creative in the way we practice law.

We provide our clients with the highest quality and most pragmatic and creative legal solutions, and we leverage technology wherever it can enhance our practice and our ability to help our clients meet their business objectives.”

As to the role of young associates to push forward creative ideas and technologies within firms, Ferreira adds, “As long as we remain open to change, then innovative solutions should naturally follow.”

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