Law Firms Are Recruiting More AI Experts as Clients Demand ‘More for Less’

As clients demand more for less, law firms are hiring growing numbers of staff who’ve studied technology not tort law to try and stand out from their rivals. 

Source: Bloomberg | Published on July 6, 2023

law firms using AI

Chatbots, data scientists, software engineers. As clients demand more for less, law firms are hiring growing numbers of staff who’ve studied technology not tort law to try and stand out from their rivals.

Law firms are advertising for experts in artificial intelligence “more than ever before,” says Chris Tart-Roberts, head of the legal technology practice at Macfarlanes, describing a trend he says began about six months ago.

 “Competition for lawtech talent is fierce and has been for some time.”

The revolution in generative AI, machine learning that can make predictions, has accelerated the legal industry’s search for more effective technology. Many firms are now putting together teams to figure out how to use generative AI across all their practice areas even as ChatGPT, the chatbot owned by OpenAI, becomes something to be feared as well as embraced.

Legal services are the most vulnerable to ChatGPT-style software, according to a recent University of Pennsylvania study. That’s fueling concerns AI could replace a significant chunk of junior lawyer drudgery. The widely-accessible technology is particularly suited to time-consuming legal work, because of its ability to instantly analyze large documents, predict successful arguments based on past cases or create questions based on pre-defined criteria for a deposition.

Allen & Overy earlier this year was the first of the Magic Circle of top UK law firms to announce a chatbot to help lawyers draft contracts and client memos. Rivals are now piloting legal AI ‘assistants’ like Casetext Inc.’s CoCounsel, including Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner which began a trial of the software in June.

Travers Smith, also based in London, says it recently promoted one of its software engineers to the role of AI manager and is looking to build a customized custom AI model for the firm. Liverpool-based Weightmans hired two junior legal-engineers this year to meet client demand for tech expertise, says Catriona Wolfenden, the firm’s innovation manager.

At Macfarlanes, one senior team member is now studying a master’s in AI at the University of Cambridge. Allen & Overy plans to add more data scientists to its 20-strong team of lawyers and developers who work on AI-powered software that can draft contract clauses or facilitate negotiations, says Francesca Bennetts, a partner at the firm.

“It’s an unmistakable trend,” says Christina Blacklaws, a legal consultant and chair of Lawtech UK, a government-backed project to transform the UK legal industry through technology. “A lot of this is driven by clients who want more for less: more transparency, more cost-effective legal services.”

The changing jobs landscape is even changing law school curricula. The University of Liverpool now offers modules to teach students to interact with legal tech tools, according to Katie Atkinson, dean of the school of electrical engineering, electronics and computer science.

“It’s not like all the lawyers are going to be replaced by data scientists,” says Atkinson. “It’s more like there’s a section of new roles coming in.”