There has been a significant shift in the legal industry as of late. The ability to implement more technology into legal processes is helping to ensure the justice system stays on track despite the need to social distance.

Technology is opening up court reporting and transcription outside of local geographic areas, leaving potential for increased competition and changes in the ways depositions are being fulfilled. 

The evolving legal market and ongoing disruption

COVID-19 has accelerated attorneys’ and the courts’ use of remote technology. The available technologies to help service proceedings have actually existed for quite some time. However, there was resistance previously mainly due to fears of how to utilize digital tools effectively and  common attorney strategies, such as being able to read witness body language or use intimidation tactics which work better in person.

The market preference is still to execute these depositions and proceedings in person, and some individuals are figuring out ways to conduct hybrid depositions to account for this preference. A hybrid model might look like some individuals appearing in the same room (while socially distanced with personal protective equipment (PPE), while other participants are remote.

In terms of the courts, they moved motion hearing remote, but were already using digital tools or enlisting remote setups with telephonic hearings as well. Looking forward, more attorneys have to change practice, and courts have to adopt technology in a way that meets all parties’ needs, particularly those of defendants in criminal trials.

Artificial intelligence and law

AI in layman’s terms is a statistical model that makes “decisions” based on math, or algorithms. It’s a significant technology being implemented to digitize legal process. AI’s usefulness is as good as the model and the IT developers who built it. Companies like Verbit which specialize in digital court reporting provide not just general AI, but legal artificial intelligence tools. These are built to understand the legal process, terminologies and the pain points of key stakeholders.

AI has been largely over-hyped as a concern among the legal community, with some viewing it as a replacement for humans or as a cognitive machine, but this is not the case. AI instead serves simply as another tool that can be used to aid in the legal process. It provides more efficiency for routine, manual tasks.

AI improvements regarding context and content are rapidly developing to essentially gain an understanding of many of the court and legal elements at play, but most AI machines remain limited again to mathematical models.

Uses and benefits that AI brings to legal industry

AI use cases include e-discovery, sifting through large amounts of structure and unstructured data. The ability to quickly sift through large amounts of data removes the time it would take a human to find relevant material more quickly.

Automatic speech recognition (ASR) is a large piece of the AI puzzle with regard to its ability to service the legal field. An admissible legal transcript requires everything mentioned in a proceeding to be recorded word-for-word. To fully achieve this, the AI may do the initial capture and transcription, but human interaction and edits with the transcribed word is also necessary.

Can AI software replace human input in the legal industry?

For example, AI tools can help to generate a transcript with clear speaker identification. The machine is trained to detect one speaker from another, with the work of course being checked by human transcribers as well to guarantee full accuracy.

Simply put, humans can still discern speech in a way that AI and ASR cannot. However, the benefit of ASR with AI is the ability to produce a workable draft, and quickly. It also provides for economy of scale, as utilizing AI can help legal agencies, attorneys and court reporters handle and process more video or audio files to then take on more work. Legal “ears” are still needed for transcription around inaudibles, colloquialism and nuances that matter to legal, but technology can greatly help the overall process.

Case analysis, due diligence and discovery are prime use cases for legal AI models already in production. It can handle and sift through countless boxes of documentation and dozens of emails quickly. 

Digital court reporting tools fuel collaboration and efficiency

Leaning on digital tools also allows for stakeholders to conduct depositions over web conferencing tools like Zoom. These tools are greatly enhancing their security measures to create more peace of mind for users. Not needing to travel and be physically present provides a significant benefit to all involved in legal processes – think of time saved, travel costs reduced and participation of witnesses who may not have been able to participate otherwise.

Additionally, these capture and transcript tools, such as those provided by Verbit, allow users to also highlight and make notes live within transcripts as they are generated. Only that specific attorney sees the notes being made so he or she can go back and reference them for cross examinations or to reference at later points. These interactive tools help to drive collaboration between legal teams as well.

How far will the technology go?

AI and its intersection with the law does present some interesting questions. For example, if AI matures to the point where the models are recommending decisions, or being used for decisions, how do we ensure the rights of the participants? Do we really want to assign these responsibilities to technology? Will professionals become too dependent on AI? While the advancement of technology poses interesting questions, it’s likely not a reality that humans will be ready to rely on technology for large legal decisions with heavy weight – or at least not yet.

Real-time reporting has traditionally been served by stenographic means. However, while utilizing stenographers can be costly, there’s a bigger issue at play. With more stenographers retiring, the availability of stenographers and trained court reporters to service proceedings is dwindling. Larger cases with ‘more at stake’ will continue to move forward with real-time reporting, however below the line cases, such as family law and depositions among others, only stand to benefit from digital real-time reporting tools, especially in the COVID-19 era.

It’s important to note that digital reporting does not mean only ASR and a machine; it means using legal transcribers or reporters as well. Within seconds, ASR can present the initial spoken word from a proceeding. It is then scoped in real-time by remote or on premise reporters within a short period thereafter. The idea is that availability of reporters and stenographers is no longer an issue. Technology allows stakeholders to not be dependent on geographic location or the availability of reporting resources.

So where do AI and law fit in together? AI is only a tool in the overall process which still very much requires a ‘human touch’, but those who implement AI in legal industry processes will only stand to gain from doing so.