The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has long been eulogised and feared by the legal community. Augurs say that it will bring about efficiency and possibly bring an end to its antithesis – the billable hour. Unlike the once-common lift operator, AI is not set to replace lawyers any time soon, but it will, without a doubt, not leave law firms untouched. If embraced, AI can be a critically important tool which empowers lawyers to work more effectively, deepen and broaden areas of expertise, and provide increased value to clients.

One of the ground-breaking ways in which AI is set to change the way in which lawyers do their work relates to legal research.

Legal research is an essential aspect of legal work. It is, however, a task that takes up a lot of time, especially considering the exponential increase in information available over the past few years. In the business of selling hours, there are limited hours in a day and a person can no longer do a comprehensive study in the time that AI is able to conduct research.

AI legal research tools have shifted from keyword-based search techniques to an approach using semantic analysis. This allows for results to be provided even where it does not include the specific keyword searched for.

LexisNexis, a trusted legal research platform, has developed Lexis Answers. Lexis Answers allows a researcher to ask a natural-language question and get back the single-best answer, together with references to sources.

In a time where information is freely available to anyone with access to the internet, clients still approach lawyers to conduct their legal research. This shows that legal research requires more than the mere sourcing of information, but also an added layer of judgment, contextualisation and assurance. AI research tools therefore cannot in its current form fully replace lawyers in their legal research. However, finding more accurate answers in less time ultimately results in higher quality services to clients at lower costs. And there is no reason to suppose that AI will not in time replace what we think of as human judgment.