Last year, Michigan became the 37th state requiring attorneys to maintain ethical competence in technology, signaling the growing role of artificial intelligence in the legal sector.
The order handed down by the Michigan Supreme Court requires continuing education in emerging technology so attorneys can “provide competent representation for the client in a particular matter.”
The new requirement took effect on Jan. 1, along with supplemental rules involving “ediscovery,” or AI-powered systems that sort relevant case material during the discovery process when opposing parties share documents. The rules require setting an ediscovery plan early on in the case and outlining potential sanctions for parties that don’t act in good faith.
Scott Carvo, partner at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP’s Grand Rapids office, said ediscovery and computer-automated review is a common way that AI has disrupted — or rather aided — the legal sector.
“With the proliferation of data, email and devices, the amount of data corporations kept increased 10-20 fold in some cases,” Carvo said. “We needed a solution to deal with it.”
Carvo, who had information technology experience before going to law school, said his firm embraced ediscovery when it began taking off across the industry roughly a decade ago. The goal is to save clients money, which has taken on greater importance during the pandemic.
“At this point, every one of my clients is looking for ways to keep their costs down,” Carvo said. “Every dollar matters these days in light of how things are with the economy. Every client I have wants to reduce their legal spend.”
Ediscovery may be just a starting point for sweeping AI-driven changes in the legal sector. Carvo said algorithms are being developed that can predict case outcomes, such as in tax disputes. Companies also can use AI to feed in criteria or various desired outcomes in contracts, or can use it to power M&A due diligence.
However, embracing AI-driven technology has been a “hodgepodge” within the legal field and can vary among firms and attorneys, Carvo said. Some carry “bad assumptions about technology,” convincing them it will lead to more errors than manually combing through documents.
“It’s interesting the AI piece is coming to the legal sector because it’s notoriously a field that’s slow to adapt to change,” Carvo said. “Lawyers tend to be set in their ways. It’s always a difficult proposition when you’re talking about innovation.”
He added, however, that under the state’s new rules, “lawyers have a duty to keep up with technology.”