AI - no longer just for big firms
While up until a few years ago, only the large firms could deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) solutions, industry changes and trends regarding cloud hosting, software as a service (SaaS) platforms, and a wider variety of licensing schema have allowed for a more robust and varied series of offerings to small and medium-sized law practices.
Ten years ago, firms would have needed to maintain or lease servers to run enterprise-level applications that were necessary for a legal practice of a certain size. While a solo practitioner or firm with a handful of lawyers may have found suitable a shared network drive—or, perhaps resort to emailing files back and forth!—such a practice would have found that scaling that solution up as the practice grew would have become nearly impossible. Without a good document storage (or document management) solution, small and medium firms needlessly wasted hours tracking down pertinent or legacy documents and struggled with identifying which was the latest version. It's easy to imagine a scenario where two different legal professionals working on the same client matter might have started with the same document and made their own edits independently so that now 2 versions of the document existed. That's why the industry developed software to "redline" the changes. Many common office applications now have features aimed to address this like "track changes" or "compare documents".
Large firms would deploy and maintain purpose-built document management systems configured to suit the needs of the firm. Software integration and implementation consultancies sprung up to help the big firms with these solutions, and a cottage industry continued to develop to help these firms figure out the "best of breed" solutions to address their niche legal needs. And, these firms generate revenue not only through the selection and implementation process, but also through ongoing support and patching.
However, since many software companies now offer cloud-based solutions, they can now reach smaller firms and practices in a more meaningful way.
But a small-firm lawyer remains unlikely to take a few days away from client work to evaluate and audit potential tech solutions. While the low-hanging fruit, such as hosted legal practice managements solutions are designed to be intuitive and integrate into the small practice client/matter lifecycle, the more nuanced solutions don't immediately make their utility apparent.
The enterprise legal AI solutions providers will begin to offer more "out of the box" solutions for the small and medium-sized firms as their algorithms improve and they search for more clients.
According to the American Bar Association, there were 1,338,678 lawyers in America as of 31 December 2018. Katie King of Legal Cheek reported that there were over 140,000 solicitors practicing in England and Wales as of September 2017. The majority of them do not work at large firms. In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of lawyers in common law jurisdictions that can improve their practices through the adoption of AI-powered tech, and they're only beginning to do so.