Belief that artificial intelligence will play a crucial role in future legal services is now overwhelming – even among lawyers in the 55-64 age bracket, according to research published today.

The study of the impact of technology and Covid-19 on the UK legal sector, based on research at top-30 firms, confirms anecdotal reports that the profession has made a step-change in attitudes to information technology. Some 40% of respondents reported that they had implemented a new advanced technology in the past six months alone.

The report was published by Luminance, a UK supplier of machine-learning technology for lawyers. Like other lawtech businesses, it sees the new acceptance of techniques such as video-conferencing as a chance to persuade firms to invest in more advanced and specialist AI-based tools.

While 60% of lawyers still believe that the legal profession adopts technology much more slowly than other industries, ‘it is clear that attitudes are changing’, the report states, with 86% of senior lawyers aged 55-64 agreeing that ‘AI and machine learning will play an important role in the legal industry in the future’.  

However, the study revealed a generational difference when it came to using technology today: more than three-quarters of 18-55-year-olds said they used technology in most areas of their job. Among those aged between 55 and 64, that proportion fell to half.

The report quotes a top-30 partner saying: ‘Nobody is going to be going back to doing it as we were a few months ago.’

Another factor driving take-up of technology is pressure from clients, the report claims: 80% of partners interviewed cited decreasing client budgets as their key concern. Meanwhile, 42% of the partners surveyed predicted decreases in demand as in-house teams take a bigger share of legal work.

In the foreword, Simon Davis, immediate past president of the Law Society, writes that ‘2020 marks an inflection point in the modernisation of the sector.

‘From the near universal adoption of collaboration and video conferencing tools and e-signature technology, to the use of artificial intelligence to rapidly analyse large datasets, we are witnessing an industry-wide shift in the demand for, and willingness to embrace, technology,’ he says.