Despite much hype - and many millions of pounds in investments - artificial intelligence has yet to take over even the most mundane aspects of legal professionals' work, according to new research. Just 16% of respondents to a survey of solicitors say they are applying AI technology to due diligence and 12% for 'e-discovery/e-disclosure/technology assisted review'.

The finding is significant because tasks involving the checking of large numbers of documents were widely seen as 'low-hanging fruit' for machine learning and natural language processing, the twin technologies that underpin AI. Overall, less than a quarter of respondents to the study, by the University of Oxford and the Law Society, said they used any form of AI-assisted technology. 

One barrier to adoption may be the availability of data to train machine-learning systems, the authors note, saying 'Data capture... should be a major concern for the legal profession.'

Other key findings of the Lawtech Adoption Survey include: 

Only half of respondents had undertaken any form of lawtech training in the past three years. However, looking forward, respondents were generally keener to undertake training in technology and innovation-related issues; 71% of respondents said they anticipated the need for future training in data analytics – compared with 3% who had already received such training. 

Some 60% of survey respondents supported the statement that 'lawyers need to become familiar with multiple non-legal technical specialism, such as data science, project management, and design thinking'. However, there was no consensus on whether this was best done by working together with non-lawyers or through lawyers themselves acquiring multi-disciplinary expertise.

The online survey was conducted between November 2019 and January 2020, and yielded a total of 353 valid responses from solicitors in England and Wales. A third of respondents were junior lawyers. 

Report author Professor Mari Sako of the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School said: 'Given the widespread hype around legal practice innovation in general and AI-assisted lawtech in particular, we have a picture of a relatively low level of take-up of, and training for, lawtech among our survey participants.'

The survey was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the 'next generation services' theme of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.