How Expensive Is AI for Law Firms Really?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 23, 2017 5:57 AM

While AI has arrived for work at some law firms, it is still in the future for most.

It's not that law firms are lagging behind in technology. It's just that the high end solutions are too expensive for most lawyers.

Sure, even a solo practitioner can buy a digital assistant for about $200 to manage a calendar and make electronic deposits. But a small firm will spend about $30,000 to install a software robot to handle legal tasks like workflow management and contract review.

And if you need a system to accommodate 500 users, we're talking $250,000 -- to start. After set up, there's the cost of tech personnel and support. It's a half million dollar robot -- not quite Iron Man dollars but more than Robby the Robot.

Robot Costs

Connie Brenton, senior director of legal operations at NetApp and chairman of the board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), said AI technology takes "significant resources to get up and running." Speaking at Legalweek: The Experience 2017 Conference, she joined other experts in explaining the financial reality of AI.

"We're talking years before AI fundamentally changes the way we practice law," Brenton said.

Jennifer McCarron, technology program manager at Cisco, said lawyers have to account for the costs behind licensing and purchasing the solutions. With Riverview Law's KIM virtual assistant, for example, she estimated the "starting point" for 10 users is about $30,000 to automate and create in-house workflows and processes.

She said tailor-made programs with "templates for auto-generated documents" also increase the cost. Adding dashboards to run an organization could cost another $37,000, she said.

Human Costs

In addition to set-up costs, it takes time to implement AI solutions. People have to train and maintain robots.

"I would say end-to-end, you're talking five to six months for the smaller of the pilots of virtual assistant," McCarron said. She said that includes development, hosting, and clearing security and compliance requirements.

Typically, the provider assigns a solution architect and a project manager. The customer also needs two full-time employees internally, plus vendor support.

McCarron said that once the system is in place, AI machines learn quickly. But it may still be out of reach for smaller organizations. She said even mid-sized companies like PayPal and eBay are not using the technology, and suggested it may be too expensive.

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