Generative AI is making its way into the back offices of Big Law, and it’s evident from recent job listings by leading firms like Latham & Watkins and Linklaters. These firms, along with several others, are actively seeking software developers, analysts, programmers, and data engineers to boost their AI capabilities. This shift is remarkable considering the traditional skepticism and slow adoption of technology in the legal industry. However, the competitive landscape has prompted firms to embrace AI and integrate it into their operations.
In the next few years, it’s hard to imagine that top law firms won’t have positions dedicated to harnessing the transformative power of generative AI. Davis Wright Tremaine partner Vidhya Prabhakaran, who is part of the firm’s AI steering committee, believes there are numerous potential uses for AI and they are currently working to unlock its full potential.
Law firms are focusing on practical applications of AI, such as using it to assist lawyers with research and drafting briefs, as well as streamlining marketing and business development functions. Ralph Baxter, a former chairman of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, compares the inclusion of AI in the law firm ecosystem to the addition of a new team member, emphasizing that this new player is not a human being.
However, some of the job descriptions seeking AI experience in the back-office IT roles can be intentionally vague. This is because technologies like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are rapidly evolving, and their ultimate impact and potential disruption in the legal industry are still uncertain.
For instance, Linklaters, an esteemed London firm with nearly 200 years of history, is seeking an AI analyst to support their AI program. Allen & Overy, Goodwin Procter, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Husch Blackwell, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett are also among the firms hiring for non-lawyer AI positions, specifically highlighting the importance of AI experience in their job listings.
Allen & Overy, in particular, has been quick to recognize the disruptive potential of AI. They have already hired several developers, data scientists, and others to their innovation team and are currently looking to fill four more positions. According to David Wakeling, head of the firm’s markets innovation group, they view AI as a powerful technology to master the use of words in the legal profession.
Goodwin Procter has taken a different approach by focusing on assisting their clients in understanding and leveraging AI. They organize video round-table discussions at the firm to educate people about AI, and they plan to hire more positions dedicated to AI, including data scientists.
These back-office AI positions offered by law firms generally offer salaries ranging from $85,000 to $165,000, depending on experience and location. However, John Mann, managing director of the executive search firm Alex & Red, suggests that these figures might be on the lower side. Firms may need to be more flexible to accommodate candidates who negotiate for higher salaries.
Furthermore, many of the jobs listed require a blend of remote and in-office work, commonly referred to as “hybrid” positions. However, firms are still actively learning about salary expectations in this emerging field.
Davis Wright Tremaine plans to hire three to seven new AI-focused back office positions in the coming year, in response to increasing client demands. They have developed their own version of ChatGPT, specifically for business development and administrative tasks, without accessing client data.
Other firms, like Dentons, are hiring AI workers to promote their proprietary AI tools. Dentons recently introduced “fleetAI,” a chatbot using GPT-4 technology that facilitates legal research and content generation. They plan to expand its use globally and are developing other chatbots dedicated to legal services.
As with any technological disruption, some law firm leaders anticipate AI potentially replacing human workers in the coming years, while others believe it will create more jobs than it eliminates. Rachel Dooley, Chief Innovation Officer at Goodwin, falls into the latter category, seeing AI as a tool that enhances employee performance rather than replacing them.
In conclusion, the use of generative AI in the legal industry is gaining traction, with law firms actively seeking AI talent to stay competitive. The applications of AI range from assisting lawyers in their work to enhancing marketing and business development functions. Firms are investing in these technologies, recognizing the transformative power they hold.