Oxford University has received a grant of over £1 million to aid research into the potential benefits of artificial intelligence to the legal sector.

PWC’s Annual Law Firms’ Survey 2018 revealed that 100% of Top 10 and 40% of Top 11-25 law firms have identified technology as the key challenge they face over the coming years.

82% of the Top 100 firms claimed they were either somewhat or extremely concerned about threats, making cyber security the third biggest concern as explored in this year’s survey, following Brexit (89%) and a lack of talent (84%).

The £1.2 million project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by Oxford University’s Law Faculty, explores the possibilities and restrictions of using AI in the legal sector in order to address such concerns.

Speaking to Grammarly, founder of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute Paul Roetzer said: “As a whole, AI is so misunderstood that people almost have this sci-fi mentality.

“Like, that’s not real, the real stuff is these very narrow uses of AI that are built to be very specific things.”

Oxford University’s Law Faculty will work alongside a range of representatives from across the legal sector, including: international firms Slaughter and May and Allen & Over; media information firm Thomas Reuters; the Legal Education Foundation; lawtech start-up LexSnap; barristers from South Square Chambers; and the Law Society.

The initial stages of the project will explore the primary functions that AI could have in a law firm, including as conflict resolution, legal reasoning, and the comparison of skills training between the UK, USA, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as well as looking into how AI could be best used to emphasise governance and strategy in the workplace.

However, many firms remain concerned over the growth of technology and AI – 63% of firms surveyed by PWC stated they were either somewhat or extremely concerned over the speed of technological changes.

Between the hesitancy of some legal firms and growing concern over cyber safety in an industry where client security is imperative, it seems that the University’s research will prove vital in discovering the benefits of AI, and whether these outweigh the costs.

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