Emily Colbert, senior vice president of product management at Thomson Reuters, joined Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell on the Kennedy Mighell Report to talk about how legal professionals are using AI.

They discussed the integration of generative AI into Practical Law, which Colbert emphasized required extensive human expertise. They also talked about driving efficiencies and finding new integrations for AI that support business growth and improving the practice of law. Legal Current shares highlights from their conversation.

AI Backed by Human Expertise

Colbert shared the Thomson Reuters vision around generative AI.

“Our sweet spot – where we really excel – is in content-enabled technology,” Colbert said.

She said generative AI enables Thomson Reuters to leverage its depth of data in solutions such as Westlaw and Practical Law. She stressed that capitalizing on the opportunities of generative AI requires human expertise, particularly with Practical Law.

Emily Colbert, Thomson Reuters

“The human experts are a big part of our product,” Colbert said. “Our users tend to tell us that they think of us like the friend down the hall that you can ask when you don’t want to tell your boss you don’t know the answer or tell the client you haven’t worked on that before.”

She said attorney editors are invaluable in each step of generating Practical Law content – creating it and keeping it updated – and the product development process.

“Our editors have practiced at the top of their game in their particular practice areas from either top law firms, boutique law firms – if that’s what’s right for the specialty area – or in-house legal departments,” Colbert said. “So they know the area, they know the practicalities of it, and they’ve done it before.”

“When it comes to prompting the models behind the scenes, some of the processing steps we’re taking, they’re grading the AI and they’re telling us when we’re good enough to go talk to customers,” Colbert said. “We have to go through the wringer with our editorial teams, but we trust them for that and we love them for that.”

Generative AI Hype Cycle

Colbert said legal professionals are “still in the generative AI hype cycle.”

She noted, “We’ve moved from last year to this year in terms of people just playing with it and being curious or scared to actually starting to think about, ‘how do I actually use this in my job?’”

She said two principles drove the Practical Law team’s approach to integrating generative AI.

“One, to be completely transparent about what generative AI can do and can’t do and where you do need to really verify your answer. And two, to make sure we’re still providing that core value of Practical Law, which is you can trust this content – we’re only generating from that trusted content.”

She said generative AI is bolstering how Practical Law provides guidance to help users perform legal tasks more efficiently and effectively.

“With generative AI, they don’t have to know when they’re looking for that content, what to search for, what keywords to use, what we might have or not have,” Colbert said. “They can simply ask a plain-English question of what they actually want to know or want to do, and the LLM, the large language model, will generate that plain-English answer from Practical Law content and then cite to it. It’s really helping customers find that answer faster, find things they would never have even looked for.”

Driving Efficiencies and Business Growth

Colbert said generative AI is helping legal professionals drive efficiencies with administrative tasks, like billing, as well as with legal research.

“Drafting is another area that people are really excited about in-house,” Colbert added. “Counsel is even more bullish about getting there faster in terms of contract drafting. So obviously we’ve seen AI do a great job at correspondence and things like that – very simple contracts – but we’re going to see that get better and better as we go.”

She noted it’s an area where Practical Law is heavily involved: “We recently released a product with that baked in, but we’re also using the Practical Law content in our RAG, our retrieval augmented generation, for our generative AI drafting tools that we’re building.”

Beyond driving efficiencies, Colbert said generative AI can help with business growth.

“We are seeing people using generative AI to get that information, that knowledge and that ability to take on new and different matters in a way that previously would’ve had to do a lot more legwork to get there,” she said. “Imagine pitching a business and wanting to bring in some data about trends and being able to pull that by just asking a question, ‘can you give me an analytical report on indemnification and recent M&A deals in this industry?’ I think that will be a really great business-development aid for more senior attorneys.”

Overcoming Hurdles to AI Adoption

Colbert acknowledged that some legal professionals are hesitant to adopt generative AI.

“I think the first thing is the fear about what generative AI is going to do to the practice, the worry that it’s risky,” she said.

She explained why this fear is misguided.

“As long as you’re using it responsibly, as long as you are verifying answers, the risk isn’t there,” Colbert said. “It’s just helping you get to what you would’ve gotten to before much faster, and frankly, with less risk of missing something.”

Colbert ended the podcast by noting that she has worked on Practical Law since 2007 and what continues to excite her about it is genuinely helping her peers – enabling lawyers to get their work done faster and be confident in the results.

“And with generative AI, my vision is it becomes so accessible that you don’t have to think about, oh, there’s this thing called Practical Law, I should think about going to log in; it’s just there with you. That’s what I’d love to see us get to so that we can really help law students, in-house counsel, and large and small law firm customers just when they need it.”

For more of Colbert’s insights on generative AI, listen to the full episode of the Kennedy Mighell Report.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share