Top Law Firms Use AI to Speed Up M&A Deals

Young attorneys and paralegals used to have to physically page through contracts as they performed due diligence for merger deals, which could sometimes take several weeks or longer.

Now, a large portion of those records are digital, and top law firms are using artificial intelligence (AI) to comb through them.

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According to data from Refinitiv, the total value of mergers & acquisitions (M&A) deals in 2021 was roughly $5.9 trillion, which was about 64% higher than in 2020. While such an explosion in deals provided a lot of work and thus a lot of revenue for firms, it also meant they had to innovate in order to keep up with the demand, which led many to adopt AI tools for more time-consuming, repetitive tasks.

Shearman & Sterling, for instance, uses a variety of AI tools for various tasks, including Kira for due diligence. Kira was created by the document-technology company Litera, which had raised nearly $358 million in private equity as of April of this year, according to PitchBook.

"The pandemic forced a lot of M&A teams to think about the process a little more than they had in the old days when everybody was in the same room or the same office," said David Curle, Litera’s legal-content and research leader. "The sheer deal volume made it almost impossible for a lot of firms to keep up without applying some technology to the process."

Big Law firm White & Case, along with many other firms, also uses AI tools like Brainspace and Relativity to assist with document review for discovery.

Meanwhile, some firms, like Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, are going even further, experimenting with using AI to help their attorneys write legal briefs. Global head of practice innovation for Orrick, Kate Orr, says her firm is currently piloting the use of Clearbrief, an AI-based Microsoft Word plug-in that suggests improvements as lawyers write briefs. The plug-in will even provide examples of relevant case law an attorney might not have included that could strengthen their argument.

Still, AI isn’t replacing young attorneys, just augmenting their capabilities. "It is not drafting entire paragraphs for you," Orr said. "It's just to improve your drafting on the substance and the facts."

So for now, at least, it appears as though the jobs of entry-level attorneys are safe from an AI takeover.