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Growing Potential for Natural Language Processing in Legal

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change many aspects of “business as usual” legal work. Use of natural language processing (NLP) tools is one such change. Law firms and law departments are increasing their use of such tools. At the same time, more diverse NLP techniques are being researched and released out into the world.

Technology is having a bit of a “moment”. All over the world, people are relying on technology more than ever before. Law is no exception. And when it comes to the law, there is no better technology than NLP for helping legal professionals analyze legal text.

Our Latest

Our last few software releases, particularly our latest, ContraxSuite Extraction & Analysis 1.6.0, have focused heavily on expanding and improving user features. Alongside our improvements to ContraxSuite, we’ve also improved our natural language toolkit, LexNLP.

Our platform is highly extensible and fully-featured for developers and data scientists. Software developers and data scientists are not our only users, though. Our improvements to the user experience are designed so that anybody, regardless of level of expertise, can easily take advantage of ContraxSuite’s full range of features. We’ve spoken many times about NLP in law, and its use in areas related to the law. Now, with our latest updates, improvements, and features, we are building a better bridge between technology tools and the law.

Our continued integration of other NLP techniques, such as Word2vec, has helped bridge a gap between legal expertise, natural language processing, and the common linguistic knowledge the two fields share. We have rebuilt our NLP engine to improve clustering and classification, make the software easier to use for all skill levels, increase the efficiency and space of the database, and provide for greater scaling of computing resources.

NLP Bridges Legal and Tech

The legal marketplace is raising awareness of NLP and building more and better NLP techniques for legal professionals.

One might be tempted to ask: What’s changed so suddenly? The answer is that the change was gradual. Our team has steadily raised awareness and built better tools over the past several years. All new technologies tend to get over-hyped at first, then fall into a trough of disillusionment, and then re-emerge when their most practical applications are discovered. Natural language processing tools seem to be catching on all of a sudden, because of the inevitable shift away from hype and toward real results.

NLP is a crucial aspect of the bridge between legal and tech. NLP is a range of established and tested techniques that return actionable results for data scientists and legal professionals. Large-scale document analysis is a daunting undertaking for even the best lawyers, but NLP techniques can help deconstruct legal language into its most fundamental units and facilitate a range of tasks. From compiling and organizing specific data types, like LexNLP does within ContraxSuite Document Explorer:

List of data types LexNLP automatically extracts

LexNLP automatically extracts and organizes dozens of key data types

To conducting clause analysis for playbook-style review of contract language, inside ContraxSuite CLM:

playbook analysis in ContraxSuite CLM

Compare playbook clauses to contract clauses to easily identify contracts that require more attention

NLP techniques make many aspects of legal work more efficient, freeing lawyers and legal professionals to focus their attention on more complex elements of legal work.

There are many NLP tools out there that use a variety of computational techniques and language libraries. Some, like BERT, AllenNLP’s ELMo, and spaCy, are used more heavily by researchers and data scientists. Meanwhile, tools like LexNLP exist within larger platforms and are specifically designed to analyze the unique constructions of legal language. This provides a practical user experience that non-coder legal professionals can quickly learn.

Conclusion

The number of lawyers who code has been steadily rising. The kind of computer code that makes natural language processing effective, is not so different from the highly regimented and precise nature of legal language that lawyers spend their careers mastering.

This is why the symbiosis between law and technology has come so far, and has so much future potential. Both areas of expertise require words and clauses to fit together in certain specific ways to achieve complex outcomes. There are many different kinds of NLP techniques, with many different applications to law, including in contract drafting and contract remediation. More research is being done every day to improve the analysis and output of these systems. As NLP technology improves, and efforts like ours continue to advance the user experience, lawyers and other legal professionals will find NLP tools increasingly powerful allies in their work.

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