The legal industry today is on the cusp of a new era.

Legal teams of all shapes and sizes are discovering that software technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) can dramatically change the way they work and improve critical legal processes.

As more in-house legal departments and law firms apply automation to legal, compliance, and other related processes, attorneys are able to create a more strategic culture of legal thinking.

Common ideas of the professional lawyer, shaped by crime drama television, film, and other popular culture, lauds them as orators of grand ideas.

The reality, of course, is that lawyers spend much of their time with paperwork and research. While many attorneys want a better solution to the manual, paper-based, error-prone processes currently being utilized in so many law offices, the thought of having to hire more paralegals or replacing the processes they know work is less than ideal.

RPA as a solution allows legal teams to increase productivity without hiring additional human employees or dismantling their tried-and-true processes.

How RPA streamlines e-discovery and decreases information overload

At the heart of every case lies a deluge of information lawyers must navigate as part of their legal process. The amount of information that attorneys have to go through for a case has only increased in recent years.

In order to sift through all of this information—including now-scanned paper, pure digital documents, and other structured and unstructured data—lawyers have used various kinds of e-discovery tools. The tools are often expensive computer programs that scan thousands of documents for evidence and possible points of interest, ballooning e-discovery budgets, and eating up resources.

Despite the popularity of computer programs, many e-discovery tools still tend to rely heavily on human analysts manually culling through results. As a result, despite the growth of e-discovery tools, this data management challenge has continued to grow.

Thankfully, RPA can significantly simplify this time-consuming and process intensive task. You can think of RPA as a more flexible kind of e-discovery tool that sits on top of the other tools your team already uses.

Automation is for more than just e-discovery

Software robots can certainly be trained to follow clear rules like “flag all mentions of X”, but that’s just the beginning of what RPA can do. With RPA, you can automate many processes, especially those with well-defined set of parameters. You can even automate portions of processes that have unstructured data such as scanned documents.

One example: many law firms use software to do things like help them draw up standard contracts, or take people through common processes like the expected steps of incorporating a new business. In many cases, these processes are relatively straightforward, run on a defined set of rules, and create few exceptions. Those processes, therefore, present an excellent opportunity for RPA to help make firms more efficient.

Another example: if a firm has built an in-house database of cases, or has access to external case libraries, RPA can act as a super-smart consultant by finding past cases similar to a present one. Paralegals previously engaged in that manual task can be redeployed to more value-added activities and the robot improves accuracy.

RPA: Supporting and improving the legal teams of the future

It’s conceivable that one day, legal software robots, supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models, could quickly scan every legal suit ever tried. They could then advise clients on the likely outcomes of a current case they are working on, assisting attorneys to build a stronger case from the beginning.

Alas, RPA isn’t quite there, but it’s evolving quickly. RPA is already at the point where it can perform the monotonous, repeatable tasks that eat up human workers’ time, freeing them up to do more meaningful work and decreasing processing time.

With more time to focus on critical and creative thinking tasks, lawyers are free to do what they do best: practice law.

Vasile Tiple is the General Counsel of Connect Partners.