Guest post: Microsoft Copilot – The challenges and considerations for law firms

By Paul Collins, director of cyber security at Interfuture Security

It seems that AI is all that anyone can talk about at the moment and generally people fall into one of two camps: those who are excited by the possibilities, and those that are concerned by the possibilities.

In an era of digital transformation (in this case the era being less than the blink of an eye, in the history of human existence), law firms are increasingly turning to advanced technologies to enhance efficiency, improve service delivery, and stay competitive. Sticking your head in the sand is simply not an option, embracing the future is really the only way forward.


Over the years, Microsoft has invested heavily in the research and development of AI with the ambition to redefine how work is done by embedding AI-driven tools across its whole ecosystem, including Office 365 Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and more.

Enter Copilot, the fruition of this concentrated endeavour, which has been progressively available to enterprise customers since November 1, 2023, and with broader accessibility planned throughout 2024. We may not be 100% there yet but theoretically Copilot should be able to “crawl” through the entirety of all information sources within and without a law firm, providing easy access to information, which can be searched for in natural language. Ultimately, the aim is for Copilot to utilise this data to perform every-day tasks that would normally take a team of admin staff and super eager interns to complete.

Of course, it is not alone in the market of AI-assisted applications – several of these applications have found their place within the legal sector, serving specialized functions. Microsoft’s aim, however, is for Copilot to become a comprehensive solution – a ‘one-stop shop’.

Like any other industry, an advanced AI assistant presents a ground-breaking tool for legal professionals, however, integrating such advanced technology into the sensitive and confidential realm of legal practice comes with its unique set of benefits and risks that need to be managed carefully. I explore some of those here:

Capabilities and Features

A quick run-down of some of the tasks that it can perform:

· Document Drafting and Review: it can assist by suggesting language, identifying relevant precedents, and ensuring compliance with current laws. Furthermore, it can help identify errors and enhance consistency and standardisation.

· Legal Research: It can save sifting through vast amounts of legal databases, case law, and statutes to find relevant precedents and information.

· Case Prediction: it can analyse past rulings to predict outcomes of future cases.

· Client Interaction: Automating initial client consultations, quickly gathering relevant information.

· Administrative Tasks: it can automate tasks such as billing, scheduling, and client communication.

Challenges and Considerations

This is all very exciting and as functionality and accuracy improves, so will the usefulness of this tool, however, we must be mindful that we do not get too giddy with excitement and forget to be cautious. I invite you to consider the following:

Data Security and Privacy (top of my list): crucial externally but equally internally. It goes without saying (and yet here I am wasting my word count allocation) that an IT system must comply not only with data protection laws but must also employ and practice the very highest level of security measures (only a specialist cyber security company can provide this).

Thorough Staff Training is a must, as is user Authentication and Access Control: Implementing strict user authentication and access control ensures that only authorised users can access specific data and functionalities of Copilot. This can include role-based access controls (RBAC) that define what information and actions are available to users based on their role within the organisation. Furthermore, AI should have the capability of automatically redacting sensitive data, providing further protection.

Data Segmentation and Encryption: Data encryption both at rest and in transit is crucial for protecting sensitive information. Segmentation of data can further ensure that information is not improperly accessed or leaked across different parts of the organisation. This means that data related to one client or case is inaccessible to those without the necessary permissions.

Hereafter, the risks are slightly beyond the direct control of the law firm but with vigilance and awareness, it is possible to reduce the risks:

Dependence on Technology: Overreliance on AI for legal decisions and advice could lead to a degradation of lawyers’ skills and potentially reduce the quality of legal advice, however, if the AI’s suggestions are properly reviewed and lawyers keep abreast of current developments, this should be avoided.

Regulatory Compliance: As AI in law is a relatively new frontier, regulatory frameworks may evolve, and law firms must ensure that their use of AI remains compliant with legal standards and ethics.

Error and Liability: AI systems are only as good as the data that they draw from and which could contain mistakes. Determining liability for errors made with AI assistance (whether it falls on the software provider or the law firm) can be complex and has yet to be fully resolved.

Bias and Fairness: AI systems can inherit biases from their training data, potentially leading to unfair or biased legal advice or decisions. Continuous monitoring and adjustment are necessary to minimise these risks.

Ethical and Compliance Issues: how Copilot’s suggestions and analyses influence legal advice and decision-making must be carefully considered to ensure they align with legal ethics and professional responsibility standards. On the plus side, the use of AI could lead to greater consistency and result in increased compliance and more ethical outcomes.

The Future

As you would expect, Microsoft will continue to develop this tool and the possibilities are almost limitless. For the immediate future, voice integration (recognition and response) is expected very soon.

My conclusion is short and sweet: the use of advanced AI assistants is likely to be a game changer but one to be treated with respect and caution!

Paul Collins is director of cyber security at UK IT security solutions provider Interfuture Security Ltd. and technical director at IT consultancy Interfuture Systems Ltd. He specialises in cyber security and IT support services.