Presenters and participants at one of the largest legal technology conferences in the U.S. are abuzz this week about how artificial intelligence fits into the future of legal tech, but some experts at the event also warned that law firms and other buyers need to separate facts from hype.

The use of AI is at the center of at least 17 different panel discussions at the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Lawyers and technologists at ILTACON 2019 praised cost-saving AI innovations, but urged caution to avoid the sometimes vague, overly optimistic vendor marketing pitches that can make it tougher for law firms to choose the right AI-enabled tools.

“Lots of vendors want to talk about how cool their tech is—don’t let them,” said legal industry consultant Brad Blickstein, co-author with Erin Harrison of an upcoming report that weighs the effectiveness of roughly 50 of the top legal tech products. Instead, he urged firms to be diligent, if not downright skeptical, when purchasing AI-infused tools.

Law firm leaders should make sellers “talk about problems and solutions,” Blickstein said, and then track down independent user references, not just ones provided by vendors.

Top law firm innovators agree that overaggressive or inaccurate legal tech product marketing can be an issue.

“I was aware of this four years ago,” said Katie DeBord, who began as chief innovation officer with Bryan Cave, the predecessor firm to Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, in 2015.

The problem with some “Type 1" AI innovations, said DeBord—referring to solutions in which a single, distinct tech problem is addressed—is that some law firm product buyers “see the hype, and they think their life is going to change. But it rarely does.”

Pipe Dreams

Over the last several years, AI-infused products have been developed to streamline a number of key functions at law firms.

AI has changed the way law firm attorneys write contracts, process and search through discovery materials, craft litigation strategies, research judges and potential jurors, and bill their clients.

Wendell Jisa, CEO of the e-discovery software provider Reveal Data Corp., took issue with the criticism that vendors take often liberties with AI-related marketing.

“I think it’s unfair. In tech, it comes down to training,” Jisa said, referring to the formal certification process his company’s salespeople need to go through. He also agreed with the notion that in the end, law firms and other potential buyers bear a good portion of responsibility to make sure his company’s products are a good fit.

Panels on AI at ILTACON included those with the titles “Why Your AI Experience May Not be Great,” “AI-Powered Knowledge Management,” and “Using Artificial Intelligence to Automate Lawyer Work Product: It’s No Longer a Pipe Dream.” Most were conference-sponsored discussions, though a few chats were sponsored by individual companies.

For law firms, the stakes are getting higher when they have to decide whether to purchase an AI-powered tech solution and which vendor to choose.

Anxious clients are often leading the demands that their outside firms adopt tech faster, or potentially lose a portion of their retainers to an alternative legal services provider. At the same time, the explosion of the legal tech marketplace is offering chances for greater savings. one law firm attorney said.

“As tools continue to evolve,” once-modest efficiency gains can become huge, said Jeremiah Weasenforth, managing project attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s analytics group.