Though language models like ChatGPT have been in the works for a while, there has been an explosion in all fields very recently. AI is the topic on everyone’s mind, including in the legal world.
In March of 2023, for example, GPT-4, the successor to the AI model used in ChatGPT passed the bar exam. That news led to fear that AI would be replacing lawyers right around the corner, as well as confusion about what exactly an AI passing the bar meant.
That’s why June is AI month on the Answering Legal blog. We’re looking to learn about AI ourselves, and educate lawyers on how it works and how it can be used. Below, we’ll be covering general pros and cons of AI for lawyers. We’ll be talking about what AI can do for lawyers, pitfalls to watch out for, and ethical concerns to keep in mind.
AI Can Save Time On Otherwise Time-Consuming Tasks
Large firms often have associates and paralegals to do the so-called grunt work of legal research and document drafting. But smaller law firms and solos have always had to struggle on their own to get this work done in addition to everything else they have to handle.
In 2017, Clio’s Legal Trends Report found that lawyers spent almost half of their non-billable time on administration tasks.
With the advent of AI tools for lawyers, that may no longer be necessary. Though there are plenty of other applications of AI for lawyers, in this blog we’ll be talking about how AI can help save you time. From document generation to legal research, AI can take a considerable amount of a law firm’s workload off their hands.
Just from an organizational standpoint, AI can make life easier for lawyers. Though it’s faster than digging through filing cabinets, digital organization can still be time consuming. AI tools can learn how to tag documents so that they’re easier to find, saving time both on the organization and on the search.
In addition, while legal form templates have existed since the dawn of word processing software, AI takes it to a whole new level. The right AI tools can automatically integrate with case management software and word processing to produce templates for everything from letters to motion filings, filling in these templates from your databases to take all the work out of your hands.
So too can AI lighten the load of legal research. AI search tools trained on legal information can dig up relevant statutes and jurisprudence in fractions of the time it would take a person using more conventional methods. In the same way, AI can comb documents in an e-discovery to find everything you might need in a fraction of the time.
Check out the clip below to hear attorneys Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux discuss how recent AI advancements are impacting the world of law, and how AI technology could be used by law firms moving forward.
The Potential Pitfalls of AI For Lawyers
As much as they can save time, AI tools can waste a lot of your time if not used correctly. Though they’re trained on language models, some AI can be difficult to interact with, as they have a more technical knowledge of language than a colloquial one.
You will need to spend time becoming familiar with how to use AI tools to avoid spending a few hours every time you need it to do a basic task. And, of course, you always need to check what the AI has generated to make sure nothing is out of whack.
Because generative AI is trained on databases, it is vulnerable to the biases of the database it was trained on. This is not a sentient machine; these are large language models, trained on incomprehensible amounts of data to emulate human language and thinking.
As such, the implicit bias of the program’s designer and of the database the AI was trained on are always something to watch out for. Though there haven’t been any disaster stories in the legal field yet, the implicit bias of past AI models has caused waves before. For example, Amazon’s resume-searching AI was canceled in 2017 when it was discovered that it was dismissing women’s resumes altogether.
Essentially, when dealing with AI tools, the rule is to be vigilant. If you know how to use it, AI can make your life easier. But if you aren’t careful, you might end up making a costly mistake. Of course, as time goes on and the technology improves and becomes more user-friendly.
The Fear of Replacement
Now we come to the big fear: the idea that AI will replace lawyers. After all, if an AI can pass the bar exam, can it not also give legal advice? The short answer is yes, it can. But in reality, it is much more complicated than that. Don’t worry, your job is safe.
As we mentioned before, these are generative AI, trained on large databases. Their interpretation of that information doesn’t match the nuance of an attorney who spent years learning the same information. For quick and dirty solutions, AI is a great tool; for the more complicated stuff, it still has a while to go.
For example, the phrase “autonomous contract negotiation” might strike some fear into the hearts of lawyers, especially in-house counsel. So much of interbusiness interactions happen between attorneys, and contract negotiation is a huge part of that. But, according to an article by Artificial Lawyer, which has covered the AI for lawyers beat for years, there’s not much to that fear.
Essentially, even the most advanced autonomous contract negotiation software mostly covers standard contracts like NDAs right now. Even as the technology develops, there will always be a need for a human being to oversee the work AIs accomplish, as it only takes getting burned once for a corporation to lose millions of dollars on a bad AI-to-AI contract negotiation.
And as far as legal advice goes, language models like ChatGPT don’t have access to any more information than your average Internet-goer. It just reads that information much faster. If, a few years ago, someone had asked you if the power of Google made lawyers obsolete, you would have said no! Those turning to Chat-GPT for counsel will likely have only a slightly better time than those turning to a website like Quora.
Check out the clip below to hear Above The Law senior editor Joe Patrice weigh in on whether rapid AI developments should be a cause for concern for attorneys.
Ethical Concerns To Be Keep In Mind
AI is still a largely untested field. While larger corporations are starting to get their hands on it and working to create AI-powered programs and improve their own tools, there’s still a lot of work to be done. That leaves attorneys in a bit of an ethical gray area.
In 2012, the ABA added a “technology clause” to their competence rule. The primary ethical duty for an attorney is to provide competent legal assistance, and that includes a careful management of technology. Essentially, mismanagement of AI tools could be seen as an ethics violation.
While AI is useful for research, the technology is, for now, lacking in predictive analysis. An experienced attorney might know what opposing counsel might go for based on years of experience, but an AI probably won’t.
That means an overreliance on AI could put you in breach of the competence rule. These programs aren’t perfect, and may never be. Allowing their mistakes and oversights to become your own could certainly lead to problems. For example, a client whose attorney allows their AI tools to do all their work and makes a costly mistake might have recourse to file a complaint with the state bar organization.
In addition, large language models learn from the databases they’re scraping and the users prompting them for information. Lawyers must be careful what information they feed into their AI tools. Though there are regulations in Europe against using user data, no such regulations exist in the U.S. It would likely be a breach of ethics to, say, use an AI tool to scrape sensitive documents for discoverable data, as that data may then be added to the AI’s database.
Automate Your Phone Lines With Answering Legal
What makes AI truly incredible for lawyers is automation. An AI tool, fully integrated in a law firm, would be able to conduct legal research, append it to a client’s file, use that information to fill out a form template, and send it to the attorney who prompted it to do so, all in a fraction of the time it would take a person to do so.
Automation is a valuable tool to saving your firm time and money while still getting the best possible work done. But that doesn’t have to begin and end with AI. You can start automating your practice by integrating your phone systems with your law practice management software.
With Answering Legal, you can integrate your legal intake with your CRM. Our virtual receptionists will gather the information you need, secure your new client, and send all of it to your CRM. You won’t have to worry about data entry; everything you need to capture that client and begin working on their case will already be in your system. And that’s just the beginning of what Answering Legal can do for your firm.
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