Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere—from help desk chatbots to predictive text on our smart phones to Siri and Alexa. It’s used every day to make our lives easier, to shortcut once tedious tasks. We mostly think of AI tools assisting us in our lives outside of work, but there are many programs available to make our working lives better, too. Today we will look at some of the examples of how lawyers are using these tools on the job.
The days of leather-bound books and typewriters are behind us. For a profession that prides itself on (and often gets stuck within) its traditions, lawyers today know that keeping up with technology is the only way forward in this fast-paced world. Law firms realize they must employ software that allows for quick work of what traditionally required lots of hours and resources. Valuable legal tech includes the use of artificial intelligence to assist lawyers in everyday tasks, freeing up valuable time for more important matters. For example, AI-powered software can help lawyers quickly and accurately search through vast amounts of legal documents, case law, and statutes to find relevant information. It can assist lawyers in contract review, identifying potential issues or anomalies, thereby saving the lawyer’s time and reducing the risk of (human) errors. Predictive analytics can help lawyers predict the outcome of legal cases based on historical data, which leads to more informed decisions, and better allocation of resources.
Firms also use AI technology for e-discovery. In the old days, young associates spent countless hours on discovery. Now, software programs can scan large volumes of electronic documents, emails, and other digital data to identify relevant information for cases. AI programs can help lawyers generate legal documents like contracts, wills, and briefs, quickly and accurately. If your firm does IP work, AI can be used to search for patents, trademarks, and other intellectual property, helping lawyers assess the potential infringement or validity of a particular asset. AI can also assist lawyers in conducting due diligence on potential clients or partners, by quickly identifying red flags or areas of concern.
But what about more recent developments in the AI sphere? Enter chatbots. Unlike AI software that parses through vast amounts of information in a database (like discovery), chatbots can understand, respond to, and generate conversational text based on the user’s input. The technology accesses the vast amounts of data on the internet through powerful neural networks (think software loosely designed based on neurons in the brain). The better the input from the user, the better, more precise the response. Popular chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Bing have hit the open market, allowing users to ask chatbots questions and receive comprehensive, human-like answers.
While it’s fun to ask Chat GPT to write a sonnet about your practice area or to create a bad lawyer joke[i], can you use ChatGPT and similar AI programs to actually help you do law-related work? The answer is yes, although we are still in the early trial and error days of using this technology in this manner. In forums like Reddit and Fishbowl, posts from lawyers note they’ve used AI to assist them with tasks like writing emails, memos, and even cover letters. Other posts note law students utilizing the technology to assist with writing essays. A law professor and legal writing expert fed the program ChatGPT focused questions and issues to ask the chatbot to write a legal brief.[ii] The University of Minnesota Law School had the chatbot answer law school exams, with the chatbot scoring an average of a C+.[iii] Even judges are using the chatbot! A jurist in Columbia asked the bot to answer legal questions posed in a case before him, and he included the bot’s answers alongside his own analysis of the issues.[iv] Lawyers can also use AI for things like internal office communications, like messages on apps like Slack. The day-to-day use of this technology by lawyers and legal professionals keeps growing the more experience users have working with it, so it’s important to think and understand about how these chatbots can make you and your work more efficient in order to keep you focused on revenue generating tasks.
While new AI technology is alluring and helpful, lawyers should approach this technology with some caution. Inaccurate or outdated information can occur, so it is important to always double check the work the bot produces. Nuance is also hard to generate via AI, and nuance is a vital component to making successful legal arguments. Checking for case citation accuracy and jurisdictional issues is also a must. And don’t forget about ethics when utilizing something like ChatGPT—obligations like privilege, privacy, and security can be at risk. For example, a recent attempt by a technology company to have a robot represent a California resident in court on a traffic citation case was thwarted by bar associations and others in the legal community who put a stop to it by threatening legal action against the company.[v]
Will bots take over the need for a real-life lawyer? Should you be worried you have crippling student loan debt that won’t ever go away because you’ll soon be flipping burgers or working retail? It’s not likely a bot can replace a human anytime soon. It’s hard to imagine how this would actually even work in a live courtroom setting. Judges, opposing counsel, evidentiary issues, and unprepared witnesses are difficult for a seasoned human attorney to account for, let alone a chatbot. But to ease our minds about AI technology taking our jobs, we asked ChatGPT a simple question: “Can you give me legal advice?” The answer (generated by ChatGPT):
I'm sorry, as an AI language model, I am not licensed to provide legal advice. Providing legal advice requires specialized knowledge and training that only a licensed attorney can provide. I suggest you consult with a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice regarding your specific legal issues.
So take heart, human lawyers. AI is not ready to take over your role (yet)!
[i] Generated from ChatGPT: “Why did the lawyer cross the road? To get to the other billable hour!”
[ii] (2023, February 28). ChatGPT writes a motion. https://write.law/writing-walkthroughs-chatgpt-motion-to-dismiss
[iii] Murphy Kelly, S. (2023, January 26). ChatGPT passes exams from law and business schools. https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/26/tech/chatgpt-passes-exams/index.html
[iv] Rubino, K. (2023, February 8). Judge Uses ChatGPT To Render Decision. https://abovethelaw.com/2023/02/judge-uses-chatgpt-to-render-decision
[v] Allyn, B. (2023, January 25). A robot was scheduled to argue in court, then came the jail threats. https://www.npr.org/2023/01/25/1151435033/a-robot-was-scheduled-to-argue-in-court-then-came-the-jail-threats
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