The future of artificial intelligence: Robots are coming — or are they?
As we discussed in Part 1 of this series on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal profession, ChatGPT and other generative AI tools are quickly becoming a routine part of the practice of law, from research to drafting to contract negotiations, just to name a few. Because of the power of generative AI to create vs. regurgitate and interact with the user in ways that mimic human interaction, lawyers are far more ready to adopt and use these tools than they were five or six years ago when AI first came on the legal scene.
We are now truly on the cusp of a revolution in the legal profession led by the adoption of ChatGPT and generative AI (GenAI) throughout the legal industry, but in particular by in-house lawyers. Much like how email changed how we do business every day, generative AI will become ubiquitous — an indispensable assistant to practically every lawyer.
But what is the future of generative AI in the legal industry? A bigger question is whether ChatGPT and generative AI could actually replace lawyers, as the quote above suggests. If so, are there ethical or moral dilemmas lawyers should consider regarding GenAI and the legal industry? A few things are certain when considering the future of AI in the industry. First, those who do not adopt and embrace the AI revolution will be left behind. Second, those who embrace generative AI will ultimately find themselves freed up to do the two things there always seem to be too little time for: thinking and advising. With that, welcome to the second of a four-part series on AI.
Robot lawyer army?
In the first installment, I wrote about what ChatGPT and generative AI are, how they work, and their general impact on the legal industry and technology. In this article, I will tackle whether generative AI will replace lawyers.
In short, I am sorry to disappoint anyone who had visions of unleashing a horde of mechanical robot lawyers to lay waste to their enemies via a mindless rampage of bone-chilling logic and “robo-litigation.” That isn’t happening, but it does paint a pretty cool picture of the robot lawyer army I’ve always wanted. Instead, what most likely will happen are three things:
1. Certain legal professionals’ roles may change and they could see shifts in their responsibilities, particularly those primarily focused on tasks such as document review, summarization, or preliminary legal research.
2. AI will create jobs, including legal engineers for managing and developing generative AI, prompt engineering for writing AI prompts, and generative AI work product — because lawyers can never concede the final say or the provision of legal advice to AI.
3. The benefits of AI will free lawyers from mundane tasks that build to the value-added task of analyzing results, thinking, and advising their clients — these roles will always require the human touch. In this regard, generative AI will be a valuable tool to help lawyers do all of this better, faster, and cost-effectively.
Here are some additional reasons why in-house lawyers should take comfort that their jobs are secure:
- First, the bar will not allow generative AI to replace lawyers; the practice of law will require humans in some capacity, no matter what.
- Second, lawyers must validate everything generative AI spits out, which is another reason the bar won’t allow AI to replace lawyers.
- Third, ChatGPT, for example, does not understand context, nor can it discern whether users need it to come up with the answer they want versus the correct legal answer. That is, right versus wrong, but also, as Charles Spurgeon said, right versus almost right. Generative AI can mimic humans but cannot engage in critical thinking; it lacks judgment. Yet another reason lawyers are critical to practicing law
- Fourth, most clients will want to talk to a person, not a chatbot, regarding legal questions. The CEO will not type questions into a chatbot to get advice about bet-the-company litigation — they want their legal team at the table.
- Fifth, the day the scope of work performed by lawyers can be reduced to a list of mindless, automatable tasks is not a day I see showing up any time soon.
Lawyering requires human-to-human interaction, creativity, language processing at the highest level, a deep understanding of how society works, and a personal experience that only humans can attain. Given that only 22% of a lawyer’s time is subject to automation, most lawyers’ jobs should be safe now. If that percentage changes significantly or the abilities of GenAI dramatically increase, then the potential for technology disruption in the legal industry could be much larger than anticipated today.
The better news, however, is that, as a tool, generative AI should eventually make your life easier and allow legal departments to increase efficiency without adding — or cutting — headcount and without having to invest large sums of money. ChatGPT and generative AI are tools you can use to streamline tasks and reduce the amount of mundane work you must deal with — for example, creating a company-specific AI chatbot to answer frequently asked questions — and instead, free you to work on complex, high-value projects where you truly show your value. Still, nothing is 100% guaranteed, so don’t rest on your laurels here. It’s good to be a little afraid that you might be replaced — even with a machine.
All of this tells us that while GenAI is likely a game changer in many ways, it will most likely transform the work done by legal professionals rather than eliminate that work — at least for the foreseeable future. As our population ages and more people head into retirement than are joining the workforce, the likely shortage of lawyers can be addressed, in part, through generative AI. Similarly, the use of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools may well drive down the cost of legal services, either in terms of the manpower needs of the in-house legal department or the cost of obtaining services from outside law firms.
With ChatGPT and generative AI, the future of AI in the legal profession is brighter than ever before. After several false starts, this incredibly powerful technology can assist legal professionals to do things faster, better, and cheaper. The existing technology may be somewhat limited for now — and I will discuss its shortcomings in later installments of this series — but the possibilities are intriguing, and the availability, quality, and price make ChatGPT and generative AI hard to resist for legal departments. If nothing else, the possibility of providing in-house lawyers with more time to think and advise will change the game for the procurement and delivery of legal services. We are only at the beginning; we have yet to see the full impact of generative AI on the legal industry.
The next installment of this series discusses the practical application of AI to the practice of law by legal departments.