AI in the legal profession and its impact on small law firms

AI in the legal profession and its impact on small law firms

There have been many debates and discussions about AI and the legal sector recently, and rightly so. In just two months of launching, over 100 million users flocked to ChatGPT (an AI chatbot). This coupled with an influx of users on other AI platforms can certainly not be ignored.

The big question is, will it replace or benefit lawyers? And how can small law firms best leverage any advantages? 

In the Bellwether 2023 report, we spoke to small law firms and sole practitioners to get their perspectives on AI-powered technology.

How will AI impact the legal profession? 

A unique perspective is that it will undoubtedly generate a lot of work for some as the use of open AI sources rapidly increases. "We shall see loads of litigation arising from a monkey in charge," says Ashkhan Candey, Managing Partner of litigation law firm, Candey. 
When asked whether they would consider 'using open AI sources such as ChatGPT for legal sources in place of free and/or paid sources, such as Lexis+AI, in the future', only 24% of participants in the Bellwether 2023 report said yes. Exactly a quarter said they wouldn't consider it.
However, just over half were still unsure whether or not they鈥檇 even consider using open AI sources in general. Maybe not surprising for a notoriously risk-averse industry. 
We asked the 24% who said they would consider using open AI sources what level of risk they would be comfortable accepting in exchange for convenience and accessibility. The majority thought a low level of risk reasonable for accessing inaccurate or incomplete sources.
鈥 73% said they'd accept a level of risk up to 25%
鈥 85% said they'd accept a level of risk up to 50%
鈥 90% said they'd accept a level of risk up to 75%
For 57% of respondents answering  "yes" or "I don't know," a risk beyond 20% is considered unacceptable. 

So, what are the potential opportunities or benefits to lawyers in using AI? 

Our recent report, Generative AI and the Future of the Legal Profession, found over 80% of the 1,176 lawyers surveyed believe generative AI tools will increase efficiency for legal professionals.  

This is matched by the want to increase efficiency from legal professionals. When asked about the specific ways they'd like to use generative AI tools, the top three desires from more than half of respondents were; to increase efficiency, to research matters and to draft documents.

Not only do generative AI tools hold the potential to save lawyers at smaller firms a lot of time, there is clear internal motivation to embrace this change.
In the Bellwether 2023 report, Debbie Sumner said, "The legal sector needs generative AI solutions that can search, summarise, and draft documents from trusted, authoritative legal sources instead of the open web."
Mike Walsh, CEO of 成人影音 Legal & Professional, began thinking about how long before the rise of ChatGPT. 成人影音 knew that AI-based technologies had tremendous potential by using them for many years. "Generative AI makes all kinds of things possible," he says.
In Jamie Buckley's, Chief Product Officer at 成人影音 Legal & Professional view, these technologies can eliminate much of the "drudge work" associated with legal research, document drafting, and other central tasks, and allow lawyers to focus on adding value with their expertise, from their judgment, context, and understanding. 
Find out more about .

Users beware 

Alison Rees-Blanchard, TMT Specialist at 成人影音 UK, points out that users of open AI platforms do so at their own risk. There are no indemnities. And there definitely are risks. 
For example, who owns the intellectual property of the output? Users of outputs of generative AI models should keep in mind that the training data used in the model is likely to be subject to copyright. The outputs may also contain extracts that are the same as or similar to the original training data, which may be subject to the original author's copyright. 
Julia Dickenson, Of Counsel at Baker McKenzie, comments, "There is a distinction between contractual ownership of content, and whether there are in fact any intellectual property rights in that content. So, for example, generative AI will often provide that each user 'owns' their output, but this is different from whether the output is protected by intellectual property rights (e.g. copyright) and is also different from whether that output infringes any third-party intellectual property rights".
Another huge risk is that AI models can hallucinate. The output is highly convincing but wholly made up by the system. New York Times recently reported on exactly how ChatGPT
"Relying on open AI, in its current state, for legal sources or to generate documents could do lawyers more harm than good," says Sumner, Go-To-Market Advisor at 成人影音.
Opensource models that draw widely on the mass of information available worldwide can be wrong, and worse still, they can be wrong with remarkable confidence.
Thankfully, that risk can be mitigated with the right kind of generative AI model, says Buckley, who has been overseeing the incorporation of AI and machine learning into products like Lexis+ for years.

What about ethics and AI at work? 

AI undoubtedly has a number of efficient uses, especially around analysing data. However, this comes with significant ethical issues. 成人影音 Market Tracker Insights looked at how efficiency should be balanced with ethics when using AI in the workplace.

For example, in employee management and the use of AI monitoring. Could it lead to a blurring of the boundaries between home and work? The lack of transparency in using such AI systems is a significant concern.

Binder Bansel, Partner at Pennington Manches Cooper specialising in trade union law, stated the importance of employees understanding the role and effect of AI at their workplace. 

"Employees should be informed about how AI might change their workplace, how it affects their work and the issues to be aware of to ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place." 
Although there is no specific regulatory guidance about applying AI in the workplace, employers are bound by existing legal obligations around fairness and transparency. 

Eilidh Wood, Associate at Burger Salmon, says, "The developing AI technology presents huge opportunities, as well as risks, to employers and employees. Businesses who are looking to maximise the opportunities afforded by AI technology will need to consider the impact on their employees, and HR/People teams will also play a crucial role in ensuring that AI systems can be implemented responsibly and ethically, and with the buy-in from employees and trade unions, where they are involved".

AI provides a number of opportunities to improve efficiency and productivity but there are a number of ethical considerations that must be acknowledged and dealt with alongside any implementation of technology. There has to be a clear understanding and defined boundaries in place. 

Will AI ultimately replace lawyers? 

In our article, , Joel Murray, Attorney of McKean Smith, says "I do not see AI replacing an attorney." 

Ashley B. Armstrong, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, noted that generative AI, which predicts text based on the information that exists when it is trained, simply can't replace human lawyers when it comes to taking the law in new directions, at least for now. 

"Reaffirming the status quo is not going to help move the needle," she says, pointing to the importance of arguing for fresh interpretations of established laws to improve systems and combat injustice. Generative AI, at this moment in time, she adds, can't replace innovative thought or human creativity. 
"There's a catchphrase making the rounds right now," says Greg Lambert, Chief Knowledge Officer at Jackson Walker LLP. "AI won't replace lawyers, but lawyers who use AI will replace lawyers who don't."

AI certainly will save a great deal of time for lawyers at smaller firms, but a lot of trust will have to be established to convince a risk-averse industry to place its faith in open AI.

Read the full Bellwether 2023 report to discover more about AI in the legal profession and its impact on small law firms. 

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About the author:
Mohammad consults law firms on how they can go about implementing a legal technology roadmap to increase profitability and reduce risk.