Over the past few weeks, quite a number of lawyers have asked me, somewhat jokingly: “Will there still be a job for me to do in a couple of years?” I feel compelled to answer this question here because I disagree with most of the answers likely to be given.
As technology continues to advance, legal professionals are starting to explore the potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the study and practice of law in a classical rendition of the aphorism “talk to the wall and it’ll talk back to you”. The legal profession is no stranger to the rise of AI, and its impact is only expected to intensify in the upcoming years. One example of this is ChatGPT, a natural language generation model developed by the tech company OpenAI. This model can generate human-like text based on a given input, and it has been used for a variety of applications, including legal research and document generation.
Let’s leave the question of the AI singularity alone for now. Instead, I think that deep learning efforts at Google and elsewhere are making AI systems learn faster and faster, with a growing rate of acceleration. Advanced AI can now address increasingly complex tasks. In the ordinary course, technology replaces human labour, and enough technology destroys human jobs and even entire industries. That’s pretty much the entire record of our economy from the industrial revolution onwards. It’s not as if anything else out there in the world faintly resembles how things used to be. I think that there is little that is out of reach for advanced AI of the future.
So, projecting into the future, we can ask the question, can generative AI upend all our preconceived notions about scarcity and abundance in the legal services sector? That’s one reason to look into the future and think hard about new opportunities for lawyers. Will ChatGPT replace lawyers? I keep hearing this question and it fascinates me because I think it really speaks to the legal profession’s insecurities. This article thus takes us into the future of legal practice where AI is deeply ingrained and analyzes the scale of impact of this generative AI on the legal profession.
For most lawyers, our entire professional functionality is rooted in our expertise with knowledge and our fluency with words. We understand the law, we apply the law to facts, and we analyze the results in order to reach an actionable conclusion. We create untold types of documentation and correspondence, with language precisely arranged, deployed, and manipulated to obtain for our clients the results they want. And now someone has gone and invented a knowledge and words machine that does all of those things, in hardly any time at all. Why would we not be alarmed? There’s a reason why “legal services” is #1 on this list of industries most at risk of disruption from generative AI.
In a post-AI legal world, the role of AI in the legal system may have changed significantly. Firstly, the use of AI in the legal system could lead to a significant increase in efficiency and accuracy. AI systems could be used to analyze large volumes of legal documents, extract relevant information, and identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent to human lawyers. This could speed up the legal process and reduce the likelihood of errors and oversights.
Secondly, AI systems, being more advanced, would be able to carry out many of the tasks traditionally performed by human lawyers and judges. This could include everything from drafting legal documents and contracts to making decisions in court cases. As a result, the legal profession may have undergone significant changes, with fewer human lawyers and judges needed to perform certain tasks. However, there would still likely be a need for human oversight and intervention in many cases, as well as a need for legal experts to interpret and analyze the decisions and actions of AI systems.
The legal profession is about to go through what manufacturing already has. In the next few years, legally trained generative AI will replace lawyer labour on a scale we have never seen before. An enormous amount of lawyer activity consists of researching, analyzing, writing, developing arguments, critiquing counter-claims, and drafting responses. A machine has now come along that does most of these things, much faster than we do. Today, the machine needs lawyers to carefully review its efforts. Within a few years, I doubt it will.
In light of the foregoing, AI will revolutionize the following areas of the law in a post-AI legal world:
(1). Document review in Litigation: AI eDiscovery algorithms work by learning how a firm reviews documents and sorting out relevant terms, topics, and other criteria. Once AI software knows what to look for, it can suggest important documents and areas of interest within the content.
(2). Legal Research: General search terms can yield thousands of case results, proving useless to a busy lawyer. AI improves searches because it learns what a lawyer needs. The more data and information a lawyer provides to narrow the scope, the more the AI tailors the information.
(3). Due Diligence: Due diligence can vary widely in its breadth and depth. Generally speaking, it’s a time-consuming process of gathering documents, relevant data, communications, and other vital information. Lawyers can use or customize AI to search provided documentation and information, extract key points, and organize everything for a thorough review. They can cut contract review time by up to 60 percent by using AI.
(4). Contract management: For lawyers who regularly deal with large volumes of contracts, contract management is a must. Artificial intelligence provides a fast and efficient method to organize, track, and negotiate contracts. AI collects data over time to help lawyers draw conclusions, create future contract strategies, and discover new insights within the contract terms. AI software provides lawyers with more confidence in contract negotiations and leads to better outcomes for clients.
(5). Litigation prediction: Artificial intelligence takes prediction to the next level. AI can analyze similar cases with similar facts and provide a statistical analysis to predict litigation outcomes accurately. This tool allows lawyers to confidently advise clients on how and if to move forward with litigation.
The promised restitution for this destruction/revolution, the quid pro quo, is that the technology will also create new opportunities for human activity. Often it does, but not always — and the people who fill those new opportunities aren’t always the same ones whose jobs the technology destroyed. According to Jevons Paradox, during the first Industrial Revolution, economist William Stanley Jevon saw how technology was making coal usage more efficient, which led to more coal usage! Why? Because efficient technology made coal effectively cheaper to run, leading to more possible users, counterintuitively incurring overall coal consumption. Likewise, when 40 years ago we could send 5 letters a day, now we can easily send about 100 emails a day. More efficient delivery of high value resources such as legal advice will similarly result in greater consumption. As AI becomes more efficient, the demand for its services will only increase. This means that instead of replacing jobs, AI will actually generate more work and open up new avenues for legal professionals to explore. However, this is no easy feat. The Kenyan educational system is struggling to meet the demand created by advanced technology today.
However, there are also potential downsides to the use of AI in the legal system. For example, there is a risk that AI systems could perpetuate biases and discrimination that already exist within the legal system. If the data used to train these systems contains biases or reflects historical inequalities, the AI system could perpetuate these biases and lead to unfair outcomes.
There is also the question of who should be held responsible when AI systems make mistakes. If an AI system makes an error that leads to a negative outcome for a client, who should be held accountable – the AI system itself, the human programmers who designed it, or the legal firm that used the system? These are complex questions that would need to be addressed in a post-AI legal world.
Another potential challenge is the regulation and oversight of AI systems in the legal system. There may be a need for new laws and regulations that address issues such as data privacy, cybersecurity, and accountability for AI systems. Policymakers may also need to develop new ethical frameworks to guide the development and use of AI in the legal system.
There may also be new legal challenges and ethical considerations to address in a post-AI legal world. For example, how do we ensure that AI systems are making fair and unbiased decisions, and how do we hold them accountable when they make mistakes? What role should humans play in overseeing and regulating AI systems in the legal sphere?
In conclusion, since ChatGPT is still very young, it’s quite foolish to try drawing any firm conclusions from such scant evidence, and I won’t try. But I can’t shake the feeling that someday, we’ll divide the history of legal services into “Before ChatGPT” and “After ChatGPT.” I think it’s that big. What I do know, or at least believe strongly, is that we as humans have been given the awesome gift of being the most advanced species on our own planet with many different and diverse and complex individual personalities. Our ability to communicate, share information, learn from mistakes, make rational decisions and increase our standard of living is exponentially better than any of the species on the planet. The future of lawyer work is personal. We’ll provide value not primarily (maybe not at all) through our knowledge of the law or our ability to perform “lawyer tasks,” but through direct, sincere, and empathetic connections with people. We’ll meet, engage, listen, understand, diagnose, collaborate, discuss, recommend, and confirm with people. We’ll advocate, negotiate, accompany, assess, advise, counsel, mentor, plan, and strategize with people.
I think law firms will have to fundamentally re-examine what they’re going to sell and what they organize their culture around. And I think that lawyers will need to re-imagine who we are, what we do, and what we’re for because it shouldn’t be this easy for a machine to become a magic wand when pointed at the legal profession. I absolutely believe AI will not replace lawyers in the future. But if somehow that happens, at least in the near future, it will say more about us than it does about AI. So, to all lawyers out there, don’t fear but embrace this new technology and look for ways to incorporate it into your work.
The author is a fourth year law student from JKUAT-Karen Campus.