The Memo: Generative AI & the legal industry

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Generative AI & the legal industry

Erin Bradbury – 18 December 2023

Debate surrounding the use of artificial intelligence is by no means new, but it continues to develop rapidly across the spectrum of daily life and, unsurprisingly, the legal sector. The release of ChatGPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) by OpenAI in November arguably marked the opening of seemingly endless possibilities. So, the question on many minds now is: How should it be used? Well, (as some have unfortunately learnt the hard way) AI can produce inaccurate and biased information, as it is reliant on learning from inputs or internet sources. Some attorneys in New York were recently fined after submitting six false citations in an aviation industry claim. While certainly not a mistake you’d want to make, the use was not found to be ‘inherently improper’ by judge Peter Kevin Castel, “but the existing rules impose a gatekeeping role on attorneys to ensure the accuracy of their filings” (words to live by for any future lawyer).

On our side of the pond, the first known use of AI by a judge (to write part of Court of Appeal ruling) has been confirmed. Lord Justice Birss stated, “I’m taking full personal responsibility for what I put in my judgment, I am not trying to give the responsibility to somebody else. All it did was a task which I was about to do and which I knew the answer and could recognise as being acceptable.” Following which, the Judicial Office has issued guidance (the first of its kind) for judges across England and Wales – stating that the use of AI systems for basic work tasks is permissible. Of course, on the condition that any information that is not in the public domain isn’t to be entered into a public AI chatbot.

Beyond issues of accuracy, confidentiality is also a central concern. This summer, working with Microsoft, global law firm Dentons has launched its very own internal ChatGPT tool ‘fleetAI’, which has sought to address the issue directly. According to Dentons, no data uploaded will be used to train the tool, all data will be erased after 30 days, and it cannot be accessed by anyone outside of Dentons. So, for now, the tool will be used by lawyers to conduct legal research, generate content and identify relevant legal arguments. What’s more, future versions of the tool are already in development.

Yet not everyone is on the same journey. A Reuters report this year found although lawyers are very aware of generative AI, only 3% of respondents are actually using it, and 34% said that their firm is still on the fence about whether to use it in their legal operations. Concerns around the handling of confidential client information is frequently cited, but there are also concerns over how delivery and pricing could be impacted. Yet there’s little doubt that change is on the horizon, as firms continue to develop and launch their own legal tech, and expand opportunities in their teams.