AI’s Impact on the Future Role of Lawyers

Posted by

With the advancement of AI models like ChatGPT, legal professionals are now witnessing the application of AI tools in various legal tasks. These tasks include research, e-discovery, due diligence, litigation prediction analytics, contract review/drafting, and document generation and management. Looking ahead, professionals are curious about the future role of lawyers.

While AI completely replacing attorneys is unlikely, the routine and generic legal work of the future may primarily be handled by AI. However, humans will still be essential in the legal industry, but their roles, skill sets, and specializations will need to complement the technology.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.1, establishes a duty of competence for lawyers that emphasizes the need to keep up with changes in the law and relevant technology. For lawyers utilizing artificial intelligence, this competence extends to understanding how AI works and ensuring accurate results.

An example illustrating this point is the case of two lawyers who used ChatGPT to generate a legal brief, only to discover later that the AI had cited six fake court cases, a phenomenon known as ‘hallucinations.’ AI models also face challenges related to bias, discrimination, incomplete or faulty data, lack of replicability, and lack of transparency.

Another significant ethical concern regarding AI in the legal field revolves around client confidentiality and data privacy. AI’s ability to access and learn from vast amounts of information raises questions about what data AI tools can access and store, as well as how the data will be protected. This issue becomes more critical when data is stored by third-party AI platforms, potentially accessible to others. Given these liability concerns, effective AI implementation will require substantial human oversight and interaction.

AI’s potential to replace a significant portion of legal work currently performed by associates, paralegals, and legal staff presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, young lawyers can bypass mundane tasks and engage in more substantial and sophisticated work at an earlier stage of their careers. On the other hand, law firms will need to adapt their training programs to equip young associates with skills and experiences that AI can replace. The transition from learning the basics to providing advice and counsel will require future leaders and firms to excel in deploying AI tools effectively, crafting optimal AI prompts, evaluating results, identifying biases, and leveraging their expertise to advise clients.

One appealing aspect of AI is its potential to free lawyers from labor-intensive tasks, allowing them to focus on more sophisticated and higher-value work. However, in an industry driven by billable hours, reducing the time spent on certain tasks can have drawbacks.

Furthermore, as law firms are likely to have smaller teams of associates in the future, the leverage provided by billable hours may decrease. The AI revolution is therefore expected to impact the billing structure of the legal industry, making value-based billing more favorable for both lawyers and clients.

Clients may question the need to pay an hourly rate for work that AI tools can accomplish in less time. They might opt for alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) offering the same services at a reduced cost. Meanwhile, attorneys will seek compensation based on their expertise and judgment—qualities that AI models struggle to provide.

As law firms adapt, their traditional pyramid-like hierarchies will flatten, and they will face increased competition from AI-driven tech companies operating as ALSPs. Law firms may also transform into tech companies, creating their own AI tools to offer as ‘Artificial Intelligence as a Service’ (AIaaS). This dynamic poses both significant opportunities and challenges within the legal industry.

The transformation triggered by AI will necessitate changes in the business model and value proposition of the legal industry. Law firms must position themselves as providers capable of leveraging AI tools, while still offering distinctly human capabilities. These capabilities, which AI cannot replicate, include building client relationships, advocating, empathizing, understanding specific client needs, providing discretionary judgment, and offering comprehensive advice.

To fit into this new AI paradigm, the legal industry must emphasize both technological development and the quality of higher-level human-to-human interactions. Firms need to assess how their traditional business models, compensation structures, and organizational dynamics align with the integration of AI, deciding whether to adapt or risk being left behind.