Exploring the Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Legal Sector

hologram of scales of justice with ai Most of America, and everyone in the legal profession, has already heard the story: a lawyer representing a client in a personal injury suit against Avianca airlines in 2023 used ChatGPT to help write a brief in the case. The AI chatbot, happy to help, spit out a perfectly written and well-reasoned documents supporting the case. It was peppered with the requisite legal citations to further make the argument.

Many of the citations were to cases that didn’t exist.

The lawyer and a partner, as well as their law firm, were slapped with fines and sanctions over the matter. They weren’t alone. Other legal professionals with the same bright idea and a lack of understanding of how ChatGPT works didn’t get the news in time and similarly landed in hot water.

But if that looks like a pretty rocky start for generative AI in the world of law, don’t be fooled. A completely transformative kind of technology that can apply logic and reason and talk your ear off is one that will absolutely have an impact on the practice of law.

What Is AI in the Legal Profession Leading Toward?

ai hologram on cpu chipArtificial intelligence is a technology that can apply human-level logical analysis to problems that computers traditionally can’t easily solve, and develop new insights and abilities through machine learning.

The current wave of amazing AI tools owe most of their abilities to huge volumes of data that they are trained on. The resulting large language models (LLMs) have an incredible talent in natural language processing as a result. They draw logic from the extensive statistical relationships found in all that text.

The law, of course, is almost entirely rooted in logic and language. Despite a few hallucinations along the way, that means LLMs will almost certainly have a tremendous impact in the legal world.

AI in Law Will Raise as Many Questions as It Answers

lawyer shaking hands with ai handIt might be more accurate to say that AI will have a number of different impacts in the world of law. Although generative AI will certainly change how lawyers, paralegals, judges, and law firms approach their work, it will be equally transformative in what they work on.

AI introduces a whole range of novel legal questions that will have to be worked out as it takes more and more of a role in life and business. At the rate it is expanding into both personal and professional realms, they will have to be worked out soon.

So on top of the impacts of simply using new legal AI tools, many people in the legal profession will see changes in the types of cases they confront, and the strategies and tactics used to work on them.

A History of Technology in the Legal Profession

Precedent and tradition are key features of American legal practice. That has made the legal world slow to adopt new technologies over time.

Time and again, however, resistance to technical tools has broken down in the face of the large amount of information and the importance of pinning down every last detail. Document handling and search have been the killer features.

AI is a huge improvement even on those revolutionary changes in the practice of law. While lawyers today have to know what they are looking for, AI can make connections between different cases that are novel and insightful. In fact, humans might never spot them alone.

That’s before you even get to the various other types of process automation that AI can take on in law offices and corporations. The business of law is like any other business: a lot of routine transactions have to be managed from day to day.

AI can also take many assumptions and biases out of legal practice. And it will do so with an efficiency and accessibility that can improve access to legal help for millions of people who currently make do without.

It’s a field ripe for the benefits of artificial intelligence.

AI in Legal Practice Process Automation

In between stacks of court documents, client records, and the all-important invoice and time-tracking documentation that law firms rely on, there’s a lot of information moving around in the average law firm every day.

Document management software is already critical to keeping those processes moving. But adding AI can make it happen more smoothly and with less oversight from staff. AI-powered practice management tools will be able to make connections from unstructured data. They may recognize that something seems off with the billing records for a particular case and prompt the lawyers and paralegals to check their time sheets. They can automatically send out invoices and follow up on retainer agreements with clients.

They may also take on tedious client onboarding tasks. With the flexibility and knowledge to adapt as they go, they can both ask questions and explain the firm’s processes to new customers… taking that off the plate of a harried paralegal.

AI in Legal Research and Discovery

ai legal robotsAI will also have a big role to play in one of the single most time-consuming parts of legal work today: research.

Both diving into legal code and the reams of caselaw that has addressed it over time is crucial to any well-built case. Similarly, the discovery process, going through documents and records specifically related to the facts of a case, is what legal arguments are built on.

As more and more data are collected in the world, discovery has already become a challenge tapping into the leading edge of data science. Machine learning algorithms sift through information to find relevant points for legal review. AI will make those processes faster and more accurate.

AI tools for legal research can also benefit judges when it comes to checking citations and exploring precedent in similar cases.

Most AI tools for lawyers available today fall into this category. AI legal research tools are already being incorporated into popular platforms like Westlaw. They come with up-to-date access to new cases, statutes, and regulations, and allow lawyers and paralegals to phrase queries in plain English without fear of missing out on a relevant data point.

AI in Legal Industry Practice and Processes

For a machine with a gift of gab, nothing is more natural than settling in to making extensive legal arguments. Lawyers already rely on many technological tools in the process of drafting briefs, complaints, and contracts. AI will take that to the next level, essentially working as autocomplete for entire court filings.

But it will also enter into legal practice in new and innovative ways. AI has the potential to serve as a genuine partner in litigation and advising. Reasoning skills and a vast depth of information on tap make it a tireless senior partner, loaded with new ideas, alternative arguments, and obscure citations.

This is also a function that will pop up in the business world, government, and the judiciary. New AI legal tools will find uses outside law firms, spreading expertise and advice in new ways and to more people than ever.

Using AI in the Law for Tactics and Litigation Analysis

AI in litigation work may end up making or breaking cases as advisory tools suggest legal tactics faster than the opposition can counter them.

Big legal cases are complex systems. Entire teams of lawyers have a tough time sticking to the same page and developing plans to tie everything together. But AI comes with the potential to see the big picture at all times. It can help with things like:

  • Suggesting specific defenses
  • Finding critical citations to develop novel legal theories with
  • Assisting with jury selection and developing effective arguments
  • Assessing judicial bias and recommending strategies

With a sophisticated ability to simulate complex outcomes baked right into machine learning legal tools, they may even have a place in assessing cases long before the first complaint is filed. If poor outcomes are forecast, millions of dollars can be saved before going to court.

Artificial Intelligence in Court Decision Making

AI in the legal field has already made surprising inroads in some of the most difficult parts of the process: making important, life-changing legal decisions.

A tool known as the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, or COMPAS, has been in use in court systems across the country since at least 2010. Based on proprietary algorithms, it weighs the risk of recidivism and can be used to guide sentencing and pre-trial release.

In the future, this trend is likely to continue not just in criminal law, but also in civil cases and other legal work. AI may be able to assess potential liabilities in commercial business deals and to review contract language for hidden pitfalls.

Artificial Intelligence in Law Leads to a Shifting Landscape

washington, dc regulationsAll this adoption of AI in law firms and the legal system is bound to make bigger waves. While it will change how lawyers and paralegals perform their work from day to day, it’s also going to create an entirely new landscape for legal practice.

One area that could see a quick change may be in accessibility. With chatbots primed on decades of caselaw and every relevant rule and regulation, there might not be much need for a middle-man for clients looking for a quick hit of legal advice. People are already asking ChatGPT about small-claims cases. But dedicated legal chatbots with data shaped for the job can offer quick, inexpensive, and helpful guidance to people who may otherwise be able to afford a lawyer.

Particularly in areas like immigration law and basic code compliance, generative AI in legal tech may completely open up good advice to populations that could never afford it before.

AI in Legal Services Firms Will Spread Widely

robotic hand helping signingAI in legal services will ramp up quickly. Since developing legal AI is a very specialized area of expertise, and training costs are prohibitive, probably the first exposure many legal professionals will have to the technology will be through dedicated artificial intelligence in legal services.

In part, these will be centralized services that cater to small and mid-sized firms, or even individual lawyers. They will offer AI search, drafting, and other kinds of specialized tools for law firms.

But it’s also likely that more and more such services will be aimed directly at the public. There are already many internet-based organizations that assist with basic templates for contracts, business formation, or establishing wills and trusts.

AI will fuel those services with even more capabilities. Through natural language Q&A, their systems may be able to help out with more complex areas like:

  • Filing in small claims court
  • Establishing more complex business and trust entities
  • Crafting living wills and medical directives for all circumstances

They’ll also move out into various specialized areas of the law, such as immigration, where big demand but limited funding makes it tough for people to get qualified assistance today.

Court Systems and Other Government Branches Will Dive Into Legal AI

robotic arm with gavelThe need for fairness and impartiality in the application of AI, particularly in judgements, will also mean that the government will probably play a role in AI in court. While judges aren’t likely to trade in their robes for Tevas and shorts to go into software development, rules and guidelines are going to be handed down for how AI may be used in the legal system.

In fact, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts has already started to address uses of AI in the law in his annual 2023 year-end report on the state of the American judiciary. The more popular AI become in the legal system, the more official guidance will be offered.

On top of providing oversight for private uses of AI, it’s just as likely that overworked prosecutor’s offices and courts will be adopting systems to help them process filings and move cases through faster.

The Future of AI in Law Will Have to Address Ethics and Bias Issues

ai versus human brain in scales of justiceThere’s already been plenty of debate about the ethics of incorporating AI tools into legal matters. Clearly, using generative AI in law without checking its work is an ethical no-go. And AI in the courtroom has gotten some stiff questions and criticism over issues of bias and fairness. COMPAS, in particular, was roundly criticized in a 2016 analysis by ProPublica.

These are just the first of many pitfalls that the legal profession will have to sort through on the way to making AI a trusted and valuable partner. The law is the very mechanism through which society attempts to establish fairness and equity. To have legal AI tools that don’t uphold that ideal is a road no one wants to go down.

AI used in legal practice will have to hold to the highest standards of ethics and fairness to be accepted by the public.

On the other hand, this is exactly where the tradition and precedent of law comes in handy. Legal education is filled with coursework and guidance on ethics and propriety. While that training can’t be duplicated in building new AI tools, it will be an important resource for the lawyers and paralegals using those tools. Their judgement will guide appropriate uses of new technology.

And although AI algorithms certainly have the potential to carry human bias with them, they are also a place where some such biases can be weeded out. While an AI may incorporate a systemic bias against certain groups in society, it avoids individual or situational bias. So, for example, where a judge or jury might naturally feel hatred and revulsion in a particularly horrific case, an algorithm will remain dispassionate and able to assess facts without such emotion.

The Use of AI in Law Is Going to Become a Critical Piece of Legal Education

sustainable future of human lawyersThese are all complex subjects. But the law is full of complexity, and a legal education has long been designed to create graduates who are experts in critical thinking and applying logic and rationality to any case that comes before them.

A JD isn’t going to come with the sort of technical expertise required to build an AI from the ground up. But it’s a great general purpose education to help evaluate the performance and use of those tools. Law students are trained to work their way through complex matters and to use creativity and analysis to find answers. That’s exactly the sort of skillset that will be critical in adapting to the use of artificial intelligence in the legal field.

The use of AI in legal services is coming on quickly. Be sure that you get the kind of education you need to handle it.