Shana Simmons is the chief legal officer at Everlaw, a collaborative, cloud-based ediscovery and investigation platform. Views are the author’s own.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is once again top of mind for the legal profession, sparked in large part by the release of ChatGPT, a large language model (LLM) generative AI tool that reportedly aced the Uniform Bar Exam. It also did OK on the LSAT.
Generative AI tools quickly catalyzed all manner of criminal enterprise, too, from an onslaught of phishing emails to voice-cloning kidnap scams and deepfake music.
Most worrisome for legal professionals, ChatGPT generated fake cases that were cited in a legal brief filed in federal court.
As controversy continues to swirl, the essential question for lawyers is clear: Will generative AI technologies be a flash in the pan or truly transform the legal profession for the better?
Like every case ever litigated, there are two sides to this story.
Let’s explore how AI can be a friend of legal professionals, as well as five steps to mitigate the inherent risks of using artificial intelligence in the practice of law.
AI as friend
Some legal professionals may be surprised to find out that artificial intelligence technology is already at work in many corporate legal departments, deployed in core systems such as contract lifecycle management (CLM) and ediscovery.
AI can dramatically boost the efficiency of small teams, eliminating manual contract workflows and tedious document review. And not a moment too soon — traditional approaches to both of these tasks border on impossible in today’s high-velocity, highly communicative business environment.
Artificial intelligence can also do more than make existing legal processes more efficient. Unleashed on corporate data, AI algorithms can produce insights that radically improve the way key functions are performed.
Picking up the previous examples, CLM software can analyze every aspect of contract data, identifying risks, costs, abnormalities and areas for improvement.
Similarly, ediscovery allows in-house legal departments to quickly pinpoint key evidence across all documents and communications, speeding response, saving time and fundamentally improving litigation posture.
AI’s ability to analyze data and automate inefficient tasks could be a breakthrough for law firms as well.
In the short term, generative AI has the promise to effectively summarize, aggregate and contextualize many millions of documents.
In the long term, AI-powered ediscovery platforms have great potential to speed case development, using unsupervised machine learning technology to precisely cluster key findings.
Furthermore, LLMs can wield unprecedented power to supercharge legal research, and proofread and correct errors more accurately than any human.
Mitigating AI risk
Of course, the use of AI does not come without risks for legal professionals.
One of the most common mistakes generative AI users can make is to accept any findings as the absolute truth. ChatGPT’s “hallucinations” are well known and other AI tools can also produce answers that are wrong.
Legal professionals or colleagues in other business units also could mistakenly share confidential corporate data with a generative AI tool and potentially see it become public.
With these risks and others in mind, industry experts are hard at work developing a reference framework to provide guidance on how the legal world can address the impacts of generative AI.
In the meantime, corporate legal departments and law firms can adopt best practices to manage the inherent risk of AI in legal work and get the most benefit from this incendiary technology.
1. Embrace a growth mindset
Having a “growth mindset” became trendy almost a decade ago. Incorporating artificial intelligence into the legal workplace presents an ideal opportunity to revisit the concept.
According to Harvard Business Review, individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is more about actions than words.
Individually, lawyers can embrace the idea that AI is a tool to help develop their talents, not threaten them.
Organizations can support lawyers’ professional growth by creating policies and committing resources to harness their ideas for AI innovation.
2. Make it part of the job
Support for lawyers’ AI adoption starts with making it an organizational priority.
No matter how small or large an in-house team or firm may be, in accordance with ABA guidelines, technology exploration should be a core responsibility of every practitioner.
Legal ops plays a critical role in assessing AI options from both technical and practical standpoints; these specialists also will work to gain the buy-in of each function in the department or firm.
3. Develop an AI governance framework
To feel comfortable with using AI, lawyers need to know the opportunities and boundaries to use it within their work.
An AI governance framework should contain both broad guidance and specific instruction for key use cases.
Given the speed at which the technology is evolving, the AI governance framework should be reviewed and updated quarterly.
4. Evaluate opportunities for AI and start small
Legal teams should develop a staged rollout of AI within the legal organization, identifying opportunities to employ AI and building a roadmap for adoption.
It’s best to employ AI within a trusted legal software platform rather than piecemeal off-the-shelf or open-source applications.
Some AI has been tried-and-tested for years, such as clustering and predictive coding, and already integrated into legal software platforms.
When relying on a third–party legal software platform, it is important to have the right data protections in place.
5. Check the AI’s work
Depending on the task, lawyers should check work performed by generative AI as they would any junior legal professional before submitting it to any third party or relying on it to make any decision or take any action.
In-house departments and law firms alike must evolve, using AI- and data-driven transformation to bring new value to their role in the business.
Unleashing the legal organization’s growth mindset, within the guardrails of an AI governance framework, will encourage this newest wave of innovation to take flight.