I spent this week at the ABA TechShow, which is put on by the Law Practice Division of which I am current Chair. The Show was a rousing success.
Lots of hoopla about new artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, generative AI, neural networks, and large language models. Pablo Arredondo, CEO of Casetext, and I presented on the topic. Well, Pablo presented; I just tried to stay out of the way. Pablo is one of the few people who can talk about these tools in a way that even I can understand it.
His company this week announced a new AI tool called CoCounsel. According to Casetext, CoCounsel offers skills to handle both routine and sophisticated legal tasks—legal research memo drafting, deposition preparation, document review, and more.
CoCounsel and other new tools can read and write (At least in our (human) way of thinking. I know it’s not exactly what they do, but it’s what they seem to do). They can understand your questions the way we usually pose them and then respond back with intelligent answers. Want research done? Ask the program about it, and it will spit out an answer. Want some background information about something? Ask the tool, and it will provide it.
Of course, all the discussions and announcements strike fear in many lawyers and legal professionals. This fear is often borne of misunderstanding what the tools can and can’t do and concern that robots may take over what we do. There is so much information, hype, and miscommunication about these programs. It’s hard to get your arms around what these programs can and can’t do.
The natural reaction of many lawyers may be to throw up their hands and say forget it.
And the natural reaction of many lawyers may be to throw up their hands and say forget it. I’m just going to ignore all the hype and keep practicing like I always have. After all, there’s been talk of AI before, but nothing really came of it.
But sticking your head in the sand this time may be a mistake. It feels different. And after seeing what CoCounsel can do, I think it is different this time.
What’s The So What?
So why should lawyers pay attention to the new tools and scope out what they can and can’t do. Five reasons.
- These tools can do certain things better and faster than we humans can. Things like automating certain repetitive and time consuming tasks. AI tools can Analyze large data sets quickly and efficiently, quicker and better than humans. This in turn can help us see patterns and trends.The tools can Initially handle certain routine tasks (subject, of course, to human review). They can do the tedious kind of grunt work many of us had to do as young lawyers. Tasks that took time and for which we could often bill but tasks that did not necessarily require a legal education.
- Yes, having a machine do these tasks takes away from some of what we may have historically done. But that gives us more time to do the things machines are not good at or capable of, like formulating strategy. Resolving ambiguous information. Determining the best possible outcome, which after all, is what our clients are really after. And for us litigators, creating persuasive stories either in a courtroom, in a mediation, or even with our own clients. Marshaling facts in a certain way to make our points. Let’s face it. We are in the business of persuading other humans, not computers. These are things that most of us became lawyers to do. AI can give us more time to do what we are good at and what we are trained to do.
- There is also an ethical consideration for the use of AI and automation. Most of us are familiar with Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1. That Rule requires us to represent our clients competently. Comment 8 to 1.1 mandates that we be cognizant of the risks and benefits of technology relevant to our practices. The Rule and Comment suggest that before you run out and use a tool like ChatGPT, you better know its risks. You need to understand the chances that what it tells you while persuasive may be flat wrong. You need to have some idea how these programs and large language models work, at least from an overall conceptual standing. And there is another applicable Rule that we often forget about. Model Rule 1.5 prohibits us from charging unreasonable fees. AI tools can reduce costs by automating certain tasks. At some point, if not already, not properly using AI and computers to do certain work may result in an unreasonable fee. It’s unreasonable to charge for humans doing work a computer can do better.
- For lawyers who are solo or in smaller firms, these tools can make you more competitive with larger firms. Using machines to do some of the work on a matter lets you do what you do best. And make no mistake. The larger firms are using these tools. The behemoth global law firm Allen and Overy recently announced the creation of Harvey. Harvey uses technology to enable lawyers to create legal documents or perform legal research by providing simple natural language instructions. And more sophisticated clients are already expecting us to use tools that can save time and money.
- Being familiar with these tools and generally how they work allows us to be proactive with our practice. It enables us to better see where our practice and the world is going rather than being reactive once it gets there. And that can shape how and what we charge for, how and to whom we market, and who we hire and for what.
Shows like TechShow provide a great opportunity to learn about the risks and benefits and applicability of AI products.
Will Robots Replace Us Lawyers?
There are often cries and worries that robots and AI will replace lawyers. But that’s misguided, at least for the foreseeable future. As discussed above, there are things we do that machines can’t. And may never will. Strategy. Outcomes. They lack the human judgment, intuition, and creativity that are essential for more complex legal tasks.
The lawyers that will be replaced are the ones that don’t use these tools.
And much of what we do involves interpersonal relations. Communicating with other human beings with care and empathy. Providing reassurance and guidance in ways that invoke trust. Building relationship. That a machine can’t do
And for us litigators, there is another reason it will be difficult for machines to replace us. As I said before, we are in the business of creating and telling persuasive stories. Marshaling facts in creative and persuasive ways. We tell our stories not to computers but to other humans.
Certainly, partnering with AI tools will help us tell our stories and make our judgments. It will give us more time. It will provide us with better insights. Partnering with AI will help us be better and more effective lawyers, Just like we have seen in so many other businesses and professions. For a good description of this partnering, see Paul Daugherty and H. James Nelson’s book Human + Machine.
And as I mentioned in a recent post, as Richard Susskind puts it, clients increasingly want us to achieve best outcomes. AI can help us do that by identifying and reducing the uncertainty associated with the various options. But picking the best one will still be a peculiarly human one.
So will AI replace lawyers? No. But as my good friend Pablo Arendondo recently put it, “the lawyers that will be replaced are the ones that don’t use these tools.”
And that’s a very good reason to be familiar with what’s out there.