It seems like every day, there is a new vendor survey about what’s happening in the legal marketplace. Sometimes, these are designed to reveal a result that the vendor thinks will help sell its products. Sometimes, they offer beneficial and, in some cases, remarkably candid insights.

Thomson Reuters’ GenAI Study

Thomson Reuters released its 2024 Generative AI in Professional Services Survey Report earlier this week. The release coincided with a couple of new release announcements by Thomson Reuters in the GenAI space. TR has invested a lot of money in this area and obviously believes in its future in the legal ecosystem (I know. The term “legal ecosystem” is a grating cliché).

What’s interesting about the Survey Report is that, unlike surveys that confirm what the vendor wants, this one goes a little against the grain. It also seems to confirm what I am noticing and previously wrote: Lawyers just aren’t rushing—yet—to embrace GenAI.

As the TR Survey notes: “GenAI usage is not widespread among professional services…The most common emotion surrounding GenAI is one of caution and hesistance”. (To be fair, the TR Report does conclude that the industry may be on the cusp of changing its view of GenAI. According to the Report, there is a feeling of “optimism and excitement” in the legal community).

The Survey was done online; there were 128 respondents. Most of the participants were located in the US. 46% of the respondents were in law firms or in-house legal departments. Other respondents included those in corporate tax, accounting, risk, and fraud departments. It also included government employees. 46% were in law firms or corporate legal, however.

Some Key Findings

Here are some specific numbers from the Report:

  • 35% of all respondents are hesitant about GenAI, in general;
  • 18% of all are concerned and fearful of GenAI;
  • Only 14% of the lawyers are using GenAI, and 40% say they currently have no plans to use.

 Lawyers’ Concerns

TR noted the reasons for the hesitancy were primarily concerns about accuracy and misinformation. There was also skepticism that GenAI tools can do what’s promised and a belief that GenAI will lead to overreliance. The lawyers were also concerned about data security, privacy, and confidentiality. Lots of lawyers focus on and are worried about ethical implications as well.

1/3 of the lawyers were concerned that GenAI would threaten the human lawyer’s use of intuition (aka wild-ass guessing, at least on occasion). Finally, about half of the lawyers believe that GenAI threatens the need for lawyers. 77% of the lawyers are worried about the impact of the unauthorized practice of law.

 Optimism For the Future

There is some reason for optimism for the future use of GenAI tools reflected in the survey results. 85% of the lawyers seem to think GenAI tools could be applied to their work at some point, although only 51% believe they should be. Many respondents seem to recognize that GenAI could increase efficiency and bring opportunities for growth.

But Tempered With Reality

But TR also notes that the numbers have mostly stayed the same since last year. To me, this is further confirmation that GenAI has not had the traction that many expected.

Other Survey findings support the idea that GenAi adoption in law is proceeding slowly. A scary finding, for example, is that less than 20% of the law firm respondents said they had received any sort of training on GenAi and large language models. This lack of training reflects, in my mind, the hesitancy, lack of adoption, and skepticism about the use and benefits of GenAI. Law firms aren’t likely to provide training, which disrupts billable hours, unless and until they see a pretty good upside.

More than half of the law firms have no GenAI policy at all

Another significant and confirming number from the Survey: more than half of the law firms have no GenAI policy at all. This again reflects the lack of real interest and/or concern about the tool. Perhaps this lack of interest reflects an ignorance of the potential disruption GenAI could have on the law firm business model. Most law firms also don’t see GenAI having much impact on their rates; 58% expect their rates to stay the same even if they do adopt GenAI tools.

This lack of interest may be because most clients (86%) have not any provided guidance or expectations about their lawyers’ use of GenAI. Whatever the reason, law firms and most lawyers are not rushing to adopt.

Change Will Occur But Not Necessarily in Predictable Ways

That’s not to say change won’t occur; it will. Oliver Silva of Casepoint made an interesting point earlier this week in his article about GenAI. Silva believes it will be some time before lawyers(and everyone else) get their heads around the use cases for GenAi: what it can and can’t do. (He talks about the similar adoption curves for mobile phones and the internet, among others. When technology advances occur, it takes a while for the tremendous potential and wide-ranging uses to become evident). His view (and mine) is it’s understandable that lawyers will go slow and make informed decisions about uses.

But I think he and I agree. The current hide-your-head-in-the-sand approach many lawyers and law firms are adopting and the TR Report confirms, makes little sense. 

Putting All This Together

Putting all this together, it seems the GenAI revolution has yet to hit legal, particularly law firms. Lawyers and law firms are notorious footdraggers when it comes to technology. That’s particularly the case for technology that has the potential to reduce billable hours as GenAi does. They look for the problems and, of course, possible ethical limitations to justify not moving ahead.

The TR snapshot is a candid revelation of the head-in-the-sand approach many law firms seem to be taking, at least for now. Lawyers don’t understand what this technology can do (or don’t want to) and fail to see the possible implications for their business model.