Since launching late last year, the rise of the artificial intelligence (AI) system ChatGPT has sparked concerns amongst some, and curiosity for others.
The new language model capable of producing human-like text for a range of functions, such as essay writing and song lyrics as well as to answer complex questions, is prompting some to wonder if AI will chip away at the need for professional services to the point of obsolescence.
Nick Abrahams, global coleader of Norton Rose Fulbright’s digital transformation practice and cofounder of the online legal solution provider Lawpath, believes the opportunities for lawyers and firms are extraordinary.
Although Nick expects that prospective clients will continue to value and seek out a lawyer’s judgement, legal knowledge and interpersonal skills, he says now’s a good time for lawyers to upskill and understand how the technology can support the solutions they provide.
QLS Proctor recently sat down with Nick – who also created the world’s first AI-enabled privacy chatbot, ‘Parker’, in 2017 – to learn more. Nick will be a speaker at the upcoming QLS Symposium.
QLS Proctor: What sort of ramifications might ChatGPT, or similar technology, have for law?
Nick: Whilst there’s no doubt that ChatGPT is an extraordinarily powerful platform, it will only get more powerful with the usage of it through machine learning. That’s the benefit of artificial intelligence – the more you use it, the more powerful and useful it becomes. At the moment, what we see with ChatGPT is that there’s a real question about its accuracy.
So, right now would you be going to court with a summary of your arguments put together by ChatGPT? No, and I think we’re a very long way from that happening… but I think what it can do is research work – as a starting point it’s very helpful. For example, I’ve asked ChatGPT around things like ‘put together a non-disclosure agreement’ – it doesn’t do such a bad job of it I’ve got to say!
And it will actually refine that agreement if you say e.g. ‘I need a different governing law provision’, so not bad for lower level, relatively simple documents where there’s a lot of publicly available information. It’s also very good at discreet tasks, so if you’re asking about a material adverse change clause, it will tell you what they are and it will give you examples. But, at this stage, it’s certainly not capable of doing more complex or bespoke drafting.
QLS Proctor: So, as a futurist, where do you think this is all heading?
Nick: Where I think we’re headed with that, is its use in legal research and routine tasks will be very strong, but it’s only ever going to be something that augments lawyers rather than overtakes them. Those jobs used to be done by junior lawyers, perhaps legal librarians and so forth, so they may need to change their focus in the future and do a different mix of work.
For example, AI and platforms like ChatGPT work on what’s called ‘prompt engineering’ – how you prompt the platform determines how good the results are. It’s a bit like with a client – you’ve got to know how to ask the right questions. So there will be great opportunities there, particularly for lawyers who become very adept at using these platforms. I can see that skillset becoming very important within law firms, and I think there will be a new breed of lawyers who grow up in that area.
But the reality is that there’ll be a significant limitation on what AI can achieve because AI requires data, and at the moment there’s not enough big, publicly available legal data-sets out there for ChatGPT and others to learn off. I think we will see opportunities for organisations that have a corpus of data to train AI.
I absolutely see it as a wonderful tool to augment the skills that we can offer to our clients. And at the end of the day, clients come to lawyers because they want the lawyers’ judgement – people don’t like DIY, because they are fearful of what the adverse consequences could be, so people will, I think, always want the judgement, and the comfort, of knowing that a lawyer said it’s okay.
The example I give to young lawyers is that Microsoft Excel made it much easier for people to do sums. But that has not reduced the number of people in organisations who need numeracy skills; they have just been freed up from routine maths tasks to provide higher level, judgement-based advice.
QLS Proctor: How can lawyers better place themselves to embrace these new advances in technology?
Nick: I think with any technology, it is about trying it out. There was a school of thought that ‘lawyers should become programmers and developers’, and I’ve never believed that was the case. I don’t think lawyers need to be coding, and the technology is so intuitive now that it’s very easy to interact with. We just have to make sure that we’re experimenting with these sorts of technologies.
We also need to be aware of the megatrends and the changing demographics, and making sure we are doing what we can to ensure the services we offer are fit for purpose. So whether it’s technology, whether it’s understanding what’s happening with ESG or energy transition, I think we need to keep an eye on the megatrends as they will create opportunities.
With technology specifically, I think it’s important to experiment and see how it could help. The good thing is that we’ve been very lucky in law… the reality is legaltech has not really impacted lawyer numbers in any significant way over the last few decades – there’s been a lot of talk about it and there have been advances in e-conveyancing, eDiscovery, content and matter management but it hasn’t massively changed things. Certainly not anywhere near to the same extent that tech has changed what accountants do, for example. I don’t foresee AI making any really dramatic inroads into the legal profession in the near future, but that’s not cause for complacency.
I think people do need to be actively interested in what technologies can help, from simple things around, ‘How can you better use whatever technology products you have currently available?’, ‘How can you try to make sure your client experience is optimised?’, ‘How are you delivering your advices?’, etc. So there’s a whole range of ways that we can stay valuable to our clients.
QLS Proctor: Could you share some guidance for mitigating risks of cyber attacks?
Nick: Cyber is and should be a top three issue for every lawyer or law firm. The potential impact of a cyber attack on our businesses and our reputation is massive. And so, first and foremost, having leadership that understand the importance of cyber security, and also a culture within the organisation of respecting cyber security.
We then need to make sure that’s supported with adequate budgets for the appropriate technological controls and safeguards, and then it’s about the human element and making sure that we’ve got the right processes in place. There’s a number of different cyber security controls that can be used, and I’d encourage people to implement those sorts of protocols and make sure there’s continuous testing against it.
The biggest problem at the moment is phishing emails, so if nothing else, very regular phishing testing to make sure people are exercising the appropriate degree of cynicism around what’s appearing in emails. Certainly one thing to not get comfortable with is cyber insurance – while it’s helpful, in no way can it really make up for the loss of reputation that does occur as a result of a big cyber incident.
Hear more from Nick Abrahams on Friday 10 March at his session ‘The breakthrough lawyer’ at QLS Symposium 2023.