Much of the discussion about the next generation of tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is being conducted at the extremes.
These are, either ChatGPT is nothing more than a better search engine and nothing to worry about, or it will replace lawyers in a couple of months.
As ever, the truth is somewhere in the middle – and it is important that our clients understand that, because without question the best chance we have of being replaced by AI is if we put our heads in the sand about it.
A good example arises in the area of will drafting, which has been under attack from the DIY legal crowd for some time. There is no doubt that some AI can (or soon will) be able to produce a not-perfect-but-pretty-good version of a will, as far as it goes.
The thing we need to emphasise to our clients – apart from the things that can go wrong and cause great trouble for beneficiaries – is that solicitors do much more than just draft the will.
That extra can save a lot of grief, as solicitors will check capacity, advise on alternative structures and be on the lookout for undue influence, just to name a few things that don’t come with software. A perfect example, and a good case to bring to the attention of clients, is Londy & Pender as executors and trustees of the Will of Mary Hilary Kavanagh (deceased) v Kavanagh  QSC 161
The case involved a lady who was 100 years old when she passed, childless and without any close relatives to lay claim to her $2 million estate.
The deceased had made many wills over her life, and all of them up to the last had included Michael Anthony Kavanagh, whose grandfather was the brother of the deceased’s father. The deceased had removed him from the most recent wills due to her view that he had bullied and taken advantage of her in order to get himself into previous wills. Indeed, she noted in a letter to him:
“You really are a greedy lousy person Michael and I hope my ghost haunts you.”
Faced with an almost certain challenge, the solicitor involved took excellent precautions, including:
- taking thorough and meticulous file notes
- regularly having the deceased’s capacity independently assessed
- giving detailed advice as to the consequences of the deceased actions, and advice as to how to ensure that her wishes were carried out after her death
- always confirming instructions in writing
- preparing, and having the deceased execute, a detailed affidavit which described her estate fully and thoroughly explained her relationship with the respondent, the reasons she had previously included him in her wills and the reasons she wanted him out at this juncture.
Mr Kavanagh challenged the will on the basis that he believed the deceased had fallen under the influence of Anne Londy, who was the executor under the new wills. That challenged failed, due to the efforts of the solicitor in ensuring that everything was above board. It is worth highlighting to clients that the service we provide is exponentially better than that provided by AI and other cheap will solutions.
Clients looking to have their wills done will no doubt have been bombarded on social media by ads from ‘alternative legal service providers’ and seen stories on the news of wills being written on beer coasters, done via video or through text messages. It is worth pointing out to the client that alternative legal service providers are exactly that – they provide an alternative to legal services, not actual legal services.
It is also worth telling them that having an irregular will recognised is an extremely expensive process, which their children will have to deal with after they have gone. When it comes to wills, we need to emphasise with our clients that they are likely arranging the biggest transfer of wealth they will ever make; it is not the time to be seeking the cheapest option.
AI is a definite threat to our profession, but not one which cannot be overcome. We need to differentiate between the services we provide and the quick-fix nature of DIY solutions.
Solicitors provide a far better service than AI ever will, and it is vital that we let our clients know.
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.