When I took over running the internal legal team at the Queensland Building Services Authority many moons ago, things were a bit hectic.
In addition to the former manager leaving, two senior lawyers had also left and another had taken maternity leave.
The result was that I had a lot on my plate, about 160 active files, which was far beyond realistic capacity. I was working long hours, and going into the office every weekend, mostly both days.
In order to try to get through that workload I developed a fairly formulaic set of documents and relied on my advocacy skills to take care of the rest. That strategy worked in the short term, but was never going to be sustainable.
Thankfully I had good bosses, who opened the purse strings and allowed me to recruit new staff, who would eventually evolve into what was, in my view, the best internal legal team in the profession.
That didn’t happen overnight, of course, and the ludicrous workload was around for quite a while. If, at the time, someone had given me a software tool that could pump out 20 decent first-draft Statement of Reasons a week, I’d have grabbed it with both hands – I’d have been mad not to. Such software has its risks, but I would have been better serving my client – and not using it would have carried risks as well.
We have written a lot about the dangers of using AI in legal work, but what about the dangers of not using it?
In the past, the need for solicitors to get their heads around software was usually related to either operating their own admin programs, or understanding various technologies well enough to advise clients about them.
Now we are getting to the point where software tools will be available to increase a solicitor’s work capacity exponentially, and being able to use them effectively may become a business imperative.
Early adopters will jump on this, and there will probably be a number examples of them coming a cropper, as noted in this article.
As the tools get better and they get better at using them, though, these firms will be offering faster, cheaper service to clients. While they won’t be able to charge the same for work that takes a third of the time to do with AI, they will be able to do more of it, and faster.
The question will obviously arise: if by using these tools you can do your client’s work faster and more cheaply, without any compromise in quality, can you really say you are acting in their best interests if you don’t?
It is inevitable that AI tools are going to become a part of legal practice. Some of us have lived through this before – there was nothing but an in-tray, a telephone and a Dictaphone on my desk when I started articles. Now every desk has a least one computer, and both the telephone and Dictaphone are headed the way of the dinosaurs.
There are plenty of risks and downsides with these new toys – for a start, the basic work that most new solicitors are trained on is going to disappear – but the chances are pretty good that they will soon be as ubiquitous as the computer (and you’ll need an effective usage policy – see this for more info).
Clients will be fully aware of this new tech, and will want to know if it can help in their matter; at the very least, solicitors will need to be able to explain whether or not they are using it, and why. The only way to be able to do that is to get familiar with the risks and capabilities – and of course, check any citations.
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.