Is anyone fretting that AI/ChatGPT may lay waste to career paths for future lawyers as much as for lawyers already practicing? Much legal work is now done by artificial means. What does that mean for humans? Go ahead, freak out. It’s okay. Trends are not promising, especially for in-house counsel generalists. More money will be spent on legal tech going forward.
Dinosaur lawyers learned lawyering basics the hard, tedious way: drafting documents such as articles of incorporation, articles of organization, minutes of first meetings, initial share offerings, and all kinds of agreements. Granted that this work was often mind-numbing, but we learned how to draft documents, “boots on the ground,” so to speak, and for many of us, these times were before Word Perfect, MS Word, and other tools. Imagine that. Documents had to be retyped from start to finish. What will happen to junior lawyers who need to learn these basic lawyering tasks that AI can already perform? Don’t you learn by doing?
The same can be said of Shepardizing; only the old ones will remember the thick red volumes with the paper supplements. And every dinosaur will remember that those supplements (as well as advance sheets) always went missing, incorrectly shelved, left on a library table for someone else to take care of (didn’t lawyers ever learn how to pick up after themselves?) or in someone’s office, necessitating a panicked stroll around offices, before email became the routine way to communicate.
In some ways technology and artificial intelligence have been a boon to practicing lawyers, but in other respects, it leaves a lot to be desired. How do you learn if it’s all done for you?
Joe Patrice asks related questions in his post, The Legal Profession Has a Long Way to Go Before GPT Matches the Talk. While AI and GPT are useful tools, lawyers must be super-careful about relying on these methods instead of good old brainwaves to do the work that lawyers are supposed to do and that they are paid to do.
One point Joe made was that AI may provide nothing more than a lousy first draft that needs copious amounts of refining, rewriting, and fact checking. Would that first draft be faster or more efficient than taking a document you already have and revising it to fit the situation at hand? But AI doesn’t have the creativity that lawyers require. Or does it?
Given that dinosaur lawyers have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into relinquishing dictation equipment and learning how to use word processing and PDF scanners, I wonder how quickly older lawyers will adapt. However, also given that most of us dinosaur lawyers have at least one foot on the retirement/death banana peel and given the acceptance of new technology by the newbies, it probably doesn’t matter much.
As Joe says, “Building something that lawyers will actually use has to interface with the professional skeptic in mind.” And I think that among the “professional skeptics” may well be malpractice carriers, who may want to kick the tires of these technologies before assuring themselves that lawyer malpractice will not increase just because the machines can do a lot of the heavy lifting. We rely on these devices to our peril to a certain extent. Laziness can lead to sloppiness.
Yes, I know that computerized legal research has been around for decades, but, just like e-discovery, doesn’t it depend on the key words chosen for the search? And what if the key words get you close to where you need to be, but not close enough? Am I showing the dinosaurial fears I have? And how will AI counsel clients?
Much scut work that we dinosaurs had to do has been taken from us. In some cases that’s a good thing but, in others, not so much. If we rely too much on machines, then what is the need for lawyers? If artificial intelligence can pass a bar exam, then how do we humans determine what’s necessary to pass a bar exam and become lawyers? AI is already being used in dispute resolution.
We are hearing that some of the brainiest are now saying it’s time to press “pause” on developments. If you have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” and remember anything about it, you will remember HAL and how it ends. SPOILER ALERT: It doesn’t end well for the humans.
And it’s not just “press pause” on AI developments that some peeps are calling for. More than half the people in this country are questioning the value of a college education, that it’s not worth the money, given the enormous amount of debt that many have.
And if some are saying that about undergraduate degrees, what does that say about even more costly law school education? When are law schools going to get hip to the fact that law students want the education at a reasonable price, learn how to lawyer, and get on with their legal careers? Often, the third year is a waste, except for those students who want to pursue legal academia. When are law schools going to see online education as a viable option? And don’t tell me that every law school didn’t go to some form of online education during the pandemic. As a friend often reminds me, he may be slow, but he’s not stupid.
We lawyers love to be in control, and it may be one reason why many of us became lawyers. But now we are going to have to learn how to share, and we’ve never been good at that. Sharing with nonsentient entities may be a lot harder than we think. And no, ChatGPT did not write this column, at least not yet.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.
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