Artificial Intelligence May Not Disrupt The Legal Profession For A While

Ever since ChatGPT roared onto the scene over a year ago, everyone has been talking about how the world will change due to advances in artificial intelligence. Many commentators have singled out the legal industry as a sector that will be particularly impacted by artificial intelligence, since much of the rote work performed by associates can presumably be handled by artificial intelligence in the coming years. Initially, I also believed that artificial intelligence would have a huge impact on the legal profession in the short term, but it now seems that the legal profession will not be materially affected for at least several years, if not longer.

In recent months, a number of vendors have released artificial intelligence tools directed at legal professionals. I have had the chance to try a few of these artificial intelligence applications myself. In some very specific contexts, the applications can be helpful. These tools can suggest revisions that might be made to documents and provide feedback that is useful when reviewing a long document.

However, in many contexts, artificial intelligence is not that helpful with document review and other automated legal tasks. I frequently face a situation in which artificial intelligence suggests deal terms that clearly would be rejected by the other side, and the tool has no sense of what would be acceptable and what would be rejected by an adversary. At other points, the artificial intelligence suggests silly edits that do not make sense when considering the larger picture involved in a given transaction.

Sometimes, I actually waste time reviewing the feedback provided by artificial intelligence tools and rejecting the edits! At best, most artificial intelligence applications are tools and not replacements for most of the work lawyers do. The work of artificial intelligence definitely needs to be reviewed by a lawyer since the artificial intelligence tends to make mistakes and because the artificial intelligence and the lawyer together can possibly create a better work product than can be produced independently by either.

Another reason why I do not believe that artificial intelligence will be disruptive to the legal profession in the short term is due to the versatile nature of the legal sector. In my own career, I have seen swaths of lawyers become obsolete due to technology, and I have seen how the legal profession shifted to absorb many of the lawyers who no longer had jobs.

For instance, earlier in my career, it was common to have numerous attorneys perform document review projects for law firms. Sometimes, in-house staff attorneys performed the work, and other times, law firms hired outsourced attorneys to perform document review tasks. In many instances, lawyers would review numerous documents to determine if they were responsive to document demands made in litigation. If the documents were responsive, lawyers might see if a privilege or protection could prevent disclosure of materials and help write a privilege log for materials that were withheld.

Around a decade ago (or a little longer), much of that work dried up because of predictive coding and other technologies that ensured law firms did not need to hire the same amount of document review attorneys. These days, it is rare to see a job posting for document review attorneys, even though this had been extremely common not that long ago. Indeed, this website had a column written by a document-review attorney dedicated to the happenings of similar professionals. However, the legal profession has seemingly adapted to this shift, and I assume that many of the people who formerly worked as document-review attorneys now work in other parts of the legal profession.

Of course, every lawyer should keep an eye on recent developments in artificial intelligence to ensure that they use all tools that can help them effectively serve clients. However, the legal profession will likely not suffer a widescale disruption due to artificial intelligence for a while, even though many commentators seem to have a contrary view.

Rothman Larger HeadshotJordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].

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