​​Will AI replace lawyers? What to expect in 2024

AI usage in the legal sector is growing rapidly. Widespread speculation about the future of the industry has followed, including the question: ‘Will AI take lawyers’ jobs?’

Yes, AI will transform legal practice, but there are many signs that it will offer lawyers unparalleled growth potential rather than redundancies.

AI-powered automation will give lawyers more time to utilise their expertise. With legal work taking less time to complete, legal professionals can deepen their knowledge and drive steady results for clients. With the right technology and training in place, generative AI becomes a powerful personal assistant to lawyers, not a replacement. Here’s why AI will not put lawyers out of work…

1. AI requires (human) lawyer supervision for accuracy

Generative AI uses large language models (LLM) to rapidly comb through information and compose responses within seconds. There is no question that its speed far outpaces human capacity. However, its way of working can be flawed. Generative AI looks for confidence in numbers by identifying patterns. But this can produce factually incorrect answers known as ‘hallucinations.’

An early test by Thomson Reuters in the US demonstrated that AI alone cannot reliably be used to interpret the complexities of case laws. The technology did not account for the nuances in the law’s application within different jurisdictions. Although it could identify and provide information about a specific law in one state, when asked about the same law in another state it used the same answer, despite there being no such law.

“The AI saw the pattern, but it failed to sweat the details. In the real world, outside of our labs – that could have had serious consequences if the AI was taken at face value,” notes Steve Hasker, Thomson Reuters President & CEO.

Experts know that human oversight is key. And with AI in the workplace, lawyers will be called upon to lend their critical expertise, judgment, and moral reasoning. In turn, lawyers can take advantage of generative AI, using it as an assistant to enhance their work. By combining the efficiency and speed of trusted AI software with a lawyer’s deep expertise, firms can deliver better results for clients.

2. Automation frees lawyers for higher-value tasks

It’s no secret that practising law requires meticulous and time-consuming work. In reality, lawyers spend 40-60% of their time drafting and reviewing contracts. AI solutions can automate routine tasks. This includes drafting legal texts, collating legal research, and providing data-driven legal services. The time saved presents both an opportunity for lawyers to add more value to the business and to upskill.

AI will allow lawyers to focus on deepening their knowledge, and strategy, and providing their clients with quality advice. Rather than being stuck in routine work during billable hours, lawyers’ work will become more thorough, and save time.

It’s a view that’s shared among local private practice professionals: 69% of respondents to the Tech and the Law 2023 Report believe that generative AI will increase efficiency and reduce costs.

“I think senior lawyers doing high-level problem solving, client advocacy, and strategy work will use Gen AI as a valuable support tool. It won’t replace them but complement them,” says Joel Barolsky, Principal for Barolsky Advisors and Edge Consulting.

“If gen AI lives up to its promise, I think there’s a fairly good chance that junior lawyer roles that are focused on doing mostly low-level process work will become redundant. However, there will be more roles for junior practitioners as legal technologists and legal data analysts.

How important is the human element to the practice of law? Joel believes it is here to stay.

“The human element will always be critical to the practice of law. I think the advancement of legal technology and gen AI in particular will reduce the drudge process work and free up time for person-to-person interactions and engagement,” he adds.

3. Professional development through AI

AI is not a zombie apocalypse for the legal profession. Instead, some believe AI will broaden lawyers’ potential with less ‘grunt’ work required. Meanwhile, lawyers can develop expertise within an area of law and contribute more value to the business. AI tools will also create new positions within firms, whether for lawyers in training or as other legal professionals.

“This opens opportunities for entry-level legal professionals to find niches within their law firm, whether as a legal tech consultant or a junior lawyer charged with supervising AI systems conducting billing, for example,” writes Chris O’Leary, Managing Editor of ‘The M&A Lawyer’ and ‘Wall Street Lawyer.

“It also means that advancing within a law firm may be less of a step-by-step trudge upward, with many repetitive workloads. Instead, advancement may become a flexible, client-centered process, one that better rewards initiative by junior lawyers.”

4. Ethical AI and industry leadership

Ethical AI offers a framework for the responsible use of AI. At the time of writing, Australia has no AI-specific regulations. Instead, AI activities fall under existing legislation.

Organisations are encouraged to look to the government’s voluntary code of ethics. This transitional phase presents an opportunity for law firms to become industry leaders in ethics and innovation.

By developing an AI governance plan, firms can play a significant part in setting industry standards ahead of any legislation. A public code of AI ethics can help to boost trust among the workforce and clients who may be hesitant about the new technology. Additionally, robust AI governance will leave firms prepared for any potential regulation.

5. Selecting the right AI solutions

To confidently use AI, finding a suitable solution is key. Cautiousness among professionals needs to be addressed. The Future of Professionals 2023 report found that the biggest concerns among 30% of the legal professionals surveyed were data security (15%) and ethics (15%).

Carter Cousineau, Vice President of data and model governance for Thomson Reuters, says ethical considerations will continue to trend upward in 2024. Commenting for Corporate Counsel Business Journal, she notes: “Organisational governance will increase—Vendors will need to be crisp on the value they’re bringing as companies ask more probing questions and lay down more governance. As focus grows, we could see ethical AI procurement become part of ESG [environmental, social, and governance] reporting.”

The most trustworthy AI solutions in the legal sphere use large language models trained only on vetted corpuses of information. Thomson Reuters CoCounsel Core, for example, is a generative-AI-powered legal assistant trained on content created by lawyers and legal experts from trusted content. The high-quality product, which can also be used for drafting legal documents, delivers a powerful user experience for lawyers – with peace of mind.

AI signals growth – here’s what to expect in 2024

The integration of AI in legal practices is expected to enhance efficiency, service quality, and client satisfaction. In this fast-paced reality, those who don’t harness AI’s benefits will fall short against competitors’ offerings.

According to Terri Mottershead, Executive Director of the Centre for Legal Innovation, firms are faced with choices on harnessing the power of AI and data.

“Internally, the big gains are in efficiency, speed, consistency, accessibility, scalability of solutions, and data-driven insights for legal businesses and their clients,” she says.

“Externally, the gains are all about sharing information (legal knowledge) so clients can self-serve, using data insights to customise solutions for clients, and refocusing the time saved from internal gains on the human-centred part of legal practice – the bits AI can’t do…yet!”

Terri anticipates a shift towards implementation, metrics, and ROI in 2024. “Not yet but soon! 2023 has been a year of understanding the tech and working out how to use it – experimentation. I think 2024 will be a year of getting into the nitty gritty of implementation, metrics, and ROI,” she predicts.

“We’re still at the beginning of this journey, there’s a long, exciting, and untested road ahead!”

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