Two-thirds of large law firms researching generative AI

Pfeifer: Generative AI has a lot of potential

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of large law firms in the UK are exploring the potential of generative artificial intelligence (AI), along with around a third of smaller firms, a report has found.

However, researchers said 90% of almost 1,200 lawyers and legal support workers involved in the study said they were concerned about the technology’s ethical implications.

Half of in-house counsel expected their law firms either to be using it already or introducing it within the next 12 months.

LexisNexis polled 1,175 lawyers and legal support workers in May and June this year for the report Generative AI and the future of the legal profession. They were based at law firms, in-house legal departments, barristers’ chambers, in the public sector and at charities.

Almost all of them (95%) believed generative AI like ChatGPT would have an impact on the practice of law, with 38% describing it as “significant” and 11% “transformative”. Two-thirds admitted to having “mixed” feelings as to whether this impact would be positive or negative.

The 90% who said they had had concerns about the ethical implications of generative AI included 26% who had “significant” concerns and 3% “fundamental” ones.

Toby Bond, an intellectual property partner at Bird & Bird, said in the report that organisations should start getting policies in place on generative AI.

“The risk is that generative AI tools are used for a work purpose without a proper assessment of the potential legal or operational issues which may arise.”

Little more than a third of legal professionals had actually used generative AI in the workplace. The proportion was higher (46%) for those working in-house. The proportion using the technology at least once a month was even smaller, at 10%, though it rose to 12% of those at small law firms and 17% working in-house.

Lawyers in the public sector (14%) or the Bar (20%) were much less likely to be “researching or exploring opportunities with generative AI’” than those at large law firms (64%) or in-house (47%).

Two-thirds of legal professionals believed that generative AI would increase the efficiency of legal work.

The technology was seen as having the most potential for researching matters (66%), followed by drafting documents (59%), document analysis (47%), and then writing emails and conducting due diligence, both on 32%.

Ben Allgrove, partner and chief innovation officer at Baker McKenzie, told researchers that one “immediate area of focus” was how the technology could be used to improve the productivity of lawyers and other staff.

“While there are, of course, quality and risk issues that need to be solved, we see opportunities across our business to do that.”

Isabel Parker, a partner at Deloitte Legal, predicted that more sophisticated use cases would be developed, specifically in the area of legal risk management.

“Generative AI’s ability to digest and analyse large volumes of data from multiple sources makes continuous audit of legal risk across the entire enterprise a real possibility – provided the right guardrails are in place.”

Seven out of 10 in-house lawyers said they expected the law firms they worked with to use “cutting-edge technology”, including generative AI. This contrasted with the 55% of law firms that thought their clients expected them to use it.

A large majority of in-house counsel (82%) said they expected to be made aware of the use of generative AI by their law firms.

A similar proportion of staff at large law firms and at in-house legal departments (42%) believed that generative AI would change the relationship between in-house counsel and their outside firms. The proportion was lowest at small law firms (26%).

Jeff Pfeifer, chief product officer at LexisNexis, commented in his introduction to the report: “For a time-poor profession, the legal community will undoubtedly be eager to embrace generative AI.

“It has the potential to fast-track the legal research, summarisation and drafting process, freeing up lawyers’ time to focus on higher value services for their clients or organisations. And that’s just the start.”

We reported last week in detail how City firm Macfarlanes was investigating the use of generative AI, with its head of lawtech saying it would not replace lawyers, but lawyers who used it would replace those who did not.

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