Generative AI is coming for lawyers

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David Wakeling, head of the London-based law firm Allen & Overy’s markets innovation group, first discovered the law-focused generative AI tool Harvey in September 2022. He approached OpenAI, the system’s developer , to run a small experiment. Some of his firm’s lawyers will use the system to answer simple questions about the law, draft documents, and take first-pass messages to clients.

The trial started small, Wakeling said, but soon grew. About 3,500 workers across the company’s 43 offices ended up using the tool, asking it about 40,000 questions in total. The law firm has now entered into a partnership to use AI tools more widely throughout the firm, although Wakeling declined to say how much the deal is worth. According to Harvey, one in four of Allen & Overy’s team of lawyers now use the AI ​​platform on a daily basis, with 80 percent using it once a month or more. Other major law firms are also starting to adopt the platform, the company said.

The rise of AI and its potential to disrupt the legal industry has been predicted many times before. But the rise of the latest wave of generative AI tools, with ChatGPT at its forefront, is more convincing in the industry than ever before.

“I think this is the beginning of a paradigm shift,” Wakeling said. “I think this technology is a great fit for the legal industry.”

Generative AI is having a cultural and commercial moment, being touted as the future of search, sparking legal disputes over copyright, and causing panic in schools and universities.

The technology, which uses large datasets to learn to create images or texts that look natural, could be a good fit for the legal industry, which relies heavily on standardized documents and precedents.

“Legal applications such as contract, conveyancing, or license creation are actually a relatively safe area where ChatGPT and its cousins ​​can be used,” said Lilian Edwards, professor of law, innovation, and society at Newcastle University. “Automated legal document generation has been a growth area for decades, even in the days of rules-based technology, as law firms can draw on a number of standardized templates and -first banks to produce documents, making the results more predictable than most. free text outputs.”

But the problems with current generations of generative AI are starting to show. Most importantly, their tendency to believe in making things up—or “hallucinate.” That’s enough trouble to find, but in law, the difference between success and failure can be serious, and expensive.

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