Lawyers 2.0 in a ChatGPT World: The Human-AI Connection

​​​​​​​Tips for staying relevant and not getting replaced

* This article was written by a human using ChatGPT v3.5 for research and editing purposes.


Image Source: Aalia Manie (created via OpenAI's "Dall E 2" AI-enabled art generation platform)

The legal industry is facing a future where Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to take over many of the tasks that lawyers have traditionally done. Months after its release, the hype surrounding OpenAI's ChatGPT has not relented. With its astonishingly quick, human-like and cogent-sounding responses to queries typically reserved for lawyers, many in the legal industry have questioned whether AI like ChatGPT may disrupt and displace in the same way as it has in others.

The answer is not as simple as a yes or no. Yes, because AI like ChatGPT has already been shown to deliver some legal work better than humans. No, because the technology has its risks and limitations.

Amidst this uncertainty, how can the lawyers of the future survive and thrive in the legal sector?

"Adapt or Perish"

In the ever-changing legal landscape, an "adapt or perish" philosophy is required. At least for now, technology is a supplement not a substitute. Most seasoned attorneys and in-house counsel are unlikely to be replaced by the technology itself, but some may lose their footing to human peers who use technology better than they do.

Successful adaptation therefore requires successful adoption: optimising the technology at our disposal, while understanding the opportunities and challenges that the technology presents. Always up for an innovation challenge, our lawyers have immersed themselves in ChatGPT. Colin du Toit, a Partner in our Corporate Practice, tested ChatGPT's capabilities in a wide range of fields, including corporate law, finance and post-graduate abstract mathematics. While recognising some of its inherent limitations (which must be carefully managed), Colin nonetheless described its present capabilities and future potential as 'truly phenomenal' and has set out to find the optimal approach to gain the most value from the tool. In an industry known for its risk aversion, this is arguably exactly the right response: combining a healthy scepticism with keen exploration and a practical approach to innovation.

ChatGPT has a wide range of applications in legal field, including guidance on legal questions, contract analysis, drafting legal agreements and summaries, and identifying potential legal risks in business operations. Wesley January, a candidate attorney in Webber Wentzel's TMT & IP Department, praises ChatGPT as a useful tool for legal research, enabling users to save significant time and improving accuracy through quick responses on relevant sources (even in specialised areas). With the right prompts, creative lawyers can leverage ChatGPT capabilities to streamline their work, allowing them to allocate more time for higher value tasks and achieve a better work-life balance. The next version of ChatGPT, version 4.0, will be exponentially more advanced with the potential to transform a wider range of legal tasks.

Unfortunately, ChatGPT's responses can be incomplete, inaccurate and dangerously misleading at times. Yet its cogency and tone always mirror that of a confident and seasoned senior attorney. This is not ideal in an industry where most clients cannot afford the risk of a 'sort of right' answer. Experts have also cautioned against the limitations to its dataset (which ends in 2021), data security, client confidentiality, intellectual property and ethical concerns like bias and accountability. The tool itself admits to these concerns, with explicit disclaimers that ChatGPT should not be used for advice.

And so, it is important to proceed with caution. But proceed we must.

Guidelines for Effective Use

Here are some strategies to enhance the effectiveness and address the limitations of ChatGPT in the legal industry:

  • Use the results generated by ChatGPT as a starting point, not a final product.
  • Clearly define the task and use specific prompts for more accurate and relevant results.
  • Validate the information provided by ChatGPT with other sources, such as case law or statutes.
  • Be aware that ChatGPT may have difficulties understanding the nuances and context of a legal matter, which can result in flawed responses.
  • Be cautious of data security, client confidentiality, intellectual property and other legal, ethical and sensitivities when using the tool. For example, comply with security policies, implement redactions, obtain necessary client consents and carefully consider the tasks that are appropriate for ChatGPT use.
  • Keep in mind the limitations of the model, which cannot replace human expertise for many types of legal work. Examples include complex litigation, high value transaction support, highly specific legal issues, and court appearances. These types of legal work often require a unique understanding of the law, as well as knowledge of local legal customs, which can be difficult for AI to replicate. Generally, legal matters that require considerable face-to-face interactions and negotiations are difficult to automate as they require human involvement and insights.

The Human Touch

While AI can certainly help to streamline many aspects of legal work, it cannot replace human expertise and the human touch.

Every legal matter has at least one human client at its front and centre, and clients have come to expect high levels of personalisation, transparency, accountability and ethical standards, which can currently only be provided by human lawyers. Soft skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence, authenticity and strong communication and interpersonal skills are crucial for lawyers to build relationships and become trusted advisors to their clients.

Clients also value lawyers who can provide nuanced insights and realistic guidance tailored to their specific needs, objectives and business goals. AI tools currently lack the ability to think strategically and creatively and to grasp the broader implications of a legal matter. On the other hand, human lawyers can apply their practical experience to come up with innovation solutions. They are also adaptable and able to make quick decisions and can understand the complexities and subtleties of a case, including the motivations and personalities of the parties. The ability of human lawyers to negotiate effectively, while always keeping the client's best interests in mind, is critical for mitigating risks and ensuring favourable results. Human lawyers are therefore best placed to help organisations navigate legal issues within complex business and operational contexts.

Become the Best Version of Yourself

Ziyanda Ntshona, the Head of the Corporate Unit at Webber Wentzel emphasises that "AI tools like ChatGPT should be used in a way that complements the unique human qualities that clients value. By doing so, lawyers can continue to provide exceptional client service and stay relevant in the ever-evolving legal field."

Lawyers should not fear the rise of AI, but rather embrace it as an indispensable tool that can help them be more effective and efficient in their work. Lawyers should lean into the human qualities that help them forge meaningful connections with their clients and deliver the best possible outcomes. Thanks to AI, the lawyers of the future can be the best versions of themselves, allocating more of their time and energy towards the things that clients value the most.

By applying an authentic "human" touch in the age of AI, lawyers can truly become client-centric and empower clients with the best of both worlds. Ultimately, the future of legal services is about the human-AI connection.

This article was first published by the Daily Maverick.


These materials are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While every effort is made to update the information regularly and to offer the most current, correct and accurate information, we accept no liability or responsibility whatsoever if any information is, for whatever reason, incorrect, inaccurate or dated. We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage, whether direct, indirect or consequential, which may arise from access to or reliance on the information contained herein.

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