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BusinessDay: Generative AI will transform the legal profession

As the technology evolves and matures, it will become even more integral to law firms.

By Johan Steyn, 2 August 2023

As we dive deeper into the digital era, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to disrupt conventional wisdom and practices across multiple sectors, and the legal profession is no exception. Specifically, generative AI, a subset of AI focusing on producing new content based on learned information, holds tremendous promise for law firms and legal practitioners.

Generative AI can automate numerous labour-intensive tasks, such as drafting contracts, legal research and due diligence. AI-powered contract generation can ensure consistency, eliminate human errors and save time. Also, when processing massive volumes of legal documents, generative AI can quickly identify the relevant patterns and anomalies, which otherwise would require countless billable hours.

Despite the promising benefits, generative AI has been met with scepticism. Many lawyers may fear AI might replace human jobs or lack the finesse and judgment of a trained legal professional. Addressing these concerns involves demonstrating that AI is a tool designed to enhance productivity and to augment, not replace, human capabilities. Emphasising the fact that AI lacks the experience, creativity and nuanced understanding that lawyers bring to their work, helps assuage fears of obsolescence.

Generative AI offers substantial returns on investment. First, it improves operational efficiency and service quality. Automated document generation reduces turnaround times, leading to faster service delivery. Second, generative AI changes the distribution of time in legal practice. By automating routine tasks, it frees up time for lawyers to focus on complex, high-value tasks, improving job satisfaction and quality of service. Lastly, the time gains can be calculated by comparing the time taken for AI to perform tasks versus the billable hours of a lawyer doing the same work.

There is an increasing number of generative AI tools available for the legal profession. Evaluating their effectiveness and reliability demands careful consideration of several key factors. First and foremost, accuracy stands paramount. For a tool to be of genuine use, it must perform its intended functions precisely and consistently.

For instance, when analysing legal documents or predicting case outcomes, even minor inaccuracies can lead to significant misjudgements. Equally important is the tool’s user-friendliness. A tool that is intuitive and straightforward to navigate can save considerable time and effort, making it far more valuable to its users.

The breadth and depth of the tool’s features and functionality also weigh heavily in its overall rating. The most powerful tools offer a wide range of capabilities and can integrate seamlessly with other software platforms. For smaller law firms these may prove to be too costly, but there are many options with less functionality but at a lower cost worth considering.

Finally, security and compliance hold particular importance in the legal realm. The software must comply with all relevant data security and privacy laws, maintaining the integrity of sensitive legal information.

The future of generative AI in law is promising. As these technologies continue to evolve and mature, they will become even more integral to the profession. Generative AI can enable personalised legal services on a massive scale, transforming the relationship between lawyers and clients. It could also democratise access to legal services, as automation lowers costs.

While AI cannot replace the skills that experienced lawyers bring to their work, it can significantly enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of legal services. Therefore, the legal profession needs to proactively engage with these technologies, understand their potential and shape their use.


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