Will artificial intelligence put lawyers out of business?

In 2029, the human race faces eradication and extinction by its own creation, a machine powered by a self-aware artificial intelligence (AI) program called Skynet. So goes the plot of The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenneger’s hit movie from the ’80s.

In the movie, surviving humans formed a resistance against Skynet and the machines. Their plan was to destroy the company that created the AI to prevent Skynet from being created in the first place.

When the movie was released, the very concept that machines could be self-aware was a far-fetched idea and simply a figment of the writer’s imagination. Fast forward to the present, and the idea that machines with artificial intelligence might soon be able to operate autonomously with their own awareness and understanding is no longer such an outlandish possibility.

The question now seems to be not whether this will happen, but when.

In the field of law, there are developments involving AI which may cause some significant shifts in the traditional ways of practicing law.

Late last year, San Francisco-based OpenAI made its latest creation, the ChatGPT chatbot, available for free public testing. Social media is rife with examples of people trying out the AI chatbot and giving it instructions to create poetry, essays, and the like.

The AI has been given training data worth hundreds of terabytes of text most probably taken from the web, so it has most likely read almost everything ever published online.

In a news article, it was reported that Suffolk University Law School Dean Andrew Perlman set what could be a speed record for writing a 14-page law article: One hour.

Dean Perlman gave ChatGPT the task of drafting a brief to the United States Supreme Court on why its decision on same-sex marriage should not be overturned and it provided this response:

“The court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is firmly rooted in the principle of equality under the law. The Constitution guarantees all individuals the equal protection of the laws, and this includes the right to marry the person of one’s choosing. Denying same-sex couples the right to marry would be a clear violation of this principle.”

The bot goes on to note that Obergefell “is consistent with a long line of precedent establishing the fundamental right to marry. In Loving v. Virginia, the Court held that marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ and that the right to marry is protected by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.”

Dean Perlman states that it is a pretty solid effort but not one that is at par with Supreme Court Advocates. (https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/will-chatgpt-make-lawyers-obsolete-hint-be-afraid-2022-12-09/)

A few days ago, there was a report that came out entitled “Robot lawyer” to present arguments in world’s first AI-defended legal trial in February. It said that an AI will argue the first legal case ever in a court of law in February this year, in a case about a speeding ticket. The defendant will have an iPhone and an earpiece where the AI will provide the user with the appropriate responses to arguments during the hearing. The court’s location and defendant’s name was not disclosed to ensure a controlled environment for the experiment the report added.

The AI application was developed by consumer advocate organization DoNotPay, which developed this algorithm to help users get out of fines, fees, and subscriptions

“The DoNotPay app is the home of the world’s first robot lawyer,” it boasts. “Fight corporations, beat bureaucracy, and sue anyone at the press of a button.”

The creator of the AI application disclosed that he would like to see his app become good enough to replace an attorney, but at a substantially lower fee.

According to the report, “It’s all about language, and that’s what lawyers charge hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour to do,” he said. “There’ll still be a lot of good lawyers out there who may be arguing in the European Court of Human Rights, but a lot of lawyers are just charging way too much money to copy and paste documents, and I think they will definitely be replaced, and they should be replaced.” (https://www.techspot.com/news)

As an experiment, I personally tried out chatGPT asking it to draft a demand letter for a client for a dishonored check and the result is as follows:

AI reply

Similar to the observation of Dean Perlman, the letter is not complete, and to finalize
and send such a letter would be a disservice to the client. However, the draft of the letter has
potential.

It is noteworthy that ChatGPT was able to draft the demand letter in less than a minute
and the result is at the very least not grammatically wrong and it is sensibly put together. A
new lawyer would definitely take more than a few seconds to draft the same letter.

A worthwhile observation though, just like a partner in a law office would give
instructions to an associate, it is important that the instructions given the AI are clear and understandable as these may determine the quality of the result or written work product delivered.  In using ChatGPT and perhaps interacting with other AI, the key is asking the proper questions and giving the relevant instructions. The prompts must be given in a way that the AI will understand and be able to search, combine, and formulate the answer or work product properly.

Do note that as with other AI programs, chatGPT seems to continuously learn and improve through feedback and use. Some call this machine learning. Simply put, the more people use it, the better it gets.

We must then expect continuous improvements, perhaps substantial, in the quality of the output of ChatGPT as time goes on. It is, after all, still in its testing and learning phase.

The jobs of lawyers in the Philippines are safe for now, as the Philippine Constitution
provides that the practice of all professions in the Philippines shall be limited to Filipino
citizens, save in cases prescribed by law, and lawyers practicing in the Philippines must be
Filipino citizens. (Section 14, Article XII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution)

We must, however, recognize that AI technology, when deployed and utilized in the field
of law, may aid law firms to be vastly more efficient. Drafting of documents and pleadings that
presently take hours or even days to complete, may be done in a minutes.

While it does not seem that AI will replace lawyers anytime soon, the technology will
definitely have important repercussions on the practice of law and the legal profession. Already,
there are law offices abroad that have invested in machine learning and some form of AI, which
perform tasks such as reviewing of documents, legal research, and assisting in due diligence or
document heavy tasks, allowing lawyers more time to perform other high-level functions such
as negotiating deals, advising clients and appearing in court.

One thing I can predict though is that lawyers and law offices that do not keep up with
the times and embrace technology and the coming role of AI in the legal practice, may sadly
become obsolete.

(The author, Atty. John Philip C. Siao, is a practicing lawyer and founding Partner of Tiongco
Siao Bello & Associates Law Offices, teaches law at the MLQU School of Law, and an Arbitrator
of the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission of the Philippines. He may be contacted
at [email protected] The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone.)

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