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LegalAugust 07, 2023

Three things legal professionals told us about generative AI

Generative AI is the latest transformative technology to have a significant effect on the business and practice of law. As lawyers look to the future, they are beginning to form specific expectations around how generative AI will revolutionize the legal landscape. The recent survey from Wolters Kluwer and Above the Law, Generative AI in the Law: Where Could This All Be Headed?, provides a snapshot of what today’s lawyers expect of generative AI in the near and longer terms.

Here are a few of the highlights from the survey results:

More than 80% of all respondents agree that generative AI will create transformative efficiencies for research and routine tasks.

There is strong consensus on this point among the legal professionals surveyed. In fact, only 9% disagreed with this sentiment, either somewhat or strongly. This is no surprise, given the extraordinary amount of coverage we’ve seen this year on the many ways in which generative AI can contribute to the efficiency and productivity of lawyers and other skilled professionals.

Ken Crutchfield, Vice President and General Manager of Legal Markets for Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., believes generative AI will provide important benefits, particularly with document-related tasks. However, he emphasizes that human legal experts must have the final say. “Assuming all the issues are addressed, and attorneys make sure they check the links to authorities, then yes,” he said, “the summarization and manipulation of documents is going to be an important part of the efficiencies derived from generative AI.”

62% of respondents believe that effective use of generative AI will separate successful law firms from unsuccessful firms within the next five years.

When we break out the replies by where our survey respondents work, we can see a bit more detail. Those at law firms are slightly stronger in this expectation, at 65%, than their in-house counterparts, at 61%. In addition, 8% more law firm professionals than in-house staff said they agree “strongly” with the assertion.

However, some of the experts we consulted think that five years is an aggressive timeline for this differentiation among firms to play out. Crutchfield expects many law firms to adopt a “wait and see” stance, particularly since there has been more media coverage recently of problems arising from the use of generative AI. He expects, however, that firms will not have the option of foregoing AI entirely for a time. “I think client pressure will cause firms to adopt AI,” he said. “Clients always want faster, better, cheaper. The firms who are getting that pressure may lose clients if they can’t keep up.”

Respondents are less convinced that AI will transform high-level legal work: 31% agree that this will happen, while 50% disagree.

High-level work that involves more creativity and requires specialization seems less likely to be changed by generative AI, according to our survey subjects. Corporate lawyers, however, were very evenly split on this question. Of corporate respondents, 38% somewhat disagreed with the statement, while the same percentage somewhat agreed. In addition, 6% strongly disagreed, and 6% strongly agreed. Where such recent technology is concerned, legal professionals may simply feel that they don’t yet have enough information to have formed a strong opinion as of now.

It may be that higher-level work will prompt more creative uses for generative AI. Crutchfield states that “a complex fact pattern or a bespoke issue is going to be harder for AI.” However, he has observed attorneys use generative AI to provide a counterfactual argument. He says the result has often not been completely usable, but “it can give you an idea.”

Take a deeper dive into the analysis of these findings and learn more about the additional results of the survey by reading the full report. It addresses which legal professionals feel most at risk of obsolescence and which areas of the law are more and less likely to be affected, according to respondents. Additional legal industry experts also weigh in to provide their perspectives on the survey outcomes. Download Generative AI in the Law: Where Could This All Be Headed? today.

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