Our skills in AI use will need to be learned and developed when planning to stay ahead in increasingly competitive industries, including the practice of legal writing.
By Joseph Wilson, Co-founder — Studicata
Artificial intelligence (AI) has made headlines in recent years due to what it can bring to various industries in terms of assistance, creativity, and time savings. The field of law has long been rooted in traditional approaches to information gathering, communication, and writing. However, technology advancements had seeped their way into the way lawyers do their jobs and handle cases. Lawyers are no strangers to the benefits of tech innovation, but now, AI is poised to radically transform the law field as it grows in adoption and capability.
AI is not novel, having been around since the 1950s. Yet, the capabilities of programs like ChatGPT have ushered in an entirely new age of AI — one that has many people gobsmacked over what it can do and where we can take the technology as a society.
According to a recent Brookings article, some adoption of AI may be integral to the survival of law firms. “Law firms that effectively leverage emerging AI technologies will be able to offer services at lower cost, higher efficiency, and with higher odds of favorable outcomes in litigation. Law firms that fail to capitalize on the power of AI will be unable to remain cost-competitive, losing clients and undermining their ability to attract and retain talent” (Villasenor, 2023).
Firms may be overwhelmed by the wide-reaching opportunities that AI presents. By starting with AI for assistance with writing, law firms and lawyers can dip their toes in the AI waters, slowly familiarize themselves with the technology, and see where AI can help them before diving in completely.
One of the hallmarks of AI and generative AI programs — ChatGPT in particular — is their efficiency. What may have taken hours of research and note-taking can now be compiled in mere seconds by generative AI. How lawyers use this to their advantage is multifaceted.
ChatGPT and its cohorts can help with brainstorming and list-making. If a lawyer is mired in a particularly difficult case or issue, AI can help break through that block and generate ideas, starter sentences for written pieces, outlines, and summaries. This may allow lawyers to save time they would have otherwise spent sitting around a table, tapping their pencils, waiting for ideas to strike. It can also save administrative time spent summarizing ideas or writing out pages of notes on an idea or case.
The law can often be pegged as being maddeningly slow. Lawyers understand why, but it can be frustrating for clients when months are spent on a case. With AI, efficiency is expanded. AI can be used to produce drafts and initial brainstorming lists, research related law cases and cite directly from those cases, and even help develop arguments.
Generative AI is especially adept at drafting correspondence, whether to clients or opposing parties. Although lawyers will still need to put their personal stamp on whatever they write, AI can help them generate documents efficiently — giving them the ability to dedicate time to pressing forward with cases.
The process of initiating cases can also be quickened with AI writing programs. In the past, drafting a case against someone or an entity could take some time. Today, there are innovators already working to give lawyers and citizens the ability to file “one-click lawsuits,” targeting robocallers with AI writing.
Drafting Legal Briefs
One commonality with lawyers is the legal brief — the court-presented document lawyers have to draft and present on a regular basis. There likely is not a lawyer alive who hasn’t come up against some level of writer’s block while writing a brief. AI can help lawyers draft and complete their legal briefs quickly.
Lawyers can approach using AI to draft legal briefs in a number of ways. For one, they can give the AI prompts and request an outline, or even draft their own outlines and ask AI to fill in the gaps, fleshing out the ideas with additional context. With AI doing the majority of the heavy lifting required in writing the legal brief, the lawyer is now free to edit, add to, and complete the brief far more quickly and efficiently.
Lawyers can often get buried in their work. They can also get close to their cases, so much so that it can be difficult to suss out problems, missteps, or mistakes. These situations are where AI can act as another set of eyeballs on a paper, a decision, evidence, or briefs. Lawyers are often adept wordsmiths, but can benefit from having AI programs point out a different way of wording something, or even with grammatical errors that could be embarrassing if they landed in the wrong hands.
Legal narratives, decisions, and case documents can sometimes be frightfully lengthy and detailed. AI can analyze and summarize these documents faster than it would take most people to open the manila envelope they are contained in. If a lawyer wants to discuss a case or decision with a client or their colleagues, a summary of the full document can be helpful.
LegalMind AI Summarizer is one such program that targets the lawyer’s need for quick, efficient, and easy-to-understand summaries. With programs like these, the burden of stacks of papers, rows of text, and late nights highlighting important information is lifted.
Plain Language for Clients
Although lawyers are, quite literally, experts in reading through legalese and deciphering what everything means, documents written in legal language can often be frustrating for their clients. AI can be used to turn a legal document written in legal jargon into something a client can digest and understand. This will require a lawyer’s eye to make sure the AI didn’t tell the client something incorrect, as generative AI is not completely foolproof. Nevertheless, it can save a lawyer the time that would have otherwise been spent translating a document laden with legalese for clients.
This ability for AI to put things into easy-to-understand, plain-language terms can also be useful for planning for addressing a group — for example, in a courtroom situation. Lawyers often have to plan their line of questioning, or opening and closing statements far ahead of time. It is important that questions are succinct and get to the heart of the matter at hand, drawing out the answers most beneficial to the lawyer’s case. In addition, opening and closing statements need to be compelling and convince those in attendance that your side is right.
Learning New AI Skills
A recent New York Times article hinted that AI is “coming for lawyers” — insinuating that their jobs may be in jeopardy due to the power of AI technology to replace much of what lawyers do. However, from all accounts, lawyers needn’t fear for their jobs just yet (Lohr, 2023). Although large swathes of the administrative and written work lawyers do can be aided by AI, the human element is still required in the legal profession. While AI can be made out as a “one-button” solution to writing, drafting, and creating issues, this is far from the current reality of AI’s capabilities. Lawyers must be especially aware of the new skills they will need to develop to work best with AI technology.
First, AI and generative chat programs are not perfect by any means. Indeed, their output can include mistakes, plagiarism, bad grammar and syntax, and outdated references. Often, if the output is long enough, the AI will begin to repeat itself. Although some have extolled the perfection of AI and how it will replace humans in some respects, it isn’t there yet. There is still a good amount of human intervention required to make AI as effective as possible.
Another facet to remember with regard to using AI in a legal sense, is that one must be careful with what information is fed to the program. Programs such as ChatGPT are so new that we still do not have a good understanding of the security of such programs. Much of the information that passes between client and attorney, within court cases, or between attorneys within one firm is confidential. Confidential information should not be fed into AI programs, as it could be more easily compromised, which could potentially spell a PR nightmare for a law firm.
Lawyers will need to familiarize themselves with all of the different AI tools and learn which ones will be most beneficial to them and their needs. Skills in AI use will need to be learned and developed to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive industry. Partners should consider instituting training on AI use for legal writing within their firms, so all of their lawyers know what tools are at their disposal and how to use them for the most benefit.
No one can be certain how far AI can take the legal profession, or how advanced it will eventually become. Lawyers, as well as other communication professionals, need to keep themselves abreast of changes in this technology and integrate the advancements into their work as much as possible, or run the risk of being left in the dust by more tech-savvy firms.
Lohr, Steve. “A.I. is Coming for Lawyers, Again.” New York Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/10/technology/ai-is-coming-for-lawyers-again.html
Villasenor, John. “How AI Will Revolutionize the Practice of Law.” Brookings, March 20, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/how-ai-will-revolutionize-the-practice-of-law/
Joseph Wilson co-founded Studicata, a leading online educational preparatory platform for law school finals and the bar exam. Using the “explain it to me like I’m five years old” approach, Studicata strays away from traditional, convoluted legal prep courses by educating students in a streamlined, foolproof way. The platform has helped over 100,000 students.