Law’s Digital Awakening: AI’s Growing Impact on the Legal World

April 17, 2023

Often characterized by its adherence to tradition and precedent, the legal industry is commonly thought to be resistant to change at some levels. Over the last few decades, innovation has occurred on a massive scale, and despite some hesitancy, the legal industry tends to adapt. The rapid innovation that has recently occurred in the use and availability of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) sparks many interesting questions, namely, what effects will AI have on lawyers and the profession in general? 

AI is involved in numerous aspects of daily life, and its reach is likely to continue growing. Automation has historically been viewed as a threat to general blue-collar jobs, yet AI is bringing significant change to white-collar jobsthat were formerly thought to be  more protected from automation. The technology at hand can both assist lawyers with their work and potentially replace some aspects of their jobs. As AI Technology becomes more sophisticated, both the positive impacts and the potential negative impacts become clearer. 

AI is more likely to aid attorneys, rather than replace them, at least in the near future.

A burning question amongst legal professionals tends to fall along the lines of whether AI will replace attorneys? General consensus seems to indicate that AI is more likely to aid attorneys, rather than replace them, at least in the near future. This raises the question, if AI won’t replace attorneys, what effects will it have on the practice of law? 

For starters, AI can significantly increase efficiency in the legal industry. Namely, it can assist in automating mundane and repetitive tasks like document review, legal research, and contract drafting, enabling attorneys to focus on the more complex aspects of their practice. Additionally, AI can assist in improving accuracy in areas where human error may be more prevalent, such as contract drafting and proofreading. A third and more social focused benefit is rooted in accessibility to legal services. Specifically, AI platforms may provide legal services that are more affordable and accessible to those who otherwise may not have access. Finally, AI can provide valuable data-driven information and trends in making strategy decisions in litigation. 

If AI offers all these benefits to the legal profession, why is it not being adopted into the practice setting on a larger scale? While there are numerous reasons for this lack of industry adoption, four key aspects are job displacement, ethical concerns, data security and privacy concerns, and the gap in legal expertise with where the software currently stands. 

An examination of the history of automation and its effect on the workforce tends to show that, historically, automation has displaced primarily blue-collar jobs. However, with the growing prevalence of generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, more white-collar jobs are at risk of becoming automated. Specifically, the automation of predictable and routine tasks, which are frequently carried out by junior lawyers, paralegals, and other office administrative staff, are increasingly susceptible to automation. As AI systems continue to improve in efficiency and accuracy, they can effectively manage tasks such as document review, legal research, and contract drafting. Consequently, these advancements may streamline workflows, reduce human error, and potentially result in cost savings for law firms. However, this shift also raises concerns about job displacement, necessitating the need for professionals in the legal industry to adapt their skillsets and focus on tasks requiring critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and empathy – areas where AI has yet to surpass human capabilities.

Another significant concern of AI’s impact on the legal industry is an ethical one. With any AI tool comes a risk of data-related bias in which the AI may inadvertently reinforce biases that are present in corpus of data that which the AI is trained on. Additionally, data stored with third parties raises significant confidentiality and data privacy concerns. The data privacy and security concerns of AI’s growing presence is an area of significant contention across the board and will likely require significant policy changes. Finally, as AI’s use in the legal profession continues to grow, legal professionals will be forced to learn how to best integrate AI into their practice, and an inability to do so may result in a gap in expertise and increased pressure on legal professionals. 

The gap in legal expertise between AI and human lawyers is a crucial factor hindering widespread adoption of AI in the legal industry. While AI has made significant strides in automating routine tasks, it still lacks the nuanced understanding of law, the ability to make subjective judgments, and the capability to empathize with clients – all critical skills that set human lawyers apart. As a result, the profession must strike a delicate balance between utilizing AI to improve efficiency and accuracy, and maintaining the human touch that is essential for providing high-quality legal advice and representation. This balance will invariably require continuous refinement as AI technology advances, alongside increased collaboration between legal professionals and technology developers. 

The influence of AI has the potential to significantly reshape the entire legal field. Whether these changes are positive or negative remains uncertain, as opinions may vary depending on who is asked. Nevertheless, it is clear that the growth of AI is the latest, and perhaps most significant, in a series of technological innovations that have profoundly impacted the legal services industry to date. 

Andrew McArthur & Edwin Kellermann

Andrew is a second-year law student from Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Criminology. At UNC, Andrew serves as the VP of Operations for the Transactional and Corporate Law Association and is a Staff Member on the Journal of Law and Technology. In his free time, he enjoys exploring new places with his fiancé and watching soccer.

Edwin Kellermann is a second-year law student from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He attended Boston University and graduated with a degree in Political Science. At UNC Law, Edwin serves as Executive Coordinator for the Transactional and Corporate Law Association and is a Staff Member on the Journal of Law and Technology. In his free time, he enjoys architectural photography and theorizing as to the conflict of generative AI and current IP law regimes.