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January 8, 2024 Industry Outlook | Law

AI will transform legal industry in 2024, beyond

Richard D. Harris

As we enter 2024, a key question looms large in the legal industry: Will artificial intelligence (AI) render lawyers and paralegals obsolete?

Fortunately for legal professionals, the prospect of AI leading to widespread job losses in the legal sector in 2024 seems highly unlikely.

However, a significant shift is on the horizon: Those proficient in leveraging AI will increasingly gain an edge over those who lag behind in adopting these technologies.

This evolution suggests that a proactive approach to AI adoption may become a critical differentiator in the increasingly competitive legal market, as clients seek out firms that offer the most efficient, high-quality solutions for their legal needs.

The AI revolution in law — complementing, not replacing

The legal profession is undergoing a significant transformation, driven by the rapid advancement of AI technologies.

AI is not just a tool for automating routine tasks; it’s becoming an integral part of complex legal processes. From predictive analytics in litigation to AI-assisted legal research and contract analysis, AI is enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of legal services.

AI in the legal world provides help in outlining briefs, preparing client presentations and getting materials organized.

It allows attorneys to summarize hundreds of documents in minimal time, allowing them time to better prepare and focus on the strategic aspects of their work, such as client counseling, negotiation and courtroom advocacy.

However, with AI’s entry into the legal profession, there needs to be some firm parameters. Current AI tools are not a replacement for research tools such as Google, LexisNexis and Westlaw.

AI is also not a replacement for human thought. Rather, AI tools best serve to surface ideas and concepts, and facilitate human expression, whether artistic, linguistic or otherwise.

The skills gap

While it may be slightly overstating to say that AI in the legal field has taken on a “join or die” level of urgency, it is not far from the truth.

The real challenge in this AI-driven era is the skills gap. As AI becomes more prevalent in legal practices, the demand for tech-savvy legal professionals is growing.

In addition to providing access to AI resources, larger law firms have already begun to provide training and preparation internally to familiarize their staffs with the value and potential pitfalls of using AI, while smaller firms often do not have the resources to do this in-house.

This is where bar associations and the legal education community need to step in, providing access to training to those who need to become familiar with AI.

This imperative is not just about learning how to use new tools; it’s also about protecting the uninitiated from perilous missteps that can come from misuse of tools they do not understand.

Ethical and regulatory considerations

As law firms navigate the integration of AI into their practices, ethical and regulatory considerations remain paramount.

Issues such as data privacy, bias in AI algorithms and the ethical use of AI in legal practice are at the forefront of discussions. Lawyers must ensure that their use of AI complies with ethical standards and legal and professional regulations.

The importance of safeguarding client confidential information and attorney-client privilege cannot be overstated.

It is crucial that legal professionals recognize that confidential information must never be entered into shared online platforms like the public version of ChatGPT, or other platforms that don’t offer customary protection of uploaded data.

The future of legal practice

Looking ahead to 2024 (and beyond), AI is set to become an indispensable part of legal practice — it will soon become as vital to the legal community as LexisNexis and Westlaw.

It will always be incumbent on attorneys to provide the highest quality, most efficient, and effective legal services to clients, and the plain fact is that, in the near future, that will not be possible without AI.

Richard D. Harris is a partner with Day Pitney LLP and chairs the law firm’s technology, telecommunications and outsourcing practice group. His office is located in Hartford.

Check out the rest of HBJ's 2024 economic forecast issue

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