Expert Comment: Generative AI in Law: Ethical Challenges and Future Prospects
University of Salford Business School’s Craig Smith, Lecturer in Law shares his thoughts on the ethical challenges and future prospects associated with Generative AI in the legal profession.
The benefits of AI, particularly generative AI, have attracted much attention in the press in recent years and its use has become widespread. The long-term impact on the legal sector is still unknown as its use by the legal profession remains under development.
Indeed, the legal profession holds different views on the efficacy and ethical value of AI, some of these views conflict. Lord Justice Birss, Deputy Head of Civil Justice, has expressed hope for the technological advances within the legal sector. In a recent report from the Law Gazette, Lord Justice Birss was quoted as describing large language model AI and explaining how it can be used to summarise information.
Lord Justice Birss appears supportive of the adoption of AI, setting aside concerns that it might be perceived as a threat to the legal sector. Lord Justice Birss describes the value of generative AI and says “it will be used and I can tell you, I have used it” demonstrating that many legal professionals are not only aware of generative AI but actively utilising it in their day-to-day role.
Countering this stance, Sir Geoffrey Voss, Master of the rolls, has said regulators and courts may need to control how lawyers use AI, offering a more cautious approach to the blanket adoption of AI within the legal sector. Factors such as ethics, access to justice and the provision of effective and economical legal advice are central to any decision-making surrounding the adoption of generative AI within the legal sector.
Generative AI has the potential to reshape the future of the legal profession. Discussions around AI in the legal sector have been ongoing even before generative AI became so accessible. Professor Susskind discusses the opportunity and potential of transformation for the legal sector, whereby AI is used to inform clients of their chances of success in a claim.
With AI, the idea of predicting the outcome of a case for a client is a real possibility, something that a law firm could use to screen a client’s case or predict the chances of success. This argument raises concerns about potential job losses within the legal profession and its impact on legal education.
Educating future legal professionals at universities to prepare law graduates for a legal sector at the early stages of generative AI utilisation is challenging. Due to the evolving nature of AI capabilities, it is difficult to equip current students for potential advanced AI capabilities that they will be required to engage with in the employment market.
Yet higher education acknowledges that it is digital skills and digital fluency that are significant, the extent to which these are embedded throughout the curriculum holds the key to ensuring that the students of today possess the necessary transferable skills to apply their digital capabilities to the working world of tomorrow. A law graduate with generative AI skills is undeniably more employable and appealing to the legal sector than one without.
The diverse opinions within the legal sector regarding the use of generative AI reflect the ongoing evolution of this technology's role. As the legal profession grapples with the impact on jobs, ethics, and education, it's clear that AI is reshaping the day-to-day work of some legal professionals. As the legal profession adapts to the changes AI brings, it will be essential for both legal professionals and institutions to reflect ethical use of Generative AI.
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