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‘Human lawyers are more relevant than ever’

“The rise of artificial intelligence should give us pause to reflect on the value of lawyers — but not for the reasons many would have you believe,” says Lander & Rogers’ chief client experience officer.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 09 March 2023 Big Law
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Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have, so far this year, had a massive impact on the legal profession, as platforms like ChatGPT continue to make global headlines.

This has been seen in the recent uptake of ChatGPT in the Clayton Utz environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practice, as well as Allen & Overy recently partnering with a chatbot lawyer, “Harvey”. This extends past BigLaw, as numerous sole GCs have said that AI tech can help scale their workload and improve their day-to-day.

A noisy debate has subsequently emerged over ChatGPT and similar AI tech. On the one hand, platforms like ChatGPT are a “useful resource” for boutique firms and BigLaw firms alike and will require a focus on key skills and a rethink on legal education, with such platforms being critical for young lawyers’ toolkits, even if the new tech can’t replace lawyers entirely (at least not yet).

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However, there are certainly fears that AI’s rise could mean the beginning of the end of lawyers — even if it should be used cautiously in courts and demands new workplace policies, despite the fact that ChatGPT can be used to cheat on law school exams and is, in the eyes of some, “no different to Wikipedia”. Billable hours have also been revealed to be at further risk with the development of AI tech.

To read Lawyers Weekly’s full series of ChatGPT stories, click here.

The ever-important role of lawyers

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Lander & Rogers chief client experience officer Anthony Kearns (pictured) said that the rise of artificial intelligence “should give us pause to reflect on the value of lawyers — but not for the reasons many would have you believe”.

“I am old enough to remember when the professional pundits said Google would be the end of lawyers because anyone could find the answer to their own legal problem. Now we are hearing similar prophecies in respect of ChatGPT. These statements inadvertently devalue human lawyers,” he explained.

“The role of lawyers remains critically important because of our ability to deeply listen to clients with empathy, to understand their needs, to affirm their experience and create a solution that gives them clarity and confidence in managing complexity.”

Referring to the enablers of these human practices as “soft skills” simply isn’t reflective of their importance, nor is it accurate, Mr Kearns argued.

“As a tool, ChatGPT represents an opportunity to redirect human lawyers towards higher-value work while reducing time spent on repetitive low-value tasks. If ChatGPT can support more of us to focus in this way, the profession will be all the better for it.”

With this in mind, Mr Kearns detailed, “practices that help lawyers orientate to human systems and complexity with empathy, curiosity and a learning orientation” are ones that will be important in an increasingly digital-first world.

“In my experience of working with in-house lawyers, the fostering of human-centric orientations often involves deep reflection and challenging our assumptions about legal practice. It requires us to notice and loosen our attachments to advocacy, being right and rationality,” he reflected.

“These are all deeply embedded in our concepts of professionalism and what it means to be a lawyer but, if held too tightly, can interfere with our ability to create effective relationships and work in genuine complexity.”

Like the development of anything important, he noted, the most effective way to do this work is through cycles of deliberate practice and reflective dialogue in a supportive coaching relationship.

Replacing legal functions

It is “highly unlikely”, Mr Kearns posited, that artificial intelligence models like ChatGPT will replace legal functions.

“The human side of law is critically important for the profession — particularly for in-house lawyers. They are immersed in the relationships they seek to influence, and their role within organisations is defined relationally,” he said.

“To be successful, in-house lawyers must understand how human systems work and how they can be influenced. More importantly, they must develop the capability to both participate in the system and observe their role within it.”

This adaptability, Mr Kearns continued, may go some way in explaining why many general counsel have been quicker to experiment with and adopt ChatGPT into their practice.

“On one view, any business services leader who is not using freely available technology to reduce the time spent on low-value work probably isn’t doing their job,” he said.

Relevance of lawyers

When asked how lawyers can remain relevant moving forward, Mr Kearns said that the premise of the question suggests that the value of human lawyers may be in decline as a result of the advent of such tech platforms.

“I would argue the opposite is true — human lawyers are more relevant than ever before in assisting clients to navigate increasingly complex social and business environments,” he proclaimed.

Looking ahead, Mr Kearns said that his “great hope” is that ChatGPT will finally drive the long-overdue evolution of formal legal education.

“I don’t think ChatGPT passing the bar exam means it could one day be a great lawyer; rather, I am hopeful it causes us to reflect on whether we are teaching our human law students the right things,” he mused.

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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