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‘The biggest socio-technological leap forward’: Why lawyers must realise AI potential

The steadfast roll-out of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal profession is showing no signs of slowing down, with lawyers having little choice but to work with it – at least in some capacity.

user iconEmma Musgrave 09 January 2024 Big Law
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In a recent episode of LawTech Talks, Sparke Helmore Lawyers former partner Dalvin Chien and UNSW senior lecturer and Unisearch expert Dr Sebastian Sequoiah-Grayson joined host Jerome Doraisamy to discuss the implications of AI moving forward.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbole at all to say that we’re looking at the biggest socio-technological leap forward since the internet,” Dr Sequoiah-Grayson said.

“We all remember the early days of the internet, and our parents thought that they could just have a conversation with Alta Vista or a search engine, and it would answer them. Well, that is now actually what generative AI is promising.


“I think one of the most exciting challenges for all of us now is to learn how to situate responsibility, agency, and authorship within this context, where, for the first time, there’s no single agent behind the narrative or even collections of agents behind the narrative who can be answerable to our queries. It’s a very philosophical issue as well as technological and legal one.”

While AI has been used across industries for some time now, Mr Chien noted the pandemic only escalated the take-up quicker and more aggressively in the legal profession.

“You’ve almost got a perfect storm. We’re entering into a post-COVID environment, and three things [have] occurred. COVID basically forced everyone into digital. It’s the best time, in my view, to be a technology lawyer. And in two decades of practice, I’ve never seen the take-up of artificial intelligence to this extent,” he explained.

“Lawyers can sometimes be laggards, right? I think in the profession, we can take up technology perhaps at a slower pace than others. Generative AI puts things into context.”

Other external pressures, such as the rising cost of living, are also encouraging greater use of generative AI, Mr Chien flagged.

“We’re entering into an environment where there’s a degree of economic uncertainty, cost-of-living pressures, et cetera,” he said.

“Generative AI is a beautiful tool because it helps with a few things. It’s simple to use; it’s relatively cheap. And I think as the legal profession is asked to do more with less, we’re investing in technology, we’re investing in AI tools, we’re investing in automation, we’re investing in cheaper cloud services, for example. So, I think that you do have a storm in 2023 where the conditions are ripe for generative AI to take off.”

With this take-up showing no signs of slowing down, there’s little question that the legal professionals who don’t embrace it will get left behind, according to Mr Chien.

He noted that while some lawyers were initially hesitant to take it up, most now understand that it’s become “mainstream” and, therefore, must be embraced as the norm.

“If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said [lawyers were] reticent [about AI],” Mr Chien said.

“That’s changed. I think you go through a pattern, right? The first response is [there’s] too many legal risks, privacy, et cetera, et cetera. Now we’re seeing it hit the mainstream.

“… There’s that real perception, true or not, that if you don’t embrace it, you fall behind. And again, for all the other conditions that I spoke about, it’s fascinating. I love the fact that initially there was resistance, and now there’s been a 180.”

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here: