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‘ChatGPT is really the tip of the iceberg’ for sole GCs

Sole general counsel can start to use new artificial intelligence (AI) platforms like ChatGPT to not only scale their workload but also expand their industry knowledge, as AI tech forces the “tradecraft of in-house lawyers” to constantly evolve.

user iconLauren Croft 21 February 2023 Corporate Counsel
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So far, in 2023, AI technologies are having a massive impact on the legal profession, as ChatGPT continues to trend around the world.

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”.

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, even if the new tech can’t replace lawyers entirely (at least not yet).


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.

However, ChatGPT can create numerous efficiencies in time-consuming tasks, something general counsel, and sole GCs in particular, can use to help scale their workload and improve their day-to-day.

AI technologies, outlined by JobAdder GC Simone Vrabac, can also be used to achieve more engagement and reach across the business, despite ChatGPT still being a “bit of a novelty” for her.

“The thing that is unique about ChatGPT is its accessibility. It allows you to experiment with AI technology and how it could be useful for things like drafting, without a heavy upfront investment.  At this early stage, I’ve really only asked ChatGPT really basic legal questions (and then had to verify the quality of its output).

As a sole GC, it is a constant challenge to scale and maintain efficiency without headcount. AI can help fast-track this. However, I think the most important thing is to have a plan for how you want the legal function to operate and then assess what technology, or other resources, you need to build that vision out. Create the plan first and then look at the technology to support that plan. For me, the first step in building out scale is establishing foundations. For example, creating FAQs, templates and a contract playbook that align to the risk position of the business,” she said.

“The second is establishing a ticketing and matter management system that allows you to have a single ‘pipe’ for legal requests, maintain re-usable precedents and generate analytics to justify investment in the function. I’m now at the point of considering how to drive more automated self-service and better contract management. This is the phase where I think AI could really become relevant to explore more deeply.”

And particularly as GCs are more resource and time-poor than ever, AI tools will become increasingly important in helping to isolate critical pieces of data leading to more relevant and focused advice.

This, Sydney Fish Market GC and head of property Michael Guilday said, can help sole GCs digest “huge amounts of information within very short time frames”.

“I don’t think anyone yet truly knows [ChatGPT’s] full potential. In a legal context, one significant use case might be to assist in providing first drafts of correspondence on a particular topic. The idea is that this early draft could then go on to be reviewed and refined by a lawyer and ultimately adapted into formal legal advice.  

“Another use case might involve ChatGPT augmenting legal research tasks which are currently outsourced to law firms. In this way, ChatGPT could help sole GCs solve problems more efficiently, thereby increasing their span of influence,” he explained.

Technology has already enabled sole GCs to be more self-sufficient, and with the right tools, we might rely even less on outside assistance going forward. For example, I know that many in-house lawyers already use a Google search to sense check their legal research, including by identifying related law firm commentary and/or accessing the latest regulatory information directly from government sources.

“But it has taken lawyers a relatively long period of time to trust the results generated by a Google search, and it may take a similar period of time for a similar degree of confidence to reach with ChatGPT. It also remains to be seen whether the use of AI tools could raise intellectual property issues and whether they need to be tailored more specifically in a business context to meet the needs of in-house lawyers.”

GC and company secretary at Jennifer Mulheron echoed this — but added that “the concept of AI having a helpful role to play in the legal profession is not new”.

“Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT have enormous potential to create efficiencies in lower-value tasks that are cognitive-light but time-consuming. In time, as the models improve, they will also likely be able to provide efficiencies in some cognitive-heavy tasks by replicating higher-order human thought processes,” she said.

“It’s incumbent on the legal profession to understand the technology to regulate it and take advantage of the efficiency gains it can bring. But the technology remains in early stages with clear limitations (currently providing more entertainment fodder than accurate/correct information). In this context, ChatGPT hasn’t helped my day-to-day — yet. But I’m certainly enjoying learning how to use it and its potential.” 

Using ChatGPT has also meant that GCs are able to properly consider how different AI technologies can be integrated into their legal functions to help with scaling. However, Ms Vrabac also noted some concerns.

“In terms of AI and scaling, this year, I’m interested in exploring whether we can leverage our customer support technology to create a legal-specific chatbot that internal stakeholders can use to quickly source answers from our internal legal FAQ pages. I also think that AI-assisted contract redlining tech will be a game changer as its price point lowers and its accuracy improves,” she explained.

“I think it’s tempting to think that ChatGPT can be used as a time saver for legal research, or unleashed on the business as a way to get their basic questions answered. 

“My biggest concerns with using ChatGPT in this way are: it does have problems with accuracy; it seems to get confused when the answer isn’t black or white and the generic response needs to be applied to a complex set of facts and; there is a risk that business people view it as a substitute for the legal function and rely on incorrect answers.”

Despite AI, in theory, being able to assist GCs to scale their presence and influence, ChatGPT is yet to prove “unequivocally its ability to do this”, noted Mr Guilday.

Sole GCs are routinely called upon to undertake a wide variety of different tasks. Some of them can be very straightforward, while others can be extremely complex. I do see ChatGPT having a particular role with the more routine tasks. I can see ChatGPT being useful in assisting in the identification of leading lawyers in different disciplines in various parts of the world, something which sole GCs are commonly called upon to do.

“Where ChatGPT is less likely to be useful is, for example, in responding to a question such as ‘In Australia, can I summarily terminate a person’s employment if they are found to have engaged in misconduct?’. Of course, the answer to this question may depend on any number of factors which may not be accessible from public sources on the internet, such as the relevant contract of employment, the industrial relations landscape and the nature of the misconduct,” he outlined.

“With the emergence of so many new legal tech solutions, the tradecraft of in-house lawyers has been constantly evolving. In this regard, ChatGPT is increasingly likely to be seen as a valuable component of the in-house counsel’s toolbox of the future. However, its limitations must be properly understood before it becomes trusted in the same way as information obtained from more traditional sources.”

Moreover, Ms Vrabac added, ChatGPT can help fast-track GCs’ understanding of the industry in which their business operates, in addition to helping generate ideas on a particular topic of interest.

“For example, it gave me some useful (if generic) pointers in response to the question ‘how to build out a legal function’s strategy’. I can apply the generic ChatGPT response to quickly see if there are other areas I should be considering in the legal strategy that I’ve prepared,” she said.

“AI is a lever that will eventually become table stakes for sole GCs in completing routine, low-risk and high-volume work, so it’s important to stay up to date with developments in this area. ChatGPT is really the tip of the iceberg. I think the in-house lawyer’s value will always lie in their deep understanding of the business and legal solutioning on complex, high-risk issues.”