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ChatGPT is ‘no different to Wikipedia’, lawyers warned

OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT is making waves across businesses — but NewLaw practices have said the technology is still new and advised lawyers to remain vigilant.

user iconLauren Croft 08 February 2023 NewLaw
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ChatGPT is able to come up with comprehensive and coherent responses to different prompts — and could potentially be used in a number of industries for admin tasks or document drafting.

Tech giant Microsoft, which originally invested $1 billion into the start-up in 2019, also recently announced a further multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, rumoured to be worth up to $10 billion.

However, universities across Australia have already expressed concerns about the bot being used to cheat within schools, with a recent panel discussion at UNSW emphasising the importance of teaching students to use artificial intelligence (AI) tools “ethically, morally and legally”.


The bot will also likely change the way law students are taught moving forward, according to Sprintlaw co-founder Tomoyuki Hachigo.

“Even if ChatGPT can solve problems that would take a student hours of training to solve, to the extent those skills are considered desirable for a lawyer to have, then those assessments are still meaningful,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“Having said that, there will be some skills that are redundant in a more technologically advanced world, and institutions such as universities and bar associations should consider whether it is still relevant to assess students on skills for tasks that a user-friendly tool like ChatGPT can do in seconds.”

ChatGPT should be a “welcome addition” to the suite of tools lawyers can use to cut costs and make their services more affordable to the end-client, without wholly replacing lawyers, Mr Hachigo added.

“As a tool that lawyers can use, there’s definitely a lot of potential as it can significantly cut hours spent on tasks commonly done by lawyers, such as drafting clauses, emails, advice, and legal research.

“If a client is simply after an answer to a legal question, they can generally get that already from the internet with some research skills. But the reason why people still engage lawyers is because they’re after the accountability and assurance that comes with a human lawyer,” he explained.

“The quality of responses on legal questions of ChatGPT varies from accurate to misleading (albeit always delivered confidently), due in part to the varying quality of training data used to build the model. Because law is an area where accuracy, nuance and precision are often critical (as the costs of getting things wrong are high), people are likely to still turn to human lawyers for this accountability and assurance.”

Fellow NewLaw firm Law Squared is already leaning into new technologies like AI, which founder and director Demetrio Zema said has been key to the firm’s success.

“Our digital and innovation practice has a strong understanding of AI, with most technology platforms already using some level of machine learning or AI. ChatGPT represents a significant step forward for generative AI, and while we are not using it for client-facing deliverables, we are exploring how — and to what benefit — we might incorporate this and other emerging technologies via small, controlled trials.  

What I do see is a powerful tool to expedite transactional legal work, allowing lawyers to focus on higher value, more strategic guidance. In the same way that calculators haven’t replaced mathematicians, it’s about lawyers embracing these technologies and using them to their advantage,” he explained.   

“In terms of specific areas where ChatGPT (or other generative AI tools) could add advantage, I see potential for drafting simple legal advice, reviewing and redlining contracts and monitoring compliance. It may even be helpful for rewriting advice so that it is jargon-free, more readable, more concise — ironically, more human than conventional legalese!”

ChatGPT’s immediate usage within the legal market is likely to only be around these core tasks, agreed Gilbert + Tobin chief executive Sam Nickless.

“[ChatGPT] has significant potential to improve efficiency and effectiveness of supporting tasks that are currently time-consuming and do not necessarily warrant the development of specific technology tools. For example, extracting structured data from unstructured sets of data or from text. There are applications for law firms in using the technology in other areas such as marketing, knowledge management, HR and IT,” he explained.

“In this initial phase of this technology, lawyers will need to be aware that the security of what they post into the prompt box is not yet assured. It is not clear how and where those prompts will be stored, and whether the prompt will allow the AI to learn your confidential information and then provide it to others. Lawyers should not be putting identifiable client-sensitive or otherwise confidential information into the prompts.”

Subsequently, lawyers will need to remain vigilant when using the program, which Keypoint Law consulting principal Philip Argy argued was “no different to Wikipedia in being a massive database of information and curated based on undisclosed criteria”.

“The other key point is that AI ingests a lot of material but ultimately is incapable of legal reasoning. So, whilst it may be superb in finding the most recent case with the features closest to the case at hand, it is unlikely to understand or recognise that foreseeability changes over time, and what may not have been foreseeable in 1932 would now be considered obvious,” he outlined.

“So, the professional will always be needed to assimilate what AI produces with other input in crafting a solution to a problem.”

However, ChatGPT may be useful as a “starting point” for clients to educate themselves on general legal topics so that they can have more efficient conversations with their lawyers, with good legal advice still requiring soft skills — ones that AI don’t yet possess.

“It is important for lawyers to understand ChatGPT and be aware of uses and limitations of the tool so that they can advise clients when it is appropriate to use it and the risks of doing so, particularly given its increasing popularity,” Mr Hachigo said.

And while technology can be a “game changer for delivering data and streamlining work”, the legal tech market can often be “noisy” and “overwhelming”, according to Mr Zema, who emphasised that ChatGPT is still a fairly new technology.  

“It’s early days for ChatGPT, and as I understand it, there are still limitations with the data and programming. I’d recommend lawyers be curious, but start with small, controlled tasks, and be sure to do adequate quality reviews,” he added.

“Even as the accuracy of AI tools improves, I’m convinced lawyers have an important role to play in reviewing AI-generated work, asking: Is this commercial? Is this practical? Is this actionable? Does this help my client’s business achieve its objectives? 

“This is the kind of higher-value, data-backed, commercial guidance that the C-suite is expecting from legal today. If AI can give teams the data, capacity and headspace to meet this expectation, that’s surely a win.”