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Clayton Utz accelerates ESG work with ChatGPT

AI technologies are set to have a massive impact on a number of sectors — including law and ESG — which has prompted Clayton Utz to start using ChatGPT to drive efficiencies in its ESG practice.

user iconLauren Croft 21 February 2023 NewLaw
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Since OpenAI launched its chatbot ChatGPT in November of last year, the tool has made global headlines and prompted waves of change within a number of industries, including the legal profession.

A noisy debate has subsequently emerged over such artificial intelligence (AI). 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, and in spite of 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.

Now, in a first for Australian law firms, Clayton Utz has built a product to help its lawyers use and benefit from ChatGPT in a “reliable and effective” way — and is being used within its ESG practice to start with.

Clayton Utz forensic and technology services director William Howe and head of the Clayton Utz national environment and sustainable development practice Claire Smith spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the way ChatGPT has benefited the firm so far and the future of its use moving forward.

Mr Howe’s product initially works with another commercial AI tool to pull key information from a case. Once complete, ChatGPT converts that output into a case summary. This summary is then reviewed by a lawyer for any required edits.

Consequently, a backlog of cases that would usually take months to summarise can be finalised in a couple of weeks, using ChatGPT as a time-saver and productivity tool, which Mr Howe said frees up the time of the ESG lawyers.

“We see ChatGPT having limitations and strengths. Although this is early days for the technology, by avoiding the limitations and staying in areas of strength, we have been able to successfully implement the technology where the inputs are public knowledge and fully stated in the prompt, there is a human in the loop, and there is a definable transformation performed. This work on climate change is really important to us and fits perfectly into the sweet spot,” he explained.

“As a technologist, it’s exciting for me how readily the lawyers in the firm have embraced the technology, and so they are happy to be the ‘human in the loop’, which is needed to make these solutions work and verify the outputs. I’m proud that Clayton Utz is, to our knowledge, the first law firm to have developed a product like this based on ChatGPT technology.”

For Ms Smith, this has meant that document reviews have been quicker and easier — but that lawyers on her team still need to be careful about what information they give ChatGPT and what they ask the bot.

“We have been working with our forensic technology services team, who have been using AI and training ChatGPT to help our ESG practice. The product they have developed initially works with another commercial AI tool to pull key information from a single reliable data source, for example, a judgment,” she explained.

“Once complete, ChatGPT converts that output into a well-articulated case summary. This summary and the original data source then has to be reviewed by a lawyer for accuracy and completeness, but the use of this technology is saving us time.”

Particularly after the growth of the ESG sector in recent years, technology like ChatGPT is also having numerous impacts on Clayton Utz clients, Ms Smith added.

“ESG (particularly around climate disclosures, transition risk and greenwashing) is a key topic of interest for many of our clients, so we need to be on top of the latest developments and trends (both in Australia and around the world) so our clients can make informed decisions. New technologies can (with some training, parameters and assurance) help us with development and trend analysis,” she explained.  

“More broadly, existing remote sensing and satellite technologies, advanced modelling, digital twins, drone technology, robotics, big data interfacing and advanced machine learning algorithms are all having significant impacts on different aspects of the ESG sector.

“We are always looking for new ways to streamline and speed up basic tasks and are embracing technology, including ChatGPT and other AI, to help us. I’m not sure that AI will ever replace our analytical reasoning skills, but if used carefully, it can speed up some aspects. Given the unreliability at the moment, we have to be careful how we use such AI and have rigorous verification processes in place.”

To help implement this new technology, Clayton Utz has established a cross-firm working group for the rollout of this technology firm-wide.

“As a top-tier firm, our lawyers have told me they want to use all appropriate tools to ensure our clients receive the best outcomes. There are some practice areas where the use cases are more evident than others. We have one of the largest data capabilities of any firm in Australia and potentially around the world, and so with that scale comes our ability to move safely and quickly,” Mr Howe outlined.

“[AI technology] is changing weekly. The speed of change is astonishing. We are seeing new developments now where it might be able to access external tools. Think of how long it took humans to evolve to where we could use tools, compared to how fast this technology is evolving. I’ve been in technology [for] a long time, and this is probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen in my career.

“What makes me excited, and actually a bit uneasy, is the thought that in five years, we will look back on today and think ‘that was only the beginning…’ I would challenge the legal community to start addressing this now before it’s too late.”