Real vs. Artificial: The Top Three Reasons Why AI Can’t Replace a Real-Life Attorney

June 6, 2024

Almost as soon as Open AI’s ChatGPT platform was released to the public on November 30, 2022, speculation about its impact on service industries that rely upon written and analytical work generated by skilled professionals went from zero to “11.”   Our collective understanding of how best to use AI (and see through the hype) has increased dramatically during this time, but most businesspeople still have significant questions around the value (and the best applications) of this transformative technology.  A good indicator of this level of inquiry is the fact that “hallucinate” was selected as 2023 word of the year by the Cambridge Dictionary and Dictionary.com (fun fact: the Oxford University Press settled on “rizz”).

The impact of AI on some industries and professions (e.g., code development and general content generation) has already had dramatic impacts, but the level and nature of AI’s impact on the legal industry remains open and evolving.

The Current Landscape

There are several reasons that the question of AI in legal practice remains open (and controversial).  First, the utility of AI isn’t always a match for the myriad number of things lawyers do.  Generative AI tools are popping out of the woodwork, from startups to enterprise software providers, to established legal service providers like Lexis and Westlaw, but even established legal industry platforms tend to have key value targets.  For instance, litigators will find AI functionality aimed at discovery and legal research immediately useful, both in saving time and adding the ability to summarize the contents of very large amounts of data – whether in the form of electronic discovery materials or adding lightening fast summaries of case law.  Meanwhile, corporate and transactional attorneys will typically find that generative AI can be a great tool for initial drafts of text, summarizing the contents of large documents and surprising utility in the creation and summary of meeting transcripts.

However, significant challenges can arise when a neophyte (or lazy) lawyer leans too heavily on AI to resolve issues of analysis, nuance and drawing conclusions around complex areas of law or business that they do not already understand.  A first and very important question is “is this correct?”, followed by “if it is correct, is it the best approach to addressing the nuance issues of my client’s situation?”  At a minimum, the attorney asking these questions must possess the experience and knowledge to confirm whether or not the generated results can be relied upon.

Limitations of AI in Legal Practice

While AI undoubtedly offers significant advantages in streamlining processes and handling some routine legal tasks, the notion that it could fully replace human attorneys (at least in its current iteration) is a resounding “no”.

AI promises increased efficiency, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness and appears to deliver. Advanced algorithms can sift through vast volumes of legal documents in a fraction of the time it would take a human and, depending on the platform, an AI agent can often zero in on relevant material much faster than, say googling a result.

The notion that AI would be able to generate reliable, precise, brilliant results in day-to-day legal practice remains more of a hope than a realistic expectation for a number of reasons:

Number One: Understanding Legal Nuances

While AI excels at processing large volumes of data and identifying patterns, it often lacks the ability to comprehend the intricate nuances of the law or business context driving the legal work to be done. Legal interpretation frequently involves navigating complex statutes, precedents, and case law, requiring contextual understanding and subjective judgment that goes beyond the capabilities of AI algorithms. Think about form documents.  Attorneys have worked from industry standard forms of contracts, pleadings, and motions for years.  A skilled attorney can quickly scan such a document and customize (by adding and removing substantive elements) but will rarely find that a form for even a simple task is entirely ready for application.  AI can supercharge this process, cobbling together the form of document needed as an (often) excellent first draft.  However, working those materials to completion requires context, experience and, at least typically, a universe of facts that would be impossible to generalize across a large trove of training material.  The reality is that an experienced attorney brings years of education, training, and practical experience to the table, enabling them to interpret the law in light of specific circumstances and provide tailored advice to their clients.

Number Two: Risk Management and Strategic Decision-Making

Legal work involves calculated risks and judgments beyond mere data analysis. Attorneys bring intuition and foresight to the table, assessing broader legal, financial, and ethical implications, which AI cannot replicate. While AI can analyze data to identify potential general risks, it lacks the ability to exercise judgment, intuition, and foresight in the same way an experienced human attorney can. Attorneys bring a holistic perspective to risk management, considering legal, financial, reputational, and ethical implications in their recommendations.

Number Three: Advocacy and Negotiation Skills

Persuasion, negotiation, and building human rapport are hallmarks of legal practice, requiring persuasive communication, negotiation tactics, and the ability to articulate compelling arguments. AI simply lacks the soft skills necessary to advocate compellingly and nurture collaborative and empathetic client relationships.  While AI can assist in data analysis and strategy formulation, it cannot replace the human touch and persuasive abilities essential for effective advocacy, particularly when the legal terrain is complex and fast-moving.

Ultimately, while AI can be a great way to augment and streamline certain aspects of the legal practice, it is (at least for now) unable to fully replace human attorneys. AI is, at least for now, a skilled “co-pilot” (hat tip to Microsoft here).  Effective legal representation extends beyond the application of legal principles; it involves understanding the unique blend of legal knowledge, contextual understanding, empathy, and strategic thinking for each individual client. As technology continues to evolve, the symbiotic relationship between AI and human attorneys will likely redefine the practice of law, with attorneys leveraging AI tools to enhance their capabilities rather than being replaced by them.

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If you need legal advice and representation that combines the latest in AI technology with the nuanced understanding of experienced attorneys, we’re here to help. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you with your legal needs. Reach out to our GC Advantage team or contact attorney Ted Theofrastous (TCT@kjk.com) or Emily Korthaus (ELS@kjk.com).