Generative AI in Law: A New Survey of Lawyer Perspectives and Plans
Have you recently heard the term “ChatGPT” or “generative AI” and wondered what they were? Or maybe you’ve read one or two of my recent columns and have a general sense of what this technology is and what it does.
But are you using it in your day-to-day workflow? If the answer is “no,” according to a recent survey from the Thomson Reuters Institute, you’re not alone.
Last week Thomson Reuters released a report on the survey, ChatGPT and Generative AI within Law Firms. The report covered the findings from the survey and highlighted the views of legal professionals on this new technology, including their understanding of the risks and benefits. The survey was conducted in March 2023, and the survey respondents consisted of 443 legal professionals from midsize and large firms located in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.
According to the Report, the vast majority (91%) of legal professionals are aware of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. Large law firm respondents are the most familiar with the concepts (93%) compared to those from midsize firms (90%).
Not surprisingly, the technology is viewed with skepticism, with approximately 15% of those surveyed reporting that their firms cautioned employees against unapproved generative AI utilization in the workplace. Another 6% mentioned a complete ban. A marginally higher percentage of large law firms (10%) prohibited unauthorized usage compared to midsize law firms, which stood at 4%.
The survey also addressed generative AI adoption levels in law firms, and very few respondents reported that these tools are currently being used in their firms. A mere 3% of those surveyed reported that generative AI is presently employed at their firms. Another one-third of respondents shared that their firms were contemplating its adoption. Notably, 60% of those surveyed indicated that their firms have no immediate intentions to incorporate generative AI into their operations.
Notably, when asked if it could be used for legal work, 82% agreed.
Interestingly, however, the respondents had very different views as to whether generative AI should be applied to legal work as opposed to non-legal work. They were much more inclined to think it should be used for non-legal work, with nearly three-quarters believing that (72%). But only half (51%) felt that it should be used for legal work.
Partners had different views than associates as to whether it should be used for legal work, with 59% of partners and managing partners concluding that generative AI should be applied to legal work. In comparison, only 52% of associates and 44% of other attorneys in the firms agreed with that assertion.
In other words, the results seem to indicate that legal professionals tend to be more likely to agree that generative AI should be used to replace or otherwise impact the work performed by those who work for them.
A small minority of respondents are actually using this technology, with 3% of respondents confirming that they currently use generative AI or ChatGPT for law firm operations. An additional 2% said they are actively planning for its use. About one-third of respondents (34%) are still in the consideration phase for generative AI and ChatGPT, and 60% have no current plans to add generative AI to their firm’s IT stack.
The survey data also showed that only 3% of U.S.-based law firms currently use generative AI or are planning to use it. 64% of respondents from U.S. firms shared that there were no plans to implement generative AI.
Overall, law firm partners seemed to be the most willing to consider adopting the technology into their firms. Forty percent of partners surveyed expressed that they were weighing the decision to utilize the technology, compared to 28% of associates. Notably, over two-thirds (67%) of associates stated they did not intend to employ generative AI, in contrast to 54% of partners or managing partners who shared a similar sentiment.
One reason for the reluctance to immediately utilize generative AI in law firms is risk aversion. According to the report, the majority of respondents, 62%, shared that there were concerns about the risks of using generative AI.
So, while awareness of generative AI tools like ChatGPT is high, implementation and acceptance within law firms remain low. As the legal landscape evolves and generative AI technologies mature, perspectives will change and adoption rates will undoubtedly increase over time, just as they did for email, social media, and cloud computing.
However, the change will occur much more rapidly than ever before due to the exponential rate of technological advancements in AI on the horizon. At this pivotal moment in time, it’s important to recognize this inevitable shift by embracing innovation and fostering a culture of continuous learning.
In other words, there’s no better time than now to remain curious about new technologies like ChatGPT. Is your law firm ready for the AI revolution?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the head of SME and External Education at MyCase law practice management software, an AffiniPay company. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.