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President's Message: The Impact of AI on the Legal Profession

By Dave Steele

The recent announcement that an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system passed the bar exam has sent shockwaves through the legal profession. For many, this event marks a pivotal point in the incorporation of AI in law, stimulating conversations about its implications and potential utilities.
The rapid advancements in AI over the past decade, specifically in natural language processing, are largely attributable to machine learning techniques like Deep Learning. These techniques have enabled AI to interpret, understand, and generate human language with increasing sophistication. In the legal field, AI systems like ROSS and LexMachina have been employed for years to expedite legal research, contract analysis, and prediction of case outcomes. However, the AI’s success in passing the bar exam is a testament to its ability to grasp complex legal principles and apply them to fact patterns, signaling a potential new era in legal practice.
The impact of AI’s recent achievement on the legal profession can be seen from two perspectives: as a threat and as an opportunity. There is a growing concern that AI might replace human lawyers, especially in tasks that require repetitive information processing, like document review and legal research. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, nearly 23% of legal work could be automated, and with AI’s recent bar exam success, this figure could conceivably increase.
However, an optimistic perspective sees AI as an opportunity rather than a threat. By automating routine tasks, AI can free up attorneys’ time for more strategic, creative, and client-centric work. The augmentation approach, where AI assists rather than replaces lawyers, could lead to higher efficiency and improved decision-making. For example, AI systems could be utilized to analyze vast amounts of case law to provide data-driven insights, or to process legal documents swiftly, reducing the time spent on mundane tasks and allowing lawyers to focus more on strategic advice and advocacy.
Moreover, AI can democratize access to legal services by making them more affordable and accessible. AI-driven legal chatbots can provide initial legal advice to those who cannot afford a lawyer, thereby increasing access to justice.
It is important to note, however, that AI is not without its challenges. AI systems learn from past data, which can sometimes perpetuate biases present in the data. Furthermore, the transparency of AI decisions, and whether or how they can be explained, remain a significant challenge, particularly in a field like law, where explanation and justification of decisions are vital.
The legal profession should thus not see AI as a replacement, but as a powerful tool that can be harnessed to augment their work. To fully realize this potential, it is crucial to focus on upskilling and reskilling lawyers to work alongside AI effectively. Courses in legal technology and AI should become a part of legal education, and continuous professional development should incorporate training in understanding and utilizing AI tools.
AI’s recent passing of the bar exam signifies a new milestone in the legal profession. It presents both opportunities and challenges, but its optimal use lies in augmentation rather than replacement. By harnessing the power of AI, the legal profession can indeed become more efficient, innovative, and accessible.
PS:  This President’s Message was drafted by AI in approximately 20 seconds, using a relatively simple prompt, and with only one minor edit required.  Just sayin… 

Dave Steele is a sole practitioner at Geiszler Steele, PC. Dave assists both plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of legal matters. His practice includes advising clients about the cannabis industry, business and commercial transactions, real estate and real property transactions, contract issues, and other civil matters. Dave also serves as a Mediator, Arbitrator and Settlement Master.