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GPSolo May/June 2024: The Changing Face of Evidence

AI Virtual Assistants for Lawyers: Better Than Humans?

Jeffrey M Allen


  • Virtual assistants—whether human or AI—offer some very interesting possibilities to make your life on the road a bit easier.
  • In addition to deciding which tasks we wish a virtual assistant to perform, we need to consider whether we want a human or an AI assistant to perform those tasks.
  • Whether a human or an AI virtual assistant will work best for you depends on your specific needs, preferences, budget, and the nature of your practice.
  • Using AI, including as a virtual assistant, raises ethical concerns that you must consider and address.
AI Virtual Assistants for Lawyers: Better Than Humans?
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Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to demand the most attention of things technological for professionals and in many other areas. From the perspective of the Road Warrior, AI offers some very interesting possibilities to make your life on the road a bit easier. In this column, I will explore with you the possibility of using an AI virtual assistant to make your life on the road easier. For those of you who don’t get around much, an AI virtual assistant can help a desk-bound attorney as well. Portability and transportability create added value for the Road Warrior.

For clarity, we need to differentiate between human virtual assistants and AI virtual assistants. Through the last 20 years or so, a position has evolved for humans to provide remote assistance to people in a variety of occupations and in their personal lives. These people call themselves “virtual assistants.” In that context, the term means someone working remotely to support others. If we start from the very reasonable premise that a virtual assistant can help the Road Warrior function efficiently, we can compare the human version to the AI version and see which might work better. (Spoiler alert: In most cases, the AI virtual assistant looks like the better choice.) Because both function as virtual assistants, I will differentiate them by simply calling the human virtual assistant “human” and the AI virtual assistant “AI.” I will use the term “virtual assistant” to refer to the position without regard to who or what fills it. Let’s first explore what a virtual assistant can do for a Road Warrior and then look at a comparison between human and AI assistants.


The following non-exhaustive list identifies some areas where attorneys may wish to enlist a virtual assistant to help them function more effectively and efficiently on the road. Choosing to assign some of these activities to a virtual assistant will require careful analysis by the attorney as to the nature of the task and the experience/ability/functionality of the assistant. It may also make a difference to the analysis whether the virtual assistant comes from the human or the AI side of the question.

  1. Travel coordination. A virtual assistant can do several things to assist with travel, including:
    1. Researching and planning itineraries, including flights, accommodations, ground transportation, and meeting logistics, while accounting for the attorney’s preferences and schedule.
    2. Handling flight and hotel reservations and managing changes or cancellations.
    3. Ensuring that travel arrangements align with the attorney’s preferences and budget.
    4. Providing real-time updates on flight status, gate changes, and traffic conditions, allowing the attorney to adjust plans and avoid or minimize potential disruptions.
  2. Remote administrative support. This category could include:
    1. Monitoring and responding to emails to ensure that important messages get promptly addressed and non-urgent inquiries get triaged for later response.
    2. Scheduling meetings, appointments, and court appearances based on the attorney’s availability and travel itinerary, optimizing the schedule for maximum efficiency.
    3. Assisting in drafting and editing legal documents, reviewing contracts, or preparing briefs remotely, allowing the attorney to stay productive while on the move.
  3. Client communications. Virtual assistants can assist by:
    1. Scheduling and coordinating virtual meetings or conference calls with clients, colleagues, and others, leveraging videoconferencing tools to facilitate communication.
    2. Providing clients with updates on case progress, deadlines, and developments and maintaining clear and timely communication to reassure clients and address their concerns.
  4. Research and information management. Depending on training, experience, and, likely, the choice between human and AI, this category could include:
    1. Conducting legal research, analyzing case law, statutes, or regulations, and providing summaries or insights to support the attorney’s legal arguments or case strategy.
    2. Organizing and maintaining digital files and managing document repositories, ensuring that the attorney has remote access to necessary documents and information using cloud-based storage solutions.
  5. Personal assistance. Virtual assistants can assist by:
    1. Performing personal tasks such as scheduling appointments, making reservations, or managing personal finances, allowing the attorney to focus on professional obligations while on the road.
    2. Serving as a point of contact in emergencies or unforeseen circumstances, providing help or coordinating support to ensure the attorney’s well-being and safety.
  6. Time management. Virtual assistants can assist by:
    1. Prioritizing tasks, managing deadlines, and efficiently allocating resources as well as optimizing the attorney’s time so the attorney can focus on high-priority activities.
    2. Setting up reminders, alerts, and notifications for upcoming tasks, appointments, or deadlines, helping the attorney stay organized and on track.

Human Versus AI Virtual Assistants

In addition to deciding which tasks we wish the virtual assistant to perform, we need to consider whether we want a human or an AI assistant to perform those tasks. Human and AI virtual assistants have similarities in functionality but also many differences to consider. Those differences include, without limitation:

  1. Availability. AI can give you a single assistant available on a 24/7/365 basis. The human does not offer 24/7/365 availability, although, if you contract with a company providing this service, you can approximate it using several assistants. On the downside, multiple assistants won’t all have the same familiarity with you and the way you operate, making the operation less efficient and potentially less useful than a single assistant.
  2. Cost. Humans will likely require hourly compensation, although you may find a package arrangement for a flat monthly fee. You may get AI on a subscription basis, which will likely prove less expensive than human wages. Alternatively, you may acquire the AI program and avoid subscription costs altogether. Either way, the AI version will most likely cost less than the equivalent amount of human support.
  3. Scalability. Increasing usage on the human side will probably require hiring or renting additional assistants and then investing in their training to make them functional. AI offers easy and immediate scalability up and down without the need to hire and train additional assistants.
  4. Skills. Humans can possess a wide range of skills, experiences, and expertise, allowing them to handle complex tasks that require critical thinking, creativity, and interpersonal communication. AI skillfully executes specific tasks or functions for which it has trained, such as scheduling appointments, providing information, or performing repetitive administrative tasks based on pre-programmed algorithms or machine learning models. AI may not perform as well as a human when the task requires critical thinking, creativity, or communication.
  5. Personalization. Humans can tailor their support and communication style to suit the employer’s preferences and needs, providing a personalized and human touch to interactions. AI can learn user preferences over time and customize responses based on past interactions, but at the present time, AI has a limited ability to personalize assistance compared to humans.
  6. Emotional intelligence. Humans come with emotional intelligence and empathy (some more than others), allowing them to better understand and more effectively respond to the emotions and nuances of human communication. AI currently lacks emotional intelligence and may struggle to interpret subtle cues or complex emotions in human interactions, leading to less empathetic responses.
  7. Learning curve/training. Both humans and AI will require initial training and onboarding to familiarize them with the employer’s preferences, work processes, and expectations. AI learns most things much faster than humans. Likely, AI will require less training for most tasks that do not require emotional intelligence, as AI has evolved into a user-friendly and intuitive structure requiring minimal training or setup for effective use.

Some other considerations to factor into the decision-making process:

  • AI does not take coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, vacations, sick leave, time to take children to the doctor, or time to text friends and relationship partners. Humans do.
  • AI does not become depressed, distracted, or less efficient because of an argument or interaction with a close friend, family member, or relationship partner. Humans often do.
  • AI does not react emotionally. Humans often do.
  • AI does not judge and does not gossip. Humans often do.
  • AI continues to evolve rapidly and gain more knowledge and skills with amazing speed. Humans continue to evolve and grow but at a much slower rate.
  • AI works dramatically faster than humans.

Whether a human or an AI virtual assistant will work best for you depends on several factors, including your specific needs, preferences, budget, and the nature of your practice. Humans excel in handling complex tasks, providing personalized support, and adapting to diverse work requirements, while AI assistants offer efficient, scalable, and cost-effective solutions for routine and repetitive tasks. At the present time, the optimal choice may involve a combination of both human and AI virtual assistants to leverage the strengths of each and maximize productivity. Expect that to change over time. In the last couple of years, we have seen amazing increases in AI’s functionality and capacity. We have also witnessed a significant expansion respecting AI’s ability to successfully handle complex tasks and even legal analysis. For example, two years ago, an AI bot passed a law school exam but failed at the bar exam. Last year, the newest generation of ChatGPT (4.0) passed a bar exam, earning a better score than most humans who took it. In contemplating the significance of that evolution, remember that ChatGPT never attended a single day of law school. In addition to the improvement of AI’s ability to handle the analysis of complex legal issues, its ability to write and otherwise communicate with humans also showed dramatic improvement. If you don’t think you are ready for an AI virtual assistant yet, don’t close your mind; I predict that within a few years, the abilities, capacities, and services available will render an AI assistant virtually irresistible.

If you choose to use an AI virtual assistant, you face the question of whether to employ a commercially available version or develop your own. There are some trade-offs, but here’s the bottom line: If you do not have a great deal of technological and programming expertise, you will likely find the cost of developing your own AI assistant prohibitive. Even if you have those skills, you will likely not want to devote the time and effort required to complete the task. Using a commercially available AI assistant avoids those issues, but that choice gives you less flexibility with respect to customization. As a practical matter, I anticipate that most attorneys will choose a commercially available iteration to save the time and resources associated with the development of their own system. Commercial solutions, typically pre-built and ready to deploy, offer many advantages. Perhaps most importantly, choosing a pre-built system allows you to start using the AI assistant virtually immediately.

Caveat (Maybe Caveat Emptor)

Using AI, including as a virtual assistant, raises ethical concerns that you must consider and address. Failing to do so can create serious issues for you and potentially lay the groundwork for disciplinary action against your license to practice law. These areas overlap considerably for both human and AI assistants. Consider the following as a preliminary list:

  1. Confidentiality. Virtual assistants may have access to sensitive client information and communications. Lawyers must maintain client confidentiality and protect privileged information. You will need to establish and ensure that virtual assistants (human or AI) adhere to strict data security measures and confidentiality protocols to safeguard client privacy.
  2. Competence. Lawyers have a duty to provide competent representation to their clients. Virtual assistants can enhance efficiency and productivity; they should not replace the lawyer’s judgment or expertise. Lawyers must ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to supervise and oversee the work performed by virtual assistants, both human and AI. Likely, this is more significant respecting AI assistants as they will probably have the capacity to assist in legal work at a higher level than humans in a virtual assistant position. Under any circumstances, plan on reviewing all work done by an assistant to ensure accuracy and reliability.
  3. Conflicts. Virtual assistants, both human and AI, may lack the ability to recognize conflicts of interest or identify potential ethical dilemmas. Adopt and utilize robust conflict-checking mechanisms. Ensure that AI virtual assistants get programmed to identify and flag potential conflicts for review.
  4. Bias. Any virtual assistant may demonstrate bias. Bias is an inherent trait in human personality. Algorithms used in virtual assistants may exhibit bias based on the data on which they train. In human or AI assistants, bias can lead to disparities or unfair outcomes. While you can try to sensitize humans to their biases, it may prove easier to avoid bias in an AI assistant through careful selection of training data. Critically evaluate the algorithms and datasets used in creating AI virtual assistants to mitigate bias and ensure equitable treatment of all parties involved.
  5. Accountability and transparency. Lawyers must be transparent and accountable in their representation of clients. They need to maintain transparency about the capabilities, limitations, and potential risks associated with their staff, including any AI virtual assistants. They should establish mechanisms for accountability and recourse in case of errors or misconduct. Remember that AI virtual assistants operate using complex algorithms and machine learning models, making it at least as challenging to understand how they make decisions as it is to understand how a human makes decisions.
  6. Unauthorized practice of law. Virtual assistants may perform tasks that could be interpreted as the practice of law, such as providing legal advice, drafting legal documents, or making strategic decisions. This will come up more often with AI than human assistants and will become a more significant problem as AI assistants continue to acquire more capabilities.

To give you some perspective on the seriousness of these issues, please take note that, in 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives imposed restrictions on the use of virtual assistants in congressional offices. Effective April 1, 2024, upon Microsoft’s release of its Copilot AI chatbot, the House of Representatives banned staff members from using it in connection with their work. The explanation related to security concerns. While your office and a congressional office may not share identical concerns, they share related ones. You might want to see where this goes and consider whether the concerns raised in Congress should apply to a law office.