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June 28, 2023

Future Proofing: A Present Look at ChatGPT in Your Future

Dan Pinnington and Reid Trautz
Despite a good effort delivered by ChatGPT, we still don’t get it.

Despite a good effort delivered by ChatGPT, we still don’t get it.

Yana Holovanova via Getty Images

Since it burst on the scene late last year, ChatGPT is all the rage. Much has been written and podcast, ranging from enthusiastic hype to skepticism that it will take a decade or longer to become more practical and widespread. We don’t have a prediction as to when this technology will disintermediate attorneys, but we believe it will impact aspects of legal services and should be closely followed.

According to David Arato writing in Attorney at Law Magazine, “ChatGPT is a chatbot form of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s a variant of GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer 3), a state-of-the-art natural language processing model. It answers complex questions conversationally as it is trained to understand what humans mean when asking a question. It is part of AI known as large language models (LLM). 

“With directions, it can accomplish many different tasks, such as creating outlines, writing code or even drafting social media posts. Programmed with significant amounts of data, ChatGPT can predict the next logical word in a sentence.” It doesn’t think or understand things like a human; rather it generates text by predicting the next word based on the patterns it has seen or “read” in huge amounts of data. It can “learn” each time it is given a question or task, and in doing so, gets better over time.

No doubt you are seeing the potential uses and benefits here. There are obviously big-time savings for doing legal research or for writing letters, memos, reports or other types of documents. The questions are, how soon and how reliable or accurate will ChatGPT results be?

ChatGPT or similar AI capabilities will become ubiquitous. They will be incorporated into the tools and technologies you use every day. Microsoft revealed they have been working for over a year to incorporate ChatGPT into the components of Office 365. The apps on your smartphone will have this technology. Let’s look at some real-world examples.

ChatGPT has been used to successfully pass the three-part U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, according to a recently published scholarly paper. Several law professors report that ChatGPT-4 passed the bar exam.

For added perspective, we opened an OpenAI account and gave ChatGPT a test drive of our own. We cut to the chase and asked it, “What are the uses of ChatGPT for lawyers?” Word-forword, this was the answer:

 “There are several potential uses for a language model like ChatGPT for lawyers, including:

  1. Legal research: ChatGPT can help lawyers quickly find relevant case law or statutes by providing summaries of legal documents and highlighting key passages.
  2. Contract review: ChatGPT can assist lawyers in reviewing and summarizing large numbers of contracts, highlighting key clauses and potential issues.
  3. Brief writing: ChatGPT can assist lawyers in drafting legal briefs and memorandums by suggesting language and arguments based on similar cases.
  4. Predictive coding: ChatGPT can be used to assist lawyers in identifying potentially relevant documents in e-discovery by analyzing the text of a document set and identifying similar documents.
  5. Client communication: ChatGPT can assist lawyers in answering common legal questions and providing legal information to clients.
  6. Drafting legal document like agreements, contracts, MOU, LOI, etc.
  7. Legal document summarization.
  8. Legal opinion writing. Please note that these are examples of potential use cases for ChatGPT and it’s not intended to be used as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified professional.”

Nice to see the disclaimer—it looks like there is still job security for attorneys, at least for a while. But more to the point, this sounds like an answer from a human and it seems correct in substance. In fact, adoption within the profession is already underway in several of the noted areas.

John Tredennick, president of Merlin and former chair of the ABA Law Practice Division, posits in his blog that “Part of the excitement around ChatGPT is its apparent ability to act as a more natural and powerful alternative to a search interface. It seems uniquely capable of organizing, digesting and providing information that will answer a user’s questions. Contrast that with past systems which pointed to a list of documents or provided a verbatim extract from a document that might (or might not) answer this query.”

Is ChatGPT ready for e-discovery processes? According to Tredennick, “As we have seen, GPT does a reasonably good job of summarizing individual documents. However, it is only able to analyze a limited amount of text at a time.” He further notes, “ChatGPT required a huge amount of computing resources along with billions of examples, to train itself. Modern [technology-assisted review] engines don’t require supercomputers nor billions of examples for training … ChatGPT is likely overkill for this job.”

Miami immigration lawyer Michael Harris has been testing ChatGPT for his busy practice by seeing how it could write analytical essays or letters typically used in his practice. Harris reports that he immediately was impressed that it could write detailed letters with the same type of instruction he would give a paralegal or associate lawyer. “If the draft had weaknesses, I would refine my instruction and the AI was able to further adjust. I don’t think ChatGPT can yet write a complex memorandum of law, but it can help draft detailed fact statements when given the right input prompts.”

As for legal research, Dean Andrew Perlman of Suffolk Law School recently told he believes first-year law students should learn about ChatGPT as part of their legal training, alongside Westlaw and Lexis and other research tools.

Legal tech start-up Lexion has introduced ChatGPT through its software to help lawyers draft better and faster contracts—to assist lawyers, not replace them.

Similar examples in the legal profession are growing daily.

The current system also has limits, according to OpenAI. The system had a knowledge cutoff in 2021 so does not have any data past that date. Further, it can spit out wrong answers. In a blog post OpenAI admits this freely: “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers. Fixing this issue is challenging.” Finally, it is biased based on the questions asked. It learns from those questions, so becomes more familiar or biased toward that information. In fact, when registering with OpenAI, I received this message: “While we have safeguards in place, the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice.”

We should also note that ChatGPT is owned by OpenAI and is in free beta for some users. There will be a licensing cost and a cost to add specific documents and files for it to learn more, especially about specific legal issues and areas of practice. Those full costs are unknown at present.

Finally, just for a bit of fun, we asked it to explain the Rule in Shelley’s Case, something we still haven’t figured out since law school. On the second try we received the following: “The ‘Rule in Shelley’s Case’ is a legal principle derived from a 16th-century English common law case, known as Shelley’s Case (1581). The rule states that ‘the heir to an estate is entitled to inherit any future interest in the property, even if it is contingent or unknown at the time of the original grant.’” Despite a good effort delivered by ChatGPT, we still don’t get it.

Thus, while ChatGPT or similar AI tools won’t be replacing you tomorrow, they will definitely be available to assist attorneys and law office staff with some tasks—and even to provide advice and direction to clients directly—in the relatively near future. Lawyers who want to future proof their practices should monitor how ChatGPT and other similar AI tools evolve so they appreciate how and where AI tools can be used in a law office or corporate setting.

Dan Pinnington

President & CEO, Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company

Dan Pinnington is the president and CEO of Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company and was the driving force behind the innovative practicePRO claim prevention initiative. He is past editor-in-chief of Law Practice and was chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2007. [email protected] 

Reid Trautz

Senior Director, Practice & Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Reid Trautz is senior director of the Practice & Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is a long-standing member of the ABA Law Practice Division, serving as chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2012, and currently he serves as co-chair of the Futures Initiative. [email protected]

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