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Law Practice Today

March 2023

The Future of Law Revealed: ABA TECHSHOW 2023's Big Buzz

Natalie Kelly and Reid F Trautz


  • As several thousand lawyers, administrators, technologists, paralegals, software executives, and law students gathered last month in Chicago for ABA TECHSHOW, the buzz about ChatGPT
  • It is in the best interests of lawyers and other legal professionals to invest time in learning about and learning to use this technology over the next year or more.
  • ChatGPT is a technology that could improve the way lawyers deliver legal services to their clients.
The Future of Law Revealed:  ABA TECHSHOW 2023's Big Buzz

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As several thousand lawyers, administrators, technologists, paralegals, software executives, and law students gathered last month in Chicago for ABA TECHSHOW, the buzz about ChatGPT (or large language processing) turned from a polite murmur to a loud, full-throated conversation.  Those who came to learn about legal technology were immersed in the latest tech products and trends that will shape the profession in the coming months and years. None greater than ChatGPT.

If this new technology is just hitting your radar, ChatGPT is an innovative and interactive platform from OpenAI that offers registered users the opportunity to engage in conversations with an AI-powered chatbot. The platform leverages the latest advancements in natural language processing and machine learning to provide relevant responses to users' queries. Users can query the immense database on a wide range of topics, including history, entertainment, technology, and more. ChatGPT has quickly become a popular destination for people looking to engage in research, create written content, improve productivity, and obtain guidance on a wide range of topics. Similar products are emerging from other tech companies too, but ChatGPT was what everyone was, well – chatting about.

Many attendees at ABA TECHSHOW already had a chance to use this new technology and were glad to get more insights during the conference. As past chairs of ABA TECHSHOW, we took the opportunity to ask some of our fellow attendees their perspectives on how they are using ChatGPT today, and where they think this new technology is headed within the legal profession.

Legal research company Casetext arguably contributed the most to the buzz by unveiling its amazing new CoCounsel product built on OpenAI’s most advanced large language model (more advanced than ChatGPT-3). Casetext co-founder and chief innovation officer, Pablo Arrendondo, shared his insights learned from working closely with OpenAI to build his new product: “ChatGPT is a fantastic tool for many things, but it is not ready for substantive use in the legal profession.  The creators of ChatGPT expressly cautioned against using it for anything important, instead characterizing it as a preview of what lies ahead.  The models that follow ChatGPT will be increasingly powerful, and I have every confidence they will play an increasingly important and beneficial role in the practice of law.”

Catherine Sanders Reach, co-chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2020 and director of the North Carolina Bar’s Center for Practice Management, shared that she played with ChatGPT when it was announced and found it useful for the limited tests she ran. She posited, “what I see impacting the legal profession is not the ChatGPT product so much as the proliferation of applications that leverage the underlying technology, large language model tools. How lawyers and their clients interact with data sets, as well as audio, video, and images, will be fundamentally different. As has been the case with previous iterations of AI, understanding bias, shortcomings, and the data set being used will be incumbent upon the user, not unlike assessing the results of a Google search. Legal issues surrounding intellectual property are coming up, and deep fakes will increase and be harder to detect. Lawyers have an opportunity to help the public navigate the landscape, as well as leverage the tools to assist their clients and deliver legal services.”

Ivan Hemmans, co-chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2022, and a senior manager of technical development at O’Melveny & Myers LLP agrees. “In another 12 to 18 months, this technology will mature, which is when we will begin to see even more interesting developments. Our focus will need to shift away from the rudimentary or basic work, which will be done with little effort by our digital assistants, and toward more interesting or nuanced questions that can arise when all foundational information is easy to obtain. We will also need to focus on ways to train new professionals in our industry. They may not have as many opportunities to learn by doing the sort of entry-level work that has been a traditional part of every new lawyer's journey.”

Clio co-founder and CEO Jack Newton, who’s been active in legal technology for over 15 years, believes that ChatGPT “is the kind of technology development that only comes along once in a generation,” yet cautions lawyers today on its use: “There are a wide range of applications for ChatGPT in legal, from generating entire briefs to summarizing documents to performing legal research. ChatGPT is an incredible piece of technology, but ultimately, it's a Large Language Model predicting what the most likely word in a sentence will be. In a profession based on precedents, this behavior is both a feature and a liability: it's likely to generate reasonable — and maybe even correct — drafts of documents, for example, but these ’most likely‘ documents may be missing much of the nuance that a human lawyer would recognize and encode in the document. Worse, when ChatGPT ’hallucinates‘ — when it makes up facts that aren't true and doesn't even know it’s lying — a lawyer could be led down a perilous path. Until future generations of GPT rectify these issues — as they no doubt will (ChatGPT is based on GPT 3.5, and GPT 4.0 is coming and by all accounts a quantum leap forward in quality) — the content GPT generates is best treated as a ’first draft‘ that needs to be carefully reviewed and edited by an expert human. That may not be the case for long."

Immigration lawyer and TECHSHOW faculty member Charina Garcia of Wolfsdorf Rosenthal in San Francisco, also believes that ChatGPT has become a time-saving AI tool for immigration attorneys. “Although ChatGPT will never replace our JDs and bar licenses, it is a good place to start for the first draft of letters of recommendation for extraordinary ability visas, motions, briefs, and responses to client e-mails. It also can be used as a practice management tool to create first drafts of conflict letters, collection letters and marketing material including blog updates, newsletter articles and social media posts.”

She also notes that ChatGPT has some creative and fun uses including providing immigration examples in the Star Wars universe or a limerick about the H-1B visa annual master's cap lottery.

"One of the most iconic examples of immigration in the Star Wars universe is the journey of Luke Skywalker, who leaves his home planet of Tatooine to join the Rebel Alliance and fight against the Empire. Luke's journey involves encountering new cultures, learning new skills, and overcoming obstacles along the way." A perfect set-up for a ChatGPT-generated limerick that mashes up the two complex subjects:

"In Silicon Valley, it's clear,
The H-1B lottery's near,
With fingers all crossed,
And fortunes embossed,
Some win while others shed a tear.
But for those with a master's cap,
The odds are better, no need to flap,
Luck may just strike,
Their dreams take a hike,
And their career gets a head start lap."

Tom Mighell, chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2008, co-author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools & Technologies, Second Edition, (recently published by the ABA) and veteran podcaster with Dennis Kennedy on the Legal Talk Network, says “I don’t often use the word revolutionary when describing technology, but the capabilities of ChatGPT and the speed at which new use cases are found for it are truly remarkable. ChatGPT will change the way a lot of business is done, and not just in law. However, it’s not a replacement for lawyers, or a replacement (yet) for many lawyer tasks. ChatGPT is a partner lawyers can use to get work done, but whose work requires review, revision, and most important verification for accuracy.”

Attending his very first TECHSHOW, we met Wesley Hamilton, a 3L at NKU Salmon P. Chase College of Law, and currently a soldier in the Army National Guard.  We learned from Wesley that TECHSHOW was not his first exposure to this technology.  He shared, “I was first exposed to ChatGPT by a professor at Chase Law’s W. Bruce Lunsford Academy for Law, Business & Technology, so I’ve been playing with the program for months now.  The strength of ChatGPT is in its automated drafting, editing, and manipulation of a given text on a scale that word processors like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and WordPad cannot currently match.  Addressing the elephant in the room, I do not believe that ChatGPT can or will replace lawyers.  If you can force ChatGPT to make a legal argument, that argument may be factually, procedurally, or legally incorrect for various reasons.  If a lazy lawyer or law student, tries to avoid doing their due diligence by using ChatGPT to make arguments, then they put their client’s fate, or their final grade, in the hands of a program that has been documented to fabricate information, create fake news, and generate other forms of misleading content. If used as intended, it will be a valuable tool in a legal professional's toolbox.”

We agree with these TECHSHOW attendees—the sky is the limit for this new technology. In fact, the technology will never be as primitive as it is today. We also agree some caution is needed in the use of ChatGPT at present.  It is in the best interests of lawyers and other legal professionals to invest time in learning about and learning to use this technology over the next year or more. ChatGPT is a technology that will improve the way lawyers deliver legal services to their clients.

Disclaimer: ChatGPT was not used in the production of this article despite the strong temptation.