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ChatGPT law job
31 August 2023

Why ChatGPT won’t be taking your job in law…yet

Published on 31 August 2023

Fiona Kirkman

It’s a heady time for AI. Google’s AI pioneer and so-called ‘Godfather of AI’, Geoffrey Hinton, recently resigned from the tech giant so he could speak freely of its dangers. According to Geoffrey, AI’s pace of progress means it could outsmart us mere mortals far sooner than expected. Indeed, its ability to create believable fake images and human-like responses threaten not merely our jobs, but our grasp of what’s real. His resignation follows calls from hundreds of tech leaders to pause AI research over potential risks to humanity, as reported by Forbes.com. 

Amidst the hype and calls for a halt to AI, we’ve explored how ChatGPT is being used in the law, and what it could mean for the future of legal work. Family lawyer, Global Family Law Evangelist at Smokeball and co-founder of FamilyProperty, Fiona Kirkman, has been an early adopter of ChatGPT using it for research, review and summaries.  
We spoke to Fiona about her experiences exploring ChatGPT in her day-to-day work to gain greater insight into its current strengths and weaknesses.

Not ‘more human than human’, but a useful assistant

Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation declared their replicants ‘more human than human.’ While few would argue ChatGPT has reached replicant-levels of human-like behaviour, early experiments have also revealed it to be quite useful in legal research and high-volume drafting - work that might otherwise be conducted by legal assistants. 

The profession is starting to divide into two groups: those who have tried ChatGPT and those who have not, because, really, aren’t lawyers busy being lawyers? 

Fiona Kirkman has found ChatGPT most useful in the five following tasks: 

  1. Researching case law and legal resources on specific family law issues.  
    This has assisted me in preparing family law mediations and presentations about family law”.  

  2. Reviewing clauses for a Parenting Plan, improving the language to make it more neutral and easier to understand.
    This has facilitated communication between the parents in mediation and made it easier to agree on the final terms of the Parenting Plan.”  

  3. Summarising the Family Law Rules relating to disclosure in a way that is easy for clients to understand and communicate.
    This has been helpful in simplifying legal jargon and making it easier for clients to comprehend their financial disclosure obligations.” 

  4. Brainstorming presentation ideas and preparing draft outlines and summaries.
    I have used this for my family law presentations for Smokeball and FamilyProperty.”  

  5. Reviewing and improving my social media posts, email marketing, and other client-facing promotional material. 
    A great assistant for these regular tasks.”  

The limitations of ChatGPT: hallucinations and inaccuracies 

Like many lawyers who have dabbled in ChatGPT, Fiona has found it has its limitations.  

ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for reviewing and refining legal language in family law documents, marketing materials, and presentations,” Fiona says. “Its ability to generate natural-sounding text and suggest alternative phrasing can save lawyers time and effort in drafting.”  

 “However, there are potential pitfalls to relying on ChatGPT for family law legal research. The model's algorithms can produce inaccurate results, including ‘hallucinating’ cases that don't actually exist - even citing false case references and providing incorrect information about cases!” Fiona affirms.  

In a recent example reported by stuff.co.nz, New Zealand lawyers using ChatGPT for case research found it credibly cited a case ‘127 Hobson St Ltd v Honey Bees Preschool’ and claimed it was about beehives. Good guess, right? Except it had nothing to do with beehives, it was about a property dispute between a childcare centre and their landlord.

Other limitations are more straightforward; its content is current only to 2021. Therefore, it’s not very useful for a lawyer in need of the latest family law developments.

As a predominantly American tool, some have found its content can skew towards American law, which can limit its usefulness in an Australian context. However, this may change as a broader base of content is fed to the AI. Available for free with future plans to monetise, the tool is in its ‘learning’ phase.

Another issue I have encountered when using ChatGPT is that it doesn't quite capture the human element of communication, which is essential in an area like family law where empathy and understanding are crucial,” Fiona says. “While it can help in preparing and reviewing correspondence, it's important to adapt the language to your own personal style of communication to ensure the message is conveyed in the right tone.”

ChatGPT can be a valuable resource in family law, but it's important to understand its limitations and use it with other tools and expertise.” 

AI won’t take your job. But a human using AI will. 
Some have suggested that ‘AI prompt writer’ will soon become its own job, and it’s easy to see why. Generating value from generative AI like ChatGPT comes down to understanding how you use it.

Google is for ‘searching’ whilst ChatGPT is for ‘answers’,” Fiona explains. “It’s therefore important to be clear and specific in the questions you want ChatGPT to answer. You may want to consider prompt tools to ask the right questions and be willing to test and measure. The more precise your question, the more likely you are to receive an accurate and useful response. It's also helpful to provide context and any relevant background information to help ChatGPT understand the question better.”  

She intends to “cautiously continue” to use ChatGPT in her family law work.  

I am excited to see what the future holds for AI tools. In my work at Smokeball and FamilyProperty, we are exploring how AI and machine learning tools can be integrated or support our technology suite,” Fiona says.  

With the increasing complexity of family law matters and the busyness of life as a family lawyer, ChatGPT can help streamline administrative tasks and provide prompts to relevant legislation, rules and case law. This allows family lawyers to focus on the more critical aspects of their work, such as strategy development, legal advice, negotiations and dispute resolution.”  

In good news, Fiona doubts ChatGPT will replace the role of a family lawyer any time soon, but rather, it will emphasise other skills. 

The future of family law and legal practice will require a blend of intellectual knowledge (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), technology skills (AI), and business acumen (BX). Family lawyers must learn to harness the power of AI and other technological tools to their advantage to remain competitive and thrive in a rapidly changing legal landscape.”  

Lawyers, like all professionals bound by fiduciary obligations, must be mindful of what they disclose to ChatGPT. 

As a family lawyer, it is important to remember that you have a professional obligation to maintain client confidentiality and that there are legal restrictions on publishing information about parties involved in family law proceedings,” Fiona cautions. “Therefore, it is imperative that you do not disclose any client information to ChatGPT and ensure that your questions and posts are anonymous.”

Embracing technology tools such as ChatGPT can help family lawyers improve their services by enabling them to assist clients more amicably, efficiently and cost-effectively,” Fiona says. “This should be the goal for all family law matters.”

Interested in the practice of family law? Learn more about the College of Law’s Family Law Master Program here.

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