We use cookies to compile information about how our website is used and to improve the experience of our website visitors. You can review and update your cookie setting by clicking "Manage cookies preferences". For more information about the cookies we use, please read our
Cookies and Electronic Marketing Policy.

hands above digital icons
22 April 2024

How AI is being used in Family Law

Published on 22 April 2024

To understand where legal AI is being used in family law, the College spoke with two highly experienced practitioners who have incorporated AI into their legal practice in different ways. 

Fiona Kirkman, principal at Kirkman Family Law and Head of Legal Innovation & Engagement at CORTO, embraced ChatGPT early on in her practice, while Jenna Downy, solicitor at Family Law Matters, helped train LawY, an AI legal research assistant.

How to leverage AI capabilities  

Fiona Kirkman has been leveraging the capabilities of AI in family law for over a year. We spoke to Fiona to find out how her AI engagement has evolved since her August 2023 College update.

 “Over the past six months, the role of AI in family law has undergone a remarkable transformation with the introduction of proprietary AI legal products.” Initially, Fiona utilised AI for simple tasks like marketing and administration; however, it now plays a crucial role in her more complex legal work.

Fiona now leverages legal AI to:

Search hundreds of documents to extract key details and dates.
Draft documents and emails.
Summarise lengthy texts, including the review of financial disclosure documents.
Compare documents to note inconsistencies.
Prepare comprehensive chronologies with key dates.

Putting your legal energy in the right place

Family lawyer Jenna Downy works as a family law solicitor and holds a College of Law LLM (Applied Law) in Family Law. She was recently invited to help ‘train’ LawY, an AI assistant that combines up-to-date, expert answers to a plethora of different questions and provides the first draft for many types of documents.

As a family lawyer, we spend much of our time and energy on working with our clients, who are often going through some of the toughest and most challenging emotional experiences of their lives,” Jenna says. “Having legal AI assist with your legal research and help with the first draft of your documents, with correct legal citations, means we can focus more on the client relationship side of family law.”

As Jenna points out, much of the time, a client will engage you as a lawyer because they trust you.

When you’re dealing with real people and real emotions, this is what clients remember most - a lawyer they trust - and having the time and space to do this is so valuable,” Jenna says. “The lawyer might not even be as experienced as another lawyer. It’s about the relationship.”

As the advancements in legal AI jump ahead in leaps and bounds, new AI legal research assistant products are beginning to incorporate verification tools. Jenna outlines an example from her recent legal AI training work.

Once you ask a question of LawY’s legally-trained AI assistant, for example, it can provide a researched response for you. But to avoid issues like hallucination [fake case reference], you can submit the AI response for verification by an experienced family lawyer (in the relevant area of law), with a minimum 5 years PQE. It’s a human sense-check that provides some ethical guardrails when using AI.”

Mastering the art of a good (and ethical) AI prompt

While AI is emerging as an important tool for lawyers, “Navigating AI within family law necessitates a commitment to our core ethical obligations regarding accuracy and reliability,” Fiona says.

Rule 4 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 (USCR) explicitly mandates that solicitors must ‘deliver legal services competently, diligently and as promptly as reasonably possible.’

This directive highlights the dual responsibility that solicitors carry: to ensure not only their personal adherence to these standards but also the reliability of the technology tools and support personnel they engage in the provision of legal services,” Fiona says.

Fiona highlights the essential gatekeeping role solicitors must undertake and the critical need for accuracy and reliability in legal research. This includes the verification of AI-generated information against trusted sources to ensure the credibility and utility of the data provided.

Fiona also suggested using other measures to mitigate the risks of AI.

A pragmatic strategy, suggested by Mitch Kowalski, involves employing CLEAR prompts when interacting with off-the-shelf AI tools,” Fiona says.

CLEAR stands for:

  • Character/context: Clearly define the context or persona behind the output.
  • Lucid: Ensure the prompt is straightforward and easy to comprehend.
  • Explicit: Be specific about the desired format or style.
  • Assume less: Offer comprehensive information to enhance the AI's understanding.
  • Reiterate: If necessary, rephrase the prompt or add information to improve clarity.

The advancement of proprietary legal AI tools such as LEAP's Matter AI marks a significant step towards eradicating inaccuracies,” Fiona says. “These developments herald the provision of fully trustworthy outputs, thus alleviating concerns related to AI-generated inaccuracies.

For lawyers interested in AI but concerned about confidentiality, it's crucial to conduct thorough due diligence on AI providers, ensuring they meet high-security standards.

It is also important to have an AI policy at your firm, conduct regular updates to security protocols, and have a clear understanding of the legal and ethical implications of using AI,” Fiona advises. “AI products are constantly evolving, and it is critical to keep learning in this area.”

Improving productivity and the quality of work in family law

Fiona has experienced major tangible benefits from using AI.

AI has significantly streamlined operations in my family law firm by automating routine tasks, enhancing marketing, refining document drafting, and making matter management more efficient,” Fiona says. “This shift allows us to concentrate on client relationships, enhancing the overall service quality.”

Tasks like document disclosure analysis, which once took 10 hours, can now be completed in minutes. This kind of efficiency challenges how legal services are valued and billed, raising questions about the future of traditional billing methods and suggesting a potential shift away from the billable hour to fixed or value pricing models.”

And according to Fiona, AI's impact isn't limited to time savings; it also improves work quality through thorough legal research and precise document preparation.

“AI is revolutionising the drafting and review processes in family law," Fiona observes. "This not only streamlines our workflows but also significantly enhances the quality of our legal work by ensuring that every document is meticulously prepared and reviewed."

Jenna believes Legal AI is changing the way legal work is undertaken. 

Legal AI is shifting the focus from preparing the first draft of correspondence and court documents to one of review. It empowers every lawyer, even more junior lawyers, ready and able to review that first draft,” Jenna says. “In my experience, the first draft is the hardest. Trying to figure out how to frame the issues, or even how to start. To have this available to any lawyer is very valuable.

The future of family law

The internet changed the world, and AI has the potential to do the same. The transformative impact of artificial intelligence in law is undeniable,” Fiona says. “However, it is a tool that enhances rather than replaces the capabilities of legal professionals. By leveraging AI to extract key matter details, draft documents and emails, summarise and compare documents, and manage matter-related information, lawyers can significantly enhance efficiency, accuracy, and the quality of their services."

According to Jenna, it is inevitable that AI is going to become a part of our work as lawyers.

It is important - essential, actually - for lawyers to learn how to use technology in order to be able to adopt it in the right way. Effective adoption of technology like AI ensures that you’re best placed to safeguard your work and reputation. As with any new technology, we need to do our due diligence. We need to learn the pitfalls of AI currently in order to use it effectively, and to be able to adopt it as it improves.” 

And to keep up to date on the fast-paced legaltech and AI advancements in law, make sure to follow the Centre for Legal Innovation at the College of Law.

For more information and training on the impact of new technologies on the profession, our Legal Business Management qualification features the core subject Fundamental Legal Technologies.

Further Family Law courses with the College of Law: