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Law Firms Venture Into Proprietary Gen AI Chatbot Development

Amidst growing apprehension about ChatGPT’s use, law firms have turned the page to pioneer their very own AI-driven chatbots, marking a transformative phase in the legal domain.

The Context

Following an incident where a New York attorney harnessed ChatGPT, resulting in a flawed court brief submission, the subsequent wariness surrounding its application burgeoned. The concern was encapsulated aptly by an insurance company which declared ChatGPT as “not ready for primetime.” Consequently, a slew of firms decided to forgo its use.

However, this growing skepticism did not deter law firms. Quite the opposite—this pushback seemingly became a catalyst for their intensified interest in generative AI. The foundational concern with ChatGPT was its data-sharing mechanism, which returned data to OpenAI, inadvertently risking client confidentiality. Yet, by drawing boundaries with ChatGPT, these law firms began discovering ways to harness the formidable power of the underlying generative AI.

Sarah Alt from Michael Best & Friedrich expressed, “What [our ChatGPT] block also afforded us is the breathing room to establish a safe sandbox where we can leverage the capabilities of ChatGPT and other GPT models without the added risk of the data going back into [public access] models.”

The Adaptation

The realization dawned on many legal houses that their attorneys could safely experiment with the AI, provided it was through their custom-built chatbots. This season, several renowned law firms introduced their generative AI chatbots. This move was facilitated by the emergence of platforms like Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, allowing a tailored integration with OpenAI’s models without data reverting to the parent company.

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However, as several firms discerned, this wasn’t solely about technological adaptation. Implementing these chatbots demanded alterations at organizational levels—from policy amendments, cultural shifts, to advanced training and constant supervision. These bots herald imminent modifications for law firms—spanning from efficiency boosts to novel skillsets for lawyers.

Deep Dive: Chatbot Applications

Law firms birthed these AI chatbots with a primary intent: to enable their attorneys to try out the technology within specific contexts. The functions these bots serve vary with the firm, but they encompass duties like data extraction, stakeholder assignment, and drafting summaries.

For risk mitigation with AI, firms like Troutman Pepper initiated mandatory ethics training for their legal staff and formulated AI policies incorporating insights from insurance experts. Yet, despite rigorous training sessions, vigilance remains paramount. Andrew Medeiros of Troutman Pepper highlighted their proactive approach, noting that the firm continually reviews attorney prompts to ensure conformity with established policies.

AI’s Larger Implication

The dawn of generative AI in the legal domain is nascent. But its immediate influence is palpable. Many anticipate their chatbots ushering in heightened operational efficiencies. Davis Wright’s Vidhya Prabhakaran shared that beyond mere experimentation, the bot serves to optimize non-legal tasks in law practices.

A prime avenue where these chatbots are projected to revolutionize efficiency is through automating initial drafts for various content forms. Another promising area is efficient data extraction from vast documents or databases, which could not only expedite research processes but also augment law firms’ knowledge management endeavors.

However, the effectiveness of these chatbots hinges on the attorneys’ adeptness in using them. This has led to an emphasis on honing prompt engineering skills—crafting precise queries to extract the most relevant outputs from these AIs.

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The Road Ahead

Law firm chatbots are poised for evolution, both in functionality and integration. Prabhakaran encapsulated the future vision: “The goal is for AI to seamlessly plug into the legal tasks we are already planning to do.”

While these chatbots signal a promising trajectory, they’re not the sole avenue for lawyers to engage with generative AI. Numerous legal tech tools are infusing AI into their systems. However, the expansive capabilities of these law firm chatbots, coupled with the direct oversight firms maintain over them, sets them apart.

With a probable influx of more law firm chatbots on the horizon, their eventual role—be it as a staple in firms or a bridge to even more advanced AI tools—is still to unfold. But as the narrative progresses, the spotlight on ChatGPT might dim.

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