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ChatGPT and the Law

February 06, 2023

Will AI and ChatGPT transform legal services and legal education?

ChatGPT and Other AI Technologies in the Study and Practice of Law

Author: Paul Riermaier

As technology continues to advance, legal professionals are starting to explore the potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the study and practice of law. One example of this is ChatGPT, a natural language generation model developed by the tech company OpenAI. This model can generate human-like text based on a given input, and it has been used for a variety of applications, including legal research and document generation.

ChatGPT is a type of artificial intelligence called a language model. It is trained on a large dataset of text, such as books and articles, to understand and generate human language. When given a prompt, it uses patterns it has learned from the training data to generate a response. It can answer questions, write stories, and have conversations, but its responses are based on patterns it has seen in the training data, rather than its own understanding of the world. It’s like a language-based computer program that can answer your question or generate text if it has seen a similar pattern in the data on which it was trained.

Even without the help of AI, you might be starting to notice a pattern: the above two paragraphs were written by ChatGPT and form part of a body of articles and other published material that were “written” by ChatGPT or other natural language generation models. For better or worse, I’ll take over writing responsibilities for the remainder of this post, which will highlight resources that discuss potential applications for ChatGPT and similar technologies in both the study and practice of law.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Before we begin looking at applications and implications of using ChatGPT and other natural language generation models, it is worth grappling with the meaning of AI, a term first introduced in the 1950s and since applied to a wide range of technology types. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of AI.

When coined, AI was described as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” Manning, Christopher, ‘Artificial Intelligence Definitions,’ Stanford University Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Providing a more contemporary definition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology defines AI as “software and/or hardware that can learn to solve complex problems, make predictions or undertake tasks that require human-like sensing (such as vision, speech, and touch), perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action.” National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Leadership in AI: A Plan for Federal Engagement in Developing Technical Standards and Related Tools, (Aug. 9, 2019).

Despite the lack of a concrete definition, there are some typical features of AI tools that can help understand whether technology has AI attributes. By itself the term artificial intelligence might suggest that the technology involves tools that engage in human-like thinking or reasoning that can result in original ideas. However, such novel or creative processes are beyond the capability of existing AI technology. Rather, current technology that can reasonably be described as AI typically involves computers reviewing large data sets and identifying patterns or other characteristics in the data.

What “AI” Means

These resources provide more detailed discussion about what the term AI means and look at related concepts that are used when talking about AI.

ChatGPT in the Practice of Law

Tools that can reasonably be construed as AI have permeated the legal industry, spanning from applications that evaluate the probability and profitability of a civil action, aid judges in making pretrial detention determinations, and assist with researching and writing briefs. Most attorneys and law students may be exposed to AI tools when using legal research databases like Lexis or Westlaw, both of which have steadily increased the prevalence of AI tools on their platforms.

Law has long been seen as an industry that is ripe for technological disruption, whether it be via AI or other tools. But at this point commentators seem split on whether ChatGPT represents a sea change or simply more of the same.

Sea Change

The commentators below see ChatGPT and related technologies as heralders of profound changes to the legal industry.

More of the Same

In contrast to the commentators above, the discussion in the materials below view ChatGPT and other AI developments to have a limited effect on the legal services model.

ChatGPT and the Study of Law

ChatGPT’s potential in academic settings has generated a great deal of discussion. There is simultaneously fear that in high schools and colleges ChatGPT will lead to unchecked cheating and a decline in critical thinking alongside countervailing enthusiasm that ChatGPT will usher in a golden age of education. Among educators in professional schools, including law schools, the immediate response to ChatGPT is mixed but there appears to be an interest in exploring how the technology can perform.

The articles below survey the ongoing discussion about how AI will change legal education.

Ethical Considerations

The use of new technology while studying or practicing law implicates requirements that application of the technology comports with ethical obligations, including technological competence. The more measured approach that professional responsibility obligations and student codes of conduct require may not work well with the Silicon Valley ethos of “move fast and break things.”

The items below contemplate how ChatGPT and other AI tools may operate in the legal industry through an ethical or professional responsibility lens.

Final Thoughts

ChatGPT and comparable tools have only recently been made widely available. In the short time since their release there has already been broad experimentation demonstrating their applications and shortcomings. For legal professionals and law students, AI tools may spur advancements but early adopters will have to ensure such advancements occur within the bounds of ethical rules and professional responsibility requirements.

If you’ve discovered a novel (and ethical!) application of ChatGPT, share it with us on the Biddle Law Library via Twitter or Instagram.