Artificial Intelligence has stolen the spotlight of 2023. In particular, ChatGPT has become the fastest-growing application in history, reaching the milestone of 100 million users in its first few months of public availability. While numbers are not proof of anything, they do reinforce what many have been saying since ChatGPT's release: we may have reached a breakthrough in artificial intelligence as an everyday tool for the average person.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a recently released artificial intelligence chat bot where any user—for free—can chat with this artificial intelligence and ask it all manner of questions. ChatGPT uses advanced machine learning algorithms to generate human-like text based on input from users. The "breakthrough" component is that the chat feels genuinely conversational, building on the discussion and context throughout.
ChatGPT and other advanced conversational AI programs have the potential to revolutionize many industries and aspects of society. ChatGPT and other AI systems are already being used in fields such as healthcare, finance, and academia. Perhaps even somewhat nefariously, some students are even using this new tool to do their homework and assignments for them. Others have deployed the tool to write computer program code for them, replacing the time-intensive process of crafting code from scratch. Even researchers and academics are now using this tool to generate articles and research ideas. But how is it affecting lawyers, their clients, and the legal industry?
AI and the Law
Currently, AI systems are being used to automate routine tasks, such as document review and legal research, and to provide insights and recommendations that would otherwise require hours of intellectual labour. This can help lawyers and other legal professionals to work more efficiently and effectively, and to focus their time and attention on higher-level tasks that require human expertise and judgment.
However, ChatGPT seems to take things a step further. An individual can ask questions for general legal information. For example, in exploring ChatGPT, I had asked ChatGPT "what are some of the most important legal developments in Canada of the 21st century?" and received the following (abridged) response:
There have been several important legal developments in Canada in the 21st century that have had a significant impact on Canadian law and society. Some of the most notable include:
Same-sex marriage: In 2005, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, following a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was a violation of their Charter rights.
Assisted dying: In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Criminal Code provisions that prohibited assisted dying, ruling that they were unconstitutional. The ruling paved the way for the legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada.
Marijuana legalization: In 2018, the federal government legalized the possession, use, and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, making Canada one of the first countries in the world to do so. The legalization of marijuana has had far-reaching implications for criminal law, drug policy, and public health.
These are just a few examples of the many important legal developments that have taken place in Canada in the 21st century. They demonstrate the dynamic and evolving nature of Canadian law and its ability to adapt to the changing needs and values of Canadian society.
Other examples in my conversations with ChatGPT include asking about the general details of family law in Prince Edward Island, to explain the laws of intestacy (dying without a will), and, for fun, to have the pirate's Law of Parlay explained. The intestacy response I received was close to accurate but missing some information. Overall, it was a powerful tool bearing in mind that these early stages can—and in our case did—produce mistakes and provide misleading legal information. Anyone considering using ChatGPT should bear in mind that it may be a great place to start for generalized legal information or document creation, but it should not be where you end.
Some of the most notable risks in using ChatGPT and other AI systems for legal needs include:
- Inaccuracy: AI systems can provide information based on their training data, but they are not perfect and may provide inaccurate or outdated information. This could result in incorrect legal advice and negative consequences.
- Limitations of AI: AI technology may not be able to fully understand the nuances of a particular legal issue, including relevant laws, court decisions, and local practices. This could result in inadequate or incomplete advice.
- Legal ethics: Lawyers are bound by ethical rules and regulations that govern their representation of clients. An AI model like ChatGPT is not subject to these rules and regulations.
- No accountability: A licensed legal professional is accountable for the advice and representation they provide, and can be held responsible for any mistakes or unethical behavior. An AI model like ChatGPT does not have the same level of accountability, which could result in negative consequences for the user with no recourse.
Regardless of if or how you use ChatGPT for legal questions, one thing you'll immediately notice are the cautions and warnings that abound as its owner, OpenAI, tries to avoid liability for anyone relying on ChatGPT for their legal needs. While ChatGPT can revolutionize access to, and understanding of, legal information, it should not be a substitute for professional legal advice and assistance.
However, it is not all warning bells and concerns. In fact, it may interest you to know the original draft of this article was created by ChatGPT itself through a surprisingly contextual and "well-informed" conversation on the benefits and risks of using ChatGPT in law... so there remain substantial use cases for this emerging technology.
The team at Cox & Palmer is always here to help our clients and the general public navigate what may become the new normal. For business owners concerned about implementing AI to streamline processes, cut costs, and increase revenues, we are here to advise you on an appropriate strategy to implement these promising tools while limiting your risk and liability along the way. For our many individual clients, we are here to help and ensure your legal needs are met responsibly and carefully.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.