ChatGPT: Friend or Foe in the Legal Realm?
By Susan R. Ellis, Supervisor, Advisory Services
In the age of smart devices and the internet of things, each day, households throughout the country are asking questions like “Alexa, what’s today’s forecast?” or “Hey Siri, where’s the nearest Italian restaurant?” But the emergence of more advanced AI has led to new questions like, “Can ChatGPT create a legal will that leaves 90% of my assets to my three children and 10% to charity?” While you can sign the document that ChatGPT generates for such a prompt, the better question might be, “Will it hold up in probate?”
Overall, ChatGPT has the potential to be a valuable tool for lawyers, legal researchers, and businesses in a wide range of legal contexts. The central issue today is how much can we trust its output.
ChatGPT Ups the AI Ante
ChatGPT, Alexa, and Siri are all marketed as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered tools designed to help users with a wide range of tasks. However, unlike the relatively simple tasks you may use Alexa or Siri for, ChatGPT is a more advanced language model that can respond to prompts concerning a wide range of topics.
Alexa and Siri are designed to interact with users through voice commands and perform specific tasks such as playing music, setting reminders, and controlling smart home devices. By contrast, ChatGPT generates responses to complex queries—and can refine its answers based on questions it was asked in the past. ChatGPT can be used to draft a speech, write that email you don’t know how to start, and create a vast range of content. It is a far more creative and versatile tool than Alexa or Siri.
Legal Applications and How ChatGPT “Learns”
ChatGPT can assist in legal research by answering questions related to the law and legal concepts. But an AI tool is only as good as its knowledge base. So where does ChatGPT get its data?
ChatGPT is trained on a large corpus of text data from various sources like books, websites, and other digital media. The training data covers a wide range of topics, including news, literature, science, history, and more. ChatGPT does not have access to information that is not publicly available, and its responses are generated based on the patterns and relationships that exist within the text data it has been trained on.1
ChatGPT can provide general information on legal topics such as laws, regulations, and court decisions. It can also help users understand legal terminology, define legal concepts, and provide background information on legal cases. While Google may provide users with similar source material based on their search terms, ChatGPT can generate human-like responses based on user requests. For example, if you ask ChatGPT to generate a speech for a group of grad school students, it can provide a response that reflects the sophistication of your audience.2
In a survey conducted by LexisNexis, 86% of lawyers are aware of ChatGPT, with half already using it in their practice.3
I asked ChatGPT, “What legal applications can ChatGPT perform?” ChatGPT’s response follows:
“ChatGPT, as an AI language model, has a wide range of potential legal applications. Some examples include:
- Legal research: ChatGPT can help with legal research by providing information on legal concepts, cases, and statutes.
- Contract analysis: ChatGPT can analyze contracts and identify key clauses or potential issues. This can help lawyers and businesses identify risks and opportunities in their contracts.
- Document review: ChatGPT can assist in document review tasks by analyzing large volumes of legal documents, such as discovery documents or contracts, and identifying critical information and issues.
- Chatbot for legal services: ChatGPT can be used as the basis for a chatbot that provides legal information and advice to clients.
- Risk assessment: ChatGPT can help assess legal risk by analyzing data and identifying potential legal issues or liabilities.
- Predictive analytics: ChatGPT can be used for predictive analytics in legal contexts, such as predicting the outcome of a case or identifying potential future legal issues.
- Legal writing assistance: ChatGPT can assist with legal writing by generating drafts of legal documents, such as contracts or briefs, and suggesting edits and improvements.”
Is it a replacement for law clerks? Not so fast.
While ChatGPT can provide convincing results, each user may get a different response to a given query. And, as has been widely reported in the press, ChatGPT can be prone to “hallucinating,” which may include inventing news articles that never existed.5 It also famously declared its love for one journalist.6
In another example, ChatGPT accused a law professor of sexual harassment that reportedly occurred while he was chaperoning a class trip to Alaska. But the professor had never taken students to Alaska or anywhere else.7
Working with AI’s Limitations
Much like an eager intern, if ChatGPT is used to research citations, lawyers should verify research or other output, especially in the case of legal citations. The current version of ChatGPT appears not have any failsafe verification system in place. To use ChatGPT, you accept a user agreement that specifies its liability (or lack thereof), and there are prominent warnings on the main webpage about its limitations and safeguards. Confirming the results is especially important since ChatGPT can pull information from the internet. For all its reported intelligence, ChatGPT has yet to learn that not everything it reads is true.
ChatGPT is not the only AI language model on the market, and the technology is evolving rapidly. Many legal technology firms have begun incorporating AI language technology in their products.8 These products use the underlying technology of ChatGPT but incorporate proprietary legal databases to improve its accuracy.9
The bottom line is that while AI technology has the potential to be a revolutionary time saver in the long run, it is important to keep its current limitations in mind.
If you need specific legal advice or representation, it is essential to consult with a licensed attorney who can provide you with personalized and tailored legal advice based on your unique situation. ChatGPT can be a helpful resource for general legal research, but it should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional legal advice.
- Kevin Roose, “How does ChatGPT really work?” New York Times. March 28, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/28/technology/ai-chatbots-chatgpt-bing-bard-llm.html.
- David Nield, “11 Tips to Take Your ChatGPT Prompts to the Next Level.” Wired. March 26, 2023. https://www.wired.com/story/11-tips-better-chatgpt-prompts/.
- Laura Lorek, “How lawyers can take advantage of ChatGPT and other large language models disrupting the legal industry.” ABA Journal. May 11, 2023. https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/how-lawyers-can-take-advantage-of-ChatGPT-and-other-large-language-models-disrupting-the-legal-industry.
- Query performed May 13, 2023 https://chat.openai.com, ChatGPT 4.0 May 12 Version.
- Eugene Volokh, “Large libel models: ChatGPT-3.5 erroneously reporting supposed felony pleas, complete with made-up media quotes?” Reason. March 17, 2023. https://reason.com/volokh/2023/03/17/large-libel-models-chatgpt-4-erroneously-reporting-supposed-felony-pleas-complete-with-made-up-media-quotes/.
- Eleanor Pringle, “Microsoft’s ChatGPT-powered Bing is becoming a pushy pick-up artist that wants you to leave your partner: ‘You’re married, but you’re not happy.’” Fortune. February 17, 2023. https://fortune.com/2023/02/17/microsoft-chatgpt-bing-romantic-love/.
- Debra Cassens Weiss, “ChatGPT falsely accuses law prof of sexual harassment; is libel suit possible?” ABA Journal. April 6, 2023. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/chatgpt-falsely-accuses-a-law-prof-of-sexual-harassment-is-a-libel-suit-possible.
- Nicole Black, “The Case for ChatGPT: Why Lawyers should Embrace AI.” ABA Journal. February 21, 2023. https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/the-case-for-chatgpt-why-lawyers-should-embrace-ai.
- Stephanie Wilkins, “CaseText introduces AI legal assistant CoCounsel, incorporating most advanced models from OpenAI.” LegalTech News. March 1, 2023. https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/2023/03/01/casetext-introduces-ai-legal-assistant-cocounsel-incorporating-most-advanced-models-from-openai/.