The hype around generative AI has triggered widespread fear of missing out (FOMO). Feeling pressure to be seen to be doing “something” with AI, many businesses have rushed to invest in AI tools… and the legal industry is no exception.
Although law firms and corporate law departments are inherently risk-averse and tend to move cautiously, many operations teams are finding it tempting to “panic buy” – or in some cases, “panic build” – when it comes to Generative AI.
In this article, we’ll explore three guideposts to help cut through the fog surrounding Generative AI, and emerge with a roadmap for fostering innovation and leveraging AI to enhance legal service delivery.
Guidepost 1: AI is more than ChatGPT
AI and other advanced technologies are not new. Many organizations, including law firms and corporate law departments, have been using emerging technologies, including those enabled by AI, for years to solve complex and challenging business problems. While the practical use cases for AI have been developing gradually over time, the advent of Generative AI – and specifically ChatGPT – offers a user experience that lawyers and legal professionals have gravitated to in droves.
Generative AI has changed the way people perceive AI and advanced technology, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how organizations should address emerging technologies that are high risk, high reward. The methodology, discipline, and work needed to take advantage of Generative AI are similar to what was required in leveraging other game-changing innovations as they became more widely available.
To avoid past mistakes, legal organizations need to focus on two key areas:
1) Start with business problems
As with any new tool, but even more so with advanced technology, it is critical to identify the problems most important to the business first before finding the right technology to solve them, as opposed to investing in a technology and hoping you’ve selected the right tool for the job.
For example, Generative AI has the ability perform text classification using a broad understanding of natural language. However, the specific categories like what kind of work was performed, what kind of pleading is this, and what was the nature of the matter all require different inputs and outputs.
Generative AI will certainly offer an answer to these questions, but in cases where you need a structured response that’s integrated into other systems, Generative AI alone may not be the best tool. Unless you force Generative AI to structure its responses using extensive fine-tuning – and informed by ethical and data governance requirements – its classifications will be too general and inconsistent. By contrast, other Natural Language and Machine Learning tools are optimized to extrapolate from “golden” examples to give clear, governed responses.
2) Find the right vendor partners
It’s easy to get caught up in the press releases and conference sessions promoting “AI” and wonder if the organization needs to radically change its technology acquisition approach. Most technologists have quickly learned the letters “AI” on a poster may be using old technology – great technology in some cases – but old technology that solves a particular problem.
For organizations, the dilemma often revolves around the novelty of the use case when considering investment in cutting-edge technology versus opting for existing, proven tools to solve a problem. It's worth reflecting on whether the allure of newly labeled "AI" tools, which might have been dismissed previously, truly merits a second evaluation.
• Identify your use cases and requirements. Assess whether the use case is unique – meaning, does it extend beyond the typical applications of existing tools? As issues arise, remember that a variety of AI tools with diverse capabilities are available, and not all problems necessitate the use of GPT.
• Stay vigilant. Numerous vendors have been utilizing advanced tools and technologies for years. Some have shifted their strategy, rebranding what might have been a noteworthy widget or an innovative solution as AI to capitalize on market enthusiasm.
Guidepost 2: AI is at a moment of inflection in its growth
Most would agree that Generative AI has broken our previous conceptions of how high the hype cycle could rise. Those who experienced the raw potential of GPT-based tools could see the possibilities and might have even been convinced that this time was different, and that we’d never land.
We are seeing two things happening in the market at the same time:
The heights of the hype have set it up for a precipitous fall; one that is further and faster than any we have experienced before in the legal industry.
At the same time the excitement, energy, and investment that has gone into generative AI has led to significant investments in R&D from legal service providers, legal technology companies, and even core partners like Microsoft. This enthusiasm has been driven largely by lawyers broadly engaging in legal technology for the first time.
While we expect some kind of drop-off, this may be the rare case where the investment in the technology means we’re in for a hype cycle “soft landing” where the technology continues to improve to meet the market as it develops.
Working with that hypothesis, the strategy for many law firms and law departments that aren’t on the bleeding edge to invest now in key areas that will allow the organization to catch the hype cycle on the way back up.
- Be ready to meet the moment. Forward-thinking firms will be better positioned than others to take advantage of Generative AI when it is ready to deliver on its potential. Legal organizations that have put effort into their data strategy, vendor governance, and technology evaluation and selection, or have invested in practical use cases, will be the ones who are better able to take advantage of this inflection point.
Guidepost 3: Use the market momentum to move the needle
“Never let a [hype cycle] go to waste.” Traction, excitement and interest, are rare commodities in the legal industry, that must be channeled to move the needle and make big things happen.
We are inherently prone to inertia regarding technology investment, innovation, and change management. Anything that can break us out of that mode to act and precipitate change is an opportunity that cannot be ignored. Organizations that don’t meet this moment will lose that catalyst that is required to make impactful changes.
To make a lasting difference, you can't just launch another initiative that gets initial traction but doesn't live up to the hype. Once your internal stakeholders have been let down, they become hesitant and less willing to contribute to the success of new projects.
This is a moment where organizations need to be careful about the promises made on the impact, timing, and investment necessary to leverage Generative AI. Reaping the benefits from advanced technology will require significant time, funding and focus of resources. Given the need for legal applications of Generative AI to be both accurate and complete, we expect the investment will take longer than other industries to yield true material results.
We need to make the most of this window of opportunity and balance opportunity with cost, finding those areas where the business challenge is acute enough and where advanced technology can bring solutions quickly to keep up enthusiasm for the long haul.
- Maintain the momentum and excitement over the long term by finding ways to show value. Show why these tools and technologies are worthwhile, and set expectations that these tools won’t automatically solve the plentitude of problems that have been plaguing the business and practice of law since the introduction of desktop computers.
The way forward
The excitement around Generative AI is palpable, but diving in without a clear plan can lead to disappointment. The legal industry, known for its cautious approach, is feeling the pressure to adopt AI solutions rapidly. We offered three guideposts to help navigate the Generative AI landscape: understanding the technology beyond the hype, planning for the hype cycle, and leveraging market momentum. Beyond this, having a cohesive strategy that covers technology, governance, change management, and process improvement is critical to the success of an advanced technology program.
It's crucial to start with well-defined problems, choose the right technology solutions, and possibly find a seasoned partner to guide the way. A well-informed approach can help law firms and legal departments capitalize on the potential of Generative AI while sidestepping the pitfalls associated with the hype.