Publish date: 23 February 2023
Emma Davidson, Special Counsel

I was recently out and about on a Friday after work, attempting to ease into my weekend, when I asked a mate how life was treating him. He looked as though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders as he responded – “Em, the world as we know it is changing. In two to three months’ time, you wait …. white collar workers are in for the shock of their lives. It’s going to be a bloodbath.”   

It turns out he was talking about ChatGPT.   

Now I’m probably somewhat late to the party, given this sophisticated chatbot was launched by OpenAI around November 2022. I didn’t know much about it at all. I can’t even say it’s something I have seen being openly talked about between my colleagues, or much in the legal space until very recently. Or maybe it has, and my mate is right: I haven’t been paying enough attention.   

“Em, this thing can replace you – you need to get ahead of it.”  

Wow. There goes my relaxing Friday.  

I had a bit of a play around with the technology that night and, I must say, on first blush, I felt some unease. It seemed a lot of aspects of my role could be filled by this chatbot and it was a lot faster than how my brain would process some of the questions our enquirers, or our clients, commonly ask.  

As I mucked around with it a bit more, I concluded that yes, this chatbot could replace some of me, but no way near all.   

I’m certainly not cocky enough to think this will be the end though, after all the OpenAI website is quite clear ChatGPT has been released for research purposes – that means it will improve, and those seemingly wide gaps will narrow. There are also now other players in the market, with Google revealing their ChatGPT rival player – Bard. Deep in the research rabbit hole, I read that one company is claiming to have AI chatbot technology so sophisticated they were convinced it was sentient – eeep!   

I expect the improvements will happen quicker than we expect. I was shocked to find out ChatGPT has recently set the record for the fastest growing user base in history. ChatGPT reached 100 million active monthly users within two months of release – by comparison, TikTok took nine months to reach this figure, and Instagram 2.5 years.     

Whatever the outcome of all this, it’s not going away. It’s here. We need to embrace it.  

I spent the weekend letting my mind run, thinking about the doors this type of technology opens. I also thought about how scary some of it is and wondered if the younger generation of lawyers are going to have gaps in their knowledge by relying on this thing. Or are they actually going to be an efficient powerhouse of up and coming lawyers who will leave me in the dust?   

One gap I noticed, was that while a lot of the responses ChatGPT gave me had the correct information on a basic level, there was no real way to fact check it as it does not provide sources. That left me with concerns about whether it could truly be relied upon and what kind of outcomes would eventuate if people did blindly follow what it spat out. I think they know this too, because I did notice with the questions I was asking, it did often recommend speaking to a lawyer at the end of those quickly generated paragraphs.   

Another gap I have been considering is whether the output is only as good as the input; i.e. is it a bit like Google where you need to know how to ask the question. It is, after all just a repackaging of information that is already out there. Does ChatGPT understand the content it is producing and the implications of same – right now, no.   

I think where I have landed on all this, is that ChatGPT, or any of the chatbot technologies, could potentially make me a much more efficient lawyer. That makes me excited! I don’t think we should fear this, we should be moving and adapting to ensure we are using these tools to become better practitioners. If I can use ChatGPT to be more efficient, effectively reducing the “cost” of me to a client, why wouldn’t I? If it can help me progress their matter so they aren’t pulled through the compensation schemes longer than they need to be – then I should!   

As much as it has been confronting realising what ChatGPT can do at a base level, and what it might become, I can’t help but feel that this technology will ultimately make me a better lawyer for my clients.  

ChatGPT might be a way to get quick answers, or to potentially simplify and summarise complex matters, but there are certain things that cannot be replaced by this technology. The ability to empathise with clients, to act with care and compassion, and come up with creative ways to problem solve their matters.   

If ChatGPT can help me improve and increase my value in this way – I’m all for it.   

As published in Lawyers Weekly and Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Emma Davidson
Emma Davidson
Special Counsel
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