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How to use (and NOT use) ChatGPT at your law firm

Many legal professionals are considering when and how they can use ChatGPT for legal tasks.

This artificial intelligence (AI) tool has been in the news a lot recently for its advanced capabilities, and the legal industry is eager to take advantage. However, there is plenty of reason to be cautious with the use of ChatGPT for legal work, since it can generate inaccurate and shoddy results.

So how can ChatGPT be used at your law firm? And when should the use of ChatGPT be limited or ruled out completely?

We explore these questions below.

How does ChatGPT work?

Released in November 2022, ChatGPT is a type of AI tool known as a chatbot. When the user provides ChatGPT with a prompt — which can be in the form of a question — ChatGPT will generate a response in natural language. These responses are generally coherent and often highly accurate.

ChatGPT is backed up by a large language model (LLM). LLMs are “trained” on text data from all over the internet including websites, articles, and books. The LLM learns statistical relationships between words, sentences, and phrases, allowing it to generate coherent responses to natural language prompts.

In other words, ChatGPT seems like it knows what it’s saying, but it’s really just putting words together in the statistically most likely order.

Users have already deployed ChatGPT for numerous complex tasks like business automation, concept explanation, creating applications, and website coding. It’s also widely used for entertainment.

Of particular relevance to the legal industry, ChatGPT took the July 2022 Uniform Bar Examination and achieved a score approaching the 90th percentile.

How can I use ChatGPT at my law firm?

There are many potential uses for ChatGPT in legal settings, as long as the tool is not seen as the final word on authenticity or accuracy.

It can provide an excellent starting point or framework for some documents, as well as editing and analysis capabilities. Here are a few examples.

Drafting and editing contracts and other legal documents

ChatGPT is an excellent tool for generating long-form documents that follow specific structures. This makes it helpful for legal documents that tend to contain large amounts of stock verbiage, such as demand letters, non-disclosure agreements, and other contracts.

However, legal professionals still need to review the final product and confirm the authenticity of any information.

Editing is another strength of ChatGPT. It can clarify existing writing, which makes it good for editing text, proofreading a brief, and flagging unclear language. Use it to review the work you’ve already done and make suggestions.

Analysis and summary of documents

ChatGPT can also analyze and summarize lengthy documents, a process well-known to — and often dreaded by — legal professionals.

As a large language model, ChatGPT is excellent at analyzing a document and extracting key points. This is what it’s built to do! Whether it is a deposition transcript, discovery file, or legal brief, ChatGPT can generate summaries in different formats, such as bullet points.

While the final results should be double-checked, using ChatGPT has the potential to streamline these processes considerably.

Marketing content

Since it is based on a statistical model, ChatGPT can accurately predict the words and phrases that will be most compelling in any given context.

This makes it a great candidate for helping to draft blogs and other legal marketing content, while also saving time — one of the greatest impediments to a law firm’s marketing efforts.

If you choose to use ChatGPT for your marketing content, be aware that this is a popular use case in a lot of industries. This often raises concerns about drafting content that looks and sounds very similar to the AI-generated marketing materials your competitors use.

Some people find AI-generated content problematic and point to potential ethical pitfalls, especially regarding plagiarism.

Artificial intelligence can’t create original thoughts; it can only repeat what it finds on the internet. This probably isn’t a problem if you want to answer common questions on your blog or in your newsletter, but it’s not ideal if you hope to use content to establish yourself as a thought leader. Use your ChatGPT content wisely.

Email generation

These same strengths of the ChatGPT tool apply to drafting emails.

As a prompt, you can ask ChatGPT to both summarize an incoming email and provide a response to it. It’s a great time-saver when your inbox stacks up.

When you write messages, you can employ AI to help you set the proper tone. Try asking it to rewrite your email in a more sympathetic, positive, or professional way. You can even give it a few bullet points and ask it to draft the message.

As with all things ChatGPT-related, the legal professional must double-check the final product before sending it out. Nonetheless, this use of ChatGPT has the potential to save a great deal of time and mental effort for attorneys and other legal staff.

What legal tasks should ChatGPT NEVER be used for?

While it can be a powerful AI assistant for your firm, it’s crucial to remember ChatGPT’s limitations for legal work.

The tool can provide responses that sound convincing, but are inaccurate. Even OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, has warned it may provide responses that are untruthful or misleading.

This means it is not a good tool for tasks that rely on factually accurate responses to complex issues — at least not without copious final review and fact-checking by humans.

A huge limitation for ChatGPT is with legal research, as demonstrated by a recent incident in U.S. federal court:

A New York attorney submitted a filing with numerous citations to nonexistent cases, to which the opposing counsel objected. In response, the attorney submitted an affidavit with fabricated judicial decisions. Only then did the attorney admit they used ChatGPT to perform the legal research for the brief, and they did not check that the responses were accurate.

This clearly demonstrates some major drawbacks of ChatGPT, especially the lack of complete factual accuracy. If there is no answer to a certain prompt or question, the tool is likely to fabricate an inaccurate response. In this example, the AI even reassured the user that the cases “can be found in reputable legal databases, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw.”

ChatGPT is also incapable of resolving nuanced situations that are new and unique. As always, the actual thinking must be done by a human.

Accordingly, ChatGPT is not a good tool for any kind of legal research, information gathering, or other tasks that rely on factually accurate results.

This also means that even if you use ChatGPT to review, edit, or generate content, you still need to perform a final review and fact-check everything. Remember that the content is generated from what the language model finds on the internet. Do you believe that everything on the internet is true?

Explore the best ways to use AI in the legal industry

The best overall recommendation for ChatGPT and legal work is to give it a try, but know the limitations. While it can be highly useful, it is far from infallible and still requires human thought and input.

If you’re concerned about the potential pitfalls of using ChatGPT for legal work, that doesn’t mean you should not abandon AI tools altogether. Instead, consider using AI tools that are specifically designed for legal purposes.

Can legal professionals still use ChatGPT?

Within the right context, absolutely! Simply use the tool responsibly and always trust your own thinking brain first and foremost.


  • Mike Robinson

    After a fifteen-year legal career in business and healthcare finance litigation, Mike Robinson now crafts compelling content that explores topics around technology, litigation, and process improvements in the legal industry.

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