Anyone who has played around with ChatGPT knows that it is just dumb enough to succeed wildly. It harbors no opinions, grudges or wit, and it can talk a blue streak without saying anything interesting or exceptionable. This kind of artificial intelligence seems perfectly suited to mimicking the rote tasks that lawyers charge clients hundreds or even thousands of dollars an hour to perform. And not just churning out boilerplate, either. Put a voice-activated bot in a courtroom and, without a mote of prejudice, it will prosecute or defend whoever is in the docket by drawing on the entire, vast library of U.S. jurisprudence. Will we even need judges to decide cases or instruct juries when machine intelligence can split hairs of precedent down to inarguable singularity?
These thoughts occurred to me as I reviewed a lawyer letter for which I had paid a South Florida attorney $1,000. He made a novel argument concerning why I would be suing the officers of a particular company personally rather than corporately. Their lawyer responded with two thousand words that said, basically, you can’t do that, and here’s why. These shysters would still be slinging legalese at each other for $450 an hour if I hadn’t pulled the plug on my guy. I’d paid him $2500 as a retainer; his invoice — including time spent tallying up the bill! — was for $2469. A coincidence, I’m sure. The invoice was stamped ‘Paid in full’, but I had to remind him that he still owed me the $31 difference. Small wonder that lawyer jokes are so vicious: What’s brown and black and looks good on a lawyer? A Doberman.
The ABA’s Turf
There can be no doubt that a lawyerly version of ChatGPT will soon enable litigants to cut to the chase, and for much less than $450 an hour. This will happen just as soon as the most aggressively entrepreneurial lawyers can come up with airtight ways to screw their colleagues out of the hefty fees they’ve grown accustomed to collecting for doing little or nothing that machines can’t already do better. The entrepreneurs will have a field day dismantling whatever barriers a desperate American Bar Association throws up to defend their turf. Buggy-whip manufacturers might as well have tried to thwart Henry Ford by picketing his Dearborn plant on opening day.
The dubious ability of even mediocre lawyers to earn a comfortable living spewing legalese is in its final days. As for young law school grads, they had better start looking for other ways to support a family, for the day is not far off when firms will no longer hire them to do grunt work that machines can do as effectively and with lightning speed, even with AI barely past its infancy.
“Lawyers Have Much to Fear from AI Bots” – a very thought provoking commentary.
My favorite lawyer joke:
Q: What’s brown and black and looks good on a lawyer?
A: A Doberman