I’ll be honest. I thought about asking ChatGPT to draft this article for me. Instead, I researched the traditional way (having first asked the robot for a few pointers).

‘Celebrated’ for making AI accessible to the masses, this new phenomenon is also hot on the lips of many a profession because of its potential to transform certain industries by taking over human roles and doing the work with greater speed, efficiency, at a fraction of the cost.

ChatGPT in a nutshell

ChatGPT is a free and increasingly popular chatbot released in late 2022. It was created by OpenAI, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company which recently partnered with Microsoft. Elon Musk was a co-founder but left the startup in 2018.

Powered by AI and referred to as a ‘language model’ it is designed to answer natural language questions and prompts with coherent and contextually appropriate responses in whichever format you request. For example, you could ask it to explain vicarious liability in five points. Or for a list of databases where you can access reputable legal research papers without charge.

Eerily, its conversational communication style makes you feel like you are talking to an actual person with a vast pool of knowledge and the ability to convey information in well-structured explanations. It is shaking up the status quo because of its capabilities to assist with time consuming tasks.

How barristers might use ChatGPT

1. Content creation

Whether you are writing a blog, article or social media post, ChatGPT can help:

  • understand your audience by asking it to conduct market research or analysing conversations on platforms such as Twitter;
  • specify what your content goals should be;
  • research, eg find relevant sources;
  • promote your content with SEO keyword or engaging headline suggestions.  
 2. Legal research

ChatGPT can scan and summarise large quantities of data to identify pertinent cases and legislation. 

Warning: while the chatbot can provide generally useful information it is important to verify it with other reliable sources. In a recent case a NYC personal-injury lawyer of 30 years (source The Guardian) regrettably used ChatGPT’s examples of similar cases when suing an airline. He was dismayed to find out after using the case studies in court that the source was unreliable. The fact that ChatGPT had fabricated the lot is because of the way the system works by using contextual clues to craft answers, which unfortunately can be false because of the hallucinogenic nature of the technology. 

3. Drafting documents
  • Use the chatbot to draft contracts, letters or emails to clients.
  • Be sure to review and edit the document and do not enter any personal information into the bot.
  • Use to adapt the tone of a message or proofread grammar, spelling or punctuation.  

Used correctly, ChatGPT can save time and provide exciting additional support to many professions and businesses. However, it has certainly not ruled out the need for, and value of, human beings in assisting roles such as clerks, PAs, virtual assistants or administrators. Unsurprisingly, this particularly applies to the legal profession taking into consideration its highly confidential and nuanced essence.

ChatGPT itself makes no illusions about its weaknesses. Below the box to send a message it states: 'ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.'

Often at the end of a response it states a disclaimer, explaining that while it strives to provide helpful and accurate information it has limitations and always encourages users to seek expert advice from humans who can offer valuable insights and considerations that a AI may not be able to provide. Equally, its terms state it is unsafe for sensitive data.

Why we need a human for support tasks

1. Confidentiality

It is not only what is coming out of the chatbot that is of concern, but also what it is fed. Technically, we can ask ChatGPT to summarise a transcript or draft legal advice. This is not advisable as any information uploaded is used to improve the program and could essentially be regurgitated to other users.

2. Context and knowledge limitations

While ChatGPT draws from a colossal database, it can only utilise what it has been trained on. A major limitation is its knowledge cut-off date which is September 2021 and it can only offer answers based on data up to this point. However, the technology is currently being worked on to improve the ability to refer to current affairs.

3. Common sense and personal service

Whether using AI or not, legal administrators handle complex tasks which require human understanding and empathetic communication. Effective legal support requires adaptability, problem solving and relationship building, meaning human engagement is still second to none.

Overall, ChatGPT is a useful tool which may assist some barristers with groundwork tasks. At the same time, the caution that only a responsible human being can apply is essential in its deployment.