ChatGPT, introduced in November 2022, quickly gained widespread attention, amassing over 100 million active users in just two months. Its unique approach, being dialogue-based rather than query-based like traditional search engines, soon captured the interest of legal professionals worldwide.

Briefed, a training platform for lawyers, recently hosted a webinar series for hundreds of barristers and chambers staff exploring the implications of ChatGPT for the profession. A stunning 74% of participants indicated that ChatGPT was a significant opportunity for the Bar.

However, views were mixed in the extensive workshop discussions. One pro-ChatGPTer stated: ‘I think it has the potential to speed up our work and help us become more time efficient’.

Another attendee thought it would put the job of a barrister in jeopardy: ‘As it becomes more widely known, people will think that it is a safe means of obtaining advice they might otherwise come to us for.’

The webinar brought to light concern over the impact on junior barristers in particular – that AI integration could lead to the removal of lower-end legal research, drafting and cases on which pupils and junior barristers cut their teeth.

Conversely, many believed that young or junior barristers able to use AI constructively will be the winners. ChatGPT can expedite work processes in areas such as drafting initial misconduct work, personal injury claims analysis, family law, access to justice research, and paralegal assistance.

Opportunities for barristers and chambers

  • Content creation and legal marketing: ChatGPT can assist in generating content ideas, headlines, and articles created for marketing.
  • Data analysis for insights: AI can help analyse client inquiries and feedback to identify trends, informing effective marketing strategies.
  • Drafting legal documents: Barristers can input relevant information (albeit no personal data) to receive preliminary drafts of contracts and documents.
  • Admin tasks: Clerks can use ChatGPT to manage client enquiries, provide case updates, and schedule appointments.

Potential pitfalls and risks

  • Misinterpretation and inaccuracy: While ChatGPT is advanced, errors can occur, leading to inaccurate advice or actions. Oversight and verification by barristers are crucial.
  • Data security and confidentiality: As ChatGPT relies on user data, protecting sensitive client information is paramount. Stringent security measures must be in place to avoid breaches and legal complications.
  • Cybercrime increase: AI’s potential to craft convincing phishing scams.
  • Data limitations: ChatGPT data is limited to information available up to September 2021.

Real-life case: dangers of relying solely on AI

A US attorney used AI-generated arguments which fabricated legal precedents that ChatGPT essentially ‘hallucinated’. He was consequently fined by his governing body. This underscores the importance of human oversight in AI-generated content and the role that legal regulators may have to play.

Concluding thoughts

ChatGPT undoubtedly presents exciting prospects for barristers and chambers. However, it is imperative to acknowledge its limitations, potential inaccuracies, and data security concerns. The future lies in a balanced integration of AI with human expertise, where AI augments, rather than replaces, barristers.

As the webinar participants highlighted, ensuring that junior barristers have ample opportunities to develop their skills in a changing environment is a challenge that must be addressed.

The biggest potential risk is, of course, ignoring this new age of technology, and failing to adapt as competitors are steaming ahead.