ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI made its debut on 30 November 2022, and quickly accumulated 100 million active users in its first month, setting the record for the fastest growing user base. Following the unprecedented success of ChatGPT, other big players in the tech industry hurried to release their own AI chatbots in an attempt to keep up with OpenAI’s success. The competition among tech companies has driven innovation and rapidly improved the sophistication and the utilisation of AI in various sectors. This rapid advancement has sparked a flurry of activity and initiated a transformative shift in the way we work in a very short period. As AI technology continues to advance, it has the potential to influence and transform various aspects of the legal field including family law.
AI uses and associated risks
AI’s impact is already being felt in the legal field, with global headlines showcasing its potential applications and associated risks. A notable example involved two lawyers in the United States who blamed AI chatbots for inadvertently including fictitious legal research in a court filing. This case highlights the risks associated with relying on AI technology, without understanding the potential pitfalls and limitations of the technology.
Generative AI chatbots, like ChatGPT, utilise algorithms to identify patterns within data sequences, enabling it to produce responses that resemble human speech and writing. Lawyers have started leveraging the technology to enhance their work, such as redrafting and improving responses. However, it is essential to recognise that generated content is not grounded in human-like understanding, as it lacks subjective judgement and decision-making capabilities. Thus, as the technology currently stands, generative AI should be viewed as an imperfect tool, requiring caution and careful evaluation of its outputs. Human oversight and evaluation are vital to ensure the accuracy, relevance, and ethical implications of the generated content. This approach helps mitigate the associated risks and ensures responsible utilisation of generative AI technology, learning from the mistakes made by lawyers in the United States.
Despite the risks, legal professionals have increasingly been leveraging AI-based software to automate tasks such as document review, contract analysis, legal research, and even case outcome predictions. With time and widespread awareness of the technology’s limitations, the legal profession can navigate the challenges, implement safeguards and ensure responsible use, ultimately enhancing the practise of law.
AI and its application to Family Law
The implications of AI technology on family law differ from other areas of law due to the inherent focus on human connection associated with this practice area. As Nicholes Family Lawyer Managing Partner Sally Nicholes noted in a recent interview: “ . . . what will never change is the fundamental human relationship between a family lawyer and their client. People often come to family lawyers at times of significant and heightened personal distress and vulnerability in relation to themselves and possibly involving children. They put their trust in us as lawyers and people, and this is the foundation on which we work together.”
AI technology, although effective in processing data, falls short in areas requiring emotional intelligence and human judgement, which underpins the practise of family law. However, within the realm of family law, AI may be utilised to aid the streamlining of administrative tasks. While AI cannot replace the vital lawyer-client relationship, family lawyers and family law firms can leverage the technology to complement their expertise and deliver efficient services while preserving the human-centred elements of legal practice.