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April 9, 2023 | Lawyers Have Much to Fear from AI Bots

Rick Ackerman

Rick Ackerman is the editor of Rick’s Picks, an online service geared to traders of stocks, options, index futures and commodities. His detailed trading strategies have appeared since the early 1990s in Black Box Forecasts, a newsletter he founded that originally was geared to professional option traders. Barron’s once labeled him an “intrepid trader” in a headline that alluded to his key role in solving a notorious pill-tampering case. He received a $200,000 reward when a conviction resulted, and the story was retold on TV’s FBI: The Untold Story. His professional background includes 12 years as a market maker in the pits of the Pacific Coast Exchange, three as an investigator with renowned San Francisco private eye Hal Lipset, seven as a reporter and newspaper editor, three as a columnist for the Sunday San Francisco Examiner, and two decades as a contributor to publications ranging from Barron’s to The Antiquarian Bookman to Fleet Street Letter and Utne Reader.

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. Artificial intelligence seems particularly well 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 vast library of U.S. jurisprudence. Will we even need judges to decide cases or instruct juries when machine intelligence can split hairs of legal precedent down to nearly 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. 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 — surely you’ve heard the one about ‘no skid marks’ at the scene of an auto accident? — are so vicious.

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 ways to screw their colleagues out of the hefty fees they’ve grown accustomed to collecting for doing little or nothing that a machine 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. The day is not far off when no firm will hire them to do the kind of grunt work machines can perform as effectively and with lightning speed, even with AI barely out of its infancy.

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April 9th, 2023

Posted In: Rick's Picks

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