AI won’t replace you, but somebody using it might | Jo-Anne Stark

By Jo-Anne Stark

Law360 Canada (February 21, 2023, 10:28 AM EST) --
Jo-Anne Stark
Dear Jo:

I have been seeing more and more companies offering computer-generated legal documents and forms. I’m a newly called lawyer, and I’m concerned that I’m entering a profession that may go the way of the dinosaurs … will robots replace lawyers?

There is certainly a lot of talk these days about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it may impact the legal profession. It’s important to understand why and how these systems are being created, to appreciate any potential risks or opportunities!

The need for these types of services — such as those that generate divorce documents or instant wills — arose primarily because the public grew frustrated with the overall cost of hiring a lawyer, and they want to maintain control over their legal matter. The technology was already there — and software engineers jumped in to create solutions to those needing help with everyday legal problems.

Back in the 1990s, I prepared wills for $300; last month I was charged a $2,000 retainer for updating my will. It’s no wonder that people are seeking alternatives, like those available online for a mere $99. If you can get artificial intelligence to create a simple will with basic information, it is certainly an option most people will at least consider!

As professionals, if we are ignoring the needs of potential clients, we are doing a disservice. The average client has a “middle-class” household income, and although they may need legal documentation, not all are ready to accept an open-ended bill based on an hourly rate. They want certainty and operate under a budget (tighter than ever, these days!). Many simply draft documents on their own or turn to new computer-generated services to draft documents for them.

The excitement over ChatGPT in the last few weeks made me more curious, so I decided to ask it about “legal coaching,” a relatively new type of limited legal service that I’ve been offering clients for years; I assumed that it would not be able to generate a comprehensive response. I was wrong. It said: 

Legal coaching can improve access to justice in several ways.

First, legal coaching can provide individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the legal system and advocate for themselves. This is especially important for people who may not have the resources to hire a lawyer or who may be hesitant to seek legal assistance due to a lack of understanding of the process. By working with a legal coach, individuals can become more informed about their rights and the legal options available to them, which can help them make more informed decisions about their case.

Second, legal coaching can help individuals find the most appropriate legal resources for their needs. Depending on the specific legal issue, there may be a variety of options available, including legal aid, pro bono services, or other forms of assistance. A legal coach can help individuals understand these options and identify the best course of action for their situation.

Finally, legal coaching can provide individuals with the support they need to stay on track and follow through with their legal goals. Legal proceedings can be complex and time-consuming, and it can be easy to become overwhelmed or discouraged. A legal coach can provide guidance and encouragement to help individuals stay focused and motivated, which can increase the chances of a successful outcome.

Although it may be concerning to some lawyers that artificial intelligence is moving and growing at an incredible rate, I view it as an opportunity. After all, if people are turning to auto-generated documents and forms, I’m confident that many of them will seek legal coaching to assist them in understanding which documents are needed, how they need to be filed and served at a courthouse and assistance in preparing for a court appearance. They will need guidance to understand their legal rights and what legal options they may have. They will want a second set of eyes and experience when using these automated services. I spend my weekends helping other lawyers learn how to offer legal coaching, as it is quickly positioning itself as a limited legal service that many “do-it-yourself” clients are turning to!

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but the future is already here. … I’m talking to those of you who are desperately hugging your fax machine and dial-up modem. It’s time for the profession to grow up and move out of the last century. Think of how to position your legal services to meet clients where they are at … and prepare for the future!

Jo-Anne Stark, B.Comm., J.D., CLC, is the founding president of the non-profit Legal Coaches Association and author of Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching. Find her on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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