Canadian legal market AI survey shows high awareness of tech, ‘significant’ ethical concerns

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (September 5, 2023, 1:27 PM EDT) -- Generative artificial intelligence (GAI) tools, such as ChatGPT, have been a hot topic for the legal profession over the past year, with courts, associations and law schools grappling with the implications of the technology. A new report, issued by LexisNexis Canada, noted that a vast majority of the Canadian legal market had “significant” concerns about the ethical implications of generative AI and over half of the profession, as well as students, believe it will “change law schools and the way law is taught and studied.”

“It is clear the Canadian legal sector is excited by the many possibilities generative AI brings to the table. But many are still cautious about the risks that come alongside this increasingly popular technology — and rightly so,” the report noted, emphasizing that generative AI “has the potential to save businesses a huge amount of time and money, and if managed poorly, it also has the potential to also cost businesses wasted time and investment.”

The Generative AI & the Canadian Legal Profession 2023 Survey Report, issued Sept. 5, surveyed “over 1,952 people, including 610 Lawyers, 148 Law Students and 1,194 consumers in Canada to better understand the overall awareness of generative AI, how the legal profession is currently using these tools, and how likely they are to adopt them in the future.”

Law360 Canada is also published by LexisNexis Canada.

The report found that “awareness of generative AI is extremely high among the legal market, with 93% saying that they have heard of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, and a little over half (52%) have used it in a personal or professional capacity.” On the other hand, “awareness and use among the general population is much lower with 66% aware of GAI and 37% stating they have used GAI personally or professionally.”

The report noted that lawyers have a “reputation as tech-averse,” which makes the awareness rates “seem exceedingly high.”

“But as knowledge professionals and the fact that GAI has the potential to have enormous impact on their jobs, it’s no surprise they are paying attention, and have been aware of GAI for the last four to 12 months,” the report added.

When it comes to usage, the report found that large law has used GAI the “most often professionally (32%), followed by law students (29%), in-house counsel (24%), small law (19%), and government having used it least (6%).”

Research was the “primary use case, with 59% of lawyers and 67% of consumers using it to research legal matters and topics.” The report noted that many legal professionals are also using GAI to “write emails (57%) and draft documents (39%).”

The survey asked respondents “what impact generative AI will have on the practice of law,” with the report noting that “over half the legal market (51%) and law students (56%) believe it will significantly transform the practice of law, with nearly all believing it will have at least some impact.”

The “general feeling in the marketplace is ‘wait and see,’ ” the report explained.

The report also found that a “very high percentage of the legal market and law students (90%) are concerned about the ethical implications of generative AI, (with 37% of the legal market, and 39% of law students responding that their concerns are at least ‘significant’).”

“However,” the report added, “only a very few members of the legal market (6%) and law students (8%) say their concerns are fundamental.”

When it comes to education, 62 per cent of the legal market and 59 per cent of law students “believe generative AI will change law schools and the way law is taught and studied.”

Those surveyed believed that changes in legal education will be due to:

  • “Training in generative AI, prompt engineering and responsible use of AI will become increasingly important.
  • Increased emphasis on oral exams, presentations, and in-person assessments.
  • A possible shift away from knowledge recall to focus more on analysis, judgment, creativity, and hands-on experiential learning that AI cannot replicate.
  • Concerns about increased plagiarism and academic dishonesty.”

Thirty-seven per cent of the legal market surveyed also see GAI impacting the courts, noting that:

  • “The courts will need to scrutinize AI-generated filings and be wary of fake or erroneous citations.
  • Procedures may be needed to disclose when AI is used.
  • Access to justice and speed could be improved.
  • Generative AI will likely be used by lawyers and judges for drafting documents, legal research, and analyzing evidence.”

Alan Votary, LexisNexis Canada

Alan Votary, LexisNexis Canada

Alan Votary, LexisNexis Canada’s head of product, told Law360 Canada that it’s “very refreshing” to see how much the legal market is taking an interest in GAI and “forming opinions” on the subject. He noted the market is also willing to “see where this leads.”

There’s a “level of belief in the potential for change that this brings about. People do see that there’s going to be substantial change to the legal industry based on the technology,” he explained.

Votary recalled that when GAI was first introduced, people “compared it to the invention of the Internet.”

“It really did change how people interact with knowledge of the law and how they practise law. And again, I think this is one of those turning points that provides opportunities, and people recognize that,” he emphasized.

According to Votary, the survey was intended to fuel LexisNexis’ knowledge of the market, which is the “starting point of any development” the company does.

“It was important for us not just to assume that the views around the world were all the same,” he said, noting the company has taken a “global approach” to development.

“The U.S. has already made great strides in delivering a product called Lexis+ AI. They're getting close to a launch on that,” he added, noting that a “logical extension” was looking at developing an AI product for Canada.

“At times, Canada can be a leader, but there's also the cautious approach that we take with some things as well,” he explained, finding that the Canadian market can “be a little slower to move” on adopting new tech.

“But we're seeing now that our market is really embracing this concept [GAI] and wants to know about it quickly,” he added, noting that the market wants to be “at the forefront of change as well.”

The main takeaway from the report, Votary noted, is that people are interested in GAI, but they also “recognize that there are risks” as well as “great potential.”

He cautioned that any development of GAI products must be done “carefully with security in mind, with ethics in mind,” and made to “help promote the rule of law.”

“It’s a careful process that people are cautiously looking at. They are excited, but they do want to know that it’s been done correctly,” he concluded.

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