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AI at CLOC 2023: The Dream and Reality

by Petra Pasternak

Walking the floor and sitting in on sessions at this year’s Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Global Institute conference in Las Vegas, it was clear that AI was the star of the show.

Six months into the ChatGPT era, legal professionals are actively investigating how generative AI works and its potential impact on the profession. Speakers and guests still had more questions than answers, but it was clear that no one thinks this is just empty tech hype.

The legal profession is often slow to invest in new technologies, but many conference attendees seemed to understand that generative AI is too big, and evolving too quickly, to ignore. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns that make it important not to rush too far ahead. ChatGPT, the most widely utilized, consumer-facing form of generative AI, can "hallucinate" facts and has been characterized as “confidently wrong.” And security questions around protecting proprietary data abound.  

The CLOC conference was a great place to explore the potential, and potential pitfalls, of this technology. In this post, we explore the possibilities for scaling legal work and predictions about the impact. In part two, we’ll look at real world legal use cases and steps every professional can take to get up to speed.

One of the most important elements of generative AI for the legal profession is to bring, finally, the ability to scale. Too often, legal organizations focus on the simplest way to scale: Hire more people. Which doesn’t improve efficiencies, and assumes a limitless supply of qualified applicants.

“We've been adding a lot of bodies to law firms and corporations and we’ve not seen significant progress on scale in services,” said Founder & Executive Director of Six Parsecs Jae Um, during a session at the CLOC Global Institute. “You’re getting bigger, but not necessarily better.” 

Technology has long promised improved scalability, operating as a force multiplier that allows individual professionals to do more with less. Large language models leverage enormous data sets and machine learning algorithms to provide answers to questions or summarize large corpuses of data. Generative AI can digest and create content, speeding up everything from legal research, document review, and drafting of summaries.

Such tools will need human editors, but it’s a lot faster for a human to review an AI-generated summary of a thousand documents than to write one from scratch. 

Um compares the potential of generative AI to knowledge-scaling inventions that truly changed the world: the printing press, the computer, and the internet. 

“We’re living in a very special time where we see real potential for scale in knowledge,” Um said. 

Many in the legal profession are already testing these new technologies to figure out what that scaling would look like. Um was quick to say that this kind of automation intimidates many, including those who currently do the work. “That is scary,” she said. “If we want organizational transformation we need to make change more manageable for individual human beings.” 

But “more manageable” does not mean that AI can be ignored. Proactive steps, she said, will help organizations take advantage of the potential of new technology while mitigating negative impacts.

All legal technologies will be impacted by LLMs and generative AI, said Julian Tsisin, director of legal technology and data at Meta. This includes everything from IP management and compliance tools, to ediscovery and litigation, to workflows and legal project management. 

CLOC slide - Current State of Legal Technology
A slide from Julian Tsisin's talk during a panel on "Bold Visions for the Future Legal Department."

And the future is coming fast.

Tsisin predicts that large language models (LLMs) will bring significant change across the full spectrum of contract life cycle management in the next year or two. On the litigation front, he foresees dramatic change in areas such as legal research within the next five years. 

“These systems can read, understand, and write at a very high level,” he said. 

Legal professionals can still choose their future. Tsisin contrasted two scenarios, one in which with the help of technology and AI, legal teams are able to take on more work with reduced resources – at higher quality – in areas like contracts, compliance, and litigation. And another where legal teams sit on the sidelines, thinking this is just more hype. “Without radical change, by 2028 you will be left behind,” he said.

CLOC slide --  In the Year 2028 ...
A slide from Julian Tsisin's talk during a panel on "Bold Visions for the Future Legal Department."

That means that legal professionals should be actively working to understand the potential of AI, whether as a boon to their own organizations, or as a threat when adopted by competitors. In our next post, we’ll cover practical use cases for generative AI in the legal profession today, and how to start investigating the potential of the technology.