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AI made big strides in 2023 – what does 2024 hold?

2023 was an extremely significant year in the development of artificial intelligence (AI). This was the moment when generative AI – AI that can create sophisticated new content such as text, images, videos, and audio – burst into the news, taking AI to another level. Suddenly, the world in general was sitting up and taking notice of this new technology. It’s a phenomenon that looks set to grow exponentially in importance, with major implications for legal professionals everywhere in 2024 and beyond.  

 

A timeline of transformation 

It was the rapid adoption of ChatGPT, launched in November of 2022, that brought generative AI to the mainstream for the first time in 2023. Within months, ChatGPT had set records as the fastest-growing consumer application of all time. It was swiftly followed by a raft of other tools such as Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Bing AI. From then on, generative AI seemed to be everywhere, from creating would-be pop hits to being used in advertising campaigns. As the year progressed, chatbots from Meta and xAI, Elon Musks’ AI company, and Amazon’s ‘Olympus’ large language model upped the ante. 

To put the potential of generative AI into context, in July, McKinsey estimated that it could increase annual corporate profits by up to $4.4 trillion. At around the same time, research by MIT highlighted AI’s scope to boost worker productivity in white-collar sectors. It found that accessing the ChatGPT chatbot cut the time taken for workers to complete tasks by 40% while improving output quality by 18%. 

No wonder lawyers were starting to think in earnest about how it could transform the profession, and what opportunities and threats it could pose to their work. According to the Thomson Reuters Future of Professionals Report, most lawyers (both in law firms and in-house legal departments) expect AI to boost productivity and internal efficiency greatly, for example by automating drafting, making it easier to keep clients up to date on changing regulations and legislation, and assisting with research and contract review. Overall, they foresee a positive impact on how client service is delivered. 

The use of AI in the legal profession has been gaining traction and garnering some important wins. For instance, 57% of firms surveyed in 2023’s The Lawyer UK 200 report said that their AI implementations have been successful so far. Some law firms have even created AI-specific roles this year, such as Head of AI, to oversee and drive change. 

It’s a landscape that is still evolving rapidly, with both ChatGPT and Microsoft launching business-specific versions of their generative AI tools to deliver more powerful – and more secure – functionality to enterprise users. For lawyers, privacy and data protection are major concerns, so while this is a big step forward, wariness remains.  For many, deploying tools developed not just for business, but specifically for use by the legal profession is paramount, given the highly sensitive and often confidential nature of their work. 

Policymakers are developing their stance on risk and regulation. For example, the UK government published a white paper on setting out its attitude to AI regulation in March and then hosted an AI Safety Summit in November attended by representatives from 28 countries including the US and China. The signing of the so-called Bletchley Declaration” by all those present suggests progress is being made in terms of international cooperation to establish a common approach on the oversight of AI. 

And, just before the end of the year, the European Union (EU) has proposed a landmark legislation to regulate the use of AI, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act, or AI Act. The Act aims to foster the development and adoption of trustworthy and human-centric AI across the EU while ensuring that high-risk AI systems are subject to strict rules and oversight.    

 

2024 and beyond: what to expect 

There’s no going back now: the use of generative AI is set to proliferate in all areas of life. Legal is no exception. 2024 is likely to see more law firms and corporate legal departments investigate using it in different ways.  

They will be thinking deeply about what guardrails should be put around generative AI (as regulators also firm up on this issue), where the biggest opportunities lie, and how the costs/benefits will play out (including how they should be apportioned, e.g. in terms of how much of the benefit is passed onto clients). Lawyers themselves will start coming up with more potential uses for it, while the types of tools and solutions on the market will continue to develop at pace. 

The Future of Professionals Report reveals that in the main, legal professionals see AI as a catalyst for growth, with lower costs ultimately leading to increased profitability, and new services expected to emerge within the next five years, creating new sources of revenue. Many also believe that the advent of AI will cause their skills to be more highly prized.  

Yet, as usage grows, we could see some of the thornier issues around accuracy, security, and ethics being thrashed out in real life. There is likely to be a strong demand for tools that have been designed with fairness, privacy, and societal impact in mind, that take a human-centric approach and have trust principles built in. 


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