We perish for lack of knowledge.

LexisNexis today announced the results of a new generative AI survey. The study was based on responses from some 4000+ lawyers. There were also responses from legal professionals and law students. This new Study furthered the findings of LexisNexis’ prior survey back in March of this year of which I have previously written.

The Headlines From the New Survey

The headlines from this additional Study:

*Most lawyers are aware of generative AI and think it will transform the practice.

*Clients expect their outside lawyers to use generative AI, and lawyers in law firms expect their clients to demand it.

*Clients expect their outside lawyers to tell them when and how they use generative AI.

It is the third headline that may cause some tension and disrupt the lawyer client dynamic.

Some Numbers

The initial Study results from March showed 86% of the lawyers were aware of generative; 51% had either already used it or were planning to.

I wrote a piece at the time in which I wondered whether, given that number, lawyers understood the risks and benefits of generative AI. Based on the client’s concerns that their lawyers be transparent with them about use, I wonder if clients now wonder whether their lawyers understand the risks and benefits.

The new study shows some 88% of those surveyed were aware of generative AI. 44% had used it or planned to, which is down a bit from the previous study, perhaps reflecting a greater understanding of the risks of the technology. The new Survey shows 47% believe generative AI will have a significant or transformative effect on the practice of law. 45% think it will have some impact, meaning almost all believe in the power of these tools.

All these numbers show the ubiquitous spread of the concept of generative AI. I don’t recall any technology that reached these kinds of awareness numbers among lawyers this quickly.

60% of the clients expect their lawyers to use tools like generative AI. 53% of the outside lawyers believe their clients will expect them to use these tools. Again, a remarkable convergence of expectations between lawyers and their clients in a very short time. In most everything else technology related, we don’t see this kind of agreement of expectations.

So far, so good. Lawyers appreciate the power of the tools, seem ready to use them, and the expectations of lawyers and clients for once by and large align.

The Clients’ Reaction

But here is the rub.78% of the clients expect their lawyers to tell them when they use AI tools.

I recently talked to Steve Carroll, the LexisNexis Vice President of Customer Insights at LexisNexis, about the Survey. Carroll agreed that the awareness and expectations percentages were remarkably high and unprecedented. He also told me that most lawyers did not think generative AI would reduce the number of lawyers. But it would result in the need for fewer paralegals. I have to wonder, though, if this stems from a lack of appreciation of what many paralegals really do and the value of their work. If you asked the paralegals, you might get the opposite answer. And frankly, they may be right.

I asked him about the transparency number. Carroll believed that it reflects the idea that clients want to know how their data is used and why the tools are employed. They want to be sure that their confidential data is not being used with open AI platforms. Of course, the concern of clients for transparency may stem from a lack of trust that their outside lawyers understand the risks and benefits of generative AI. So they feel the need to verify what’s being done.

This demand for transparency places the outside lawyer in a funny spot. Many of us are used to discussing strategy and substance with our clients. We are not so accustomed to discussing exactly how we plan to do the work with our clients. We especially aren’t good at telling clients when we plan to use tools that decrease the time spent on matters vs. telling them when something will be expensive.

What’s An Outside Lawyer To Do?

Outside lawyers would be well served to have a frank discussion with their clients about generative AI. And about the use expectations at the beginning of the relationship. Outside lawyers must demonstrate to their clients that they are knowledgeable about the tools and appreciate their client’s concerns.

Outside lawyers would be well served to have a frank discussion with their clients about generative AI

This summer, the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm offered summer associates a prompt engineering training program to facilitate the use of generative AI and its risks and benefits. Law firms could go a long way in facilitating client trust by offering these kinds of programs to all their lawyers.

An Altered Relationship?

But, in any event, it’s clear that clients want to be given a choice about how and whether generative AI tools are being used. And this may lead to greater involvement by clients in the work process and tools used by their outside counsel.

Carroll made another point in our conversation that I found interesting and which, if correct, could impact the client lawyer relationship.

Carroll believes outside lawyers need to be prepared for clients to come to them with a greater knowledge of the law, substantively and procedurally. Generative AI provides anyone with the chance to do their own research. In some cases, that means the conversation with the outside lawyers starts at a different place. In some cases, it may mean the outside lawyer can’t BS clients (not that that ever happens lol). In some cases, it means the outside lawyer will have to disabuse their client of wrong information obtained from generative AI tools.

There’s no doubt that greater information gives the client more power in their relationship with their lawyer

All the more reason for lawyers to be on their toes about the risks and benefits of generative AI. We can’t hide behind jargon and hubris with clients. They may know more than we do. There’s an old saying that we perish for lack of knowledge. There’s no doubt that greater information gives the client more power in their relationship with their lawyer, just as it gives patients more power in their relationship with their healthcare providers.

The Survey did ask both outside and in-house if generative AI would change their relationship. Most respondents thought not. But I’m not so sure.

The demand of clients for greater transparency about the work process could lead to more significant involvement and say-so in how outside lawyers do their work. And the increased ability of clients to easily obtain information about the law and, for that matter, effective strategies will give clients more choice and insight. Both developments will provide greater power to clients than ever before.