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As a lawyer, maintaining the knowledge and skills required to practice law in today’s environment while meeting daily practice demands is no small task. Throw in maintaining competency in emerging technologies and understanding how to use them effectively, and the practice of law can be overwhelming.

Over the past several decades, lawyers have slowly—but surely—embraced computers, the internet, email, and cloud computing in the way we work, communicate, and serve our clients. To date, 40 states have adopted the ABA’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, Comment 8, to include “keeping abreast of the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology” in maintaining attorneys’ professional competency.

Today, generative artificial intelligence (genAI) is just starting to transform the legal profession. AI refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

Traditional AI has been widely used in the legal industry and in our daily lives for years—for example, Google searches, Netflix recommendations, spell check, and legal research tools. But genAI is different; it generates new content from scratch, based on what it learns from the data it scans.

GenAI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Copilot can help lawyers generate original and high-quality content, such as legal documents, contracts, briefs, or memos. GenAI can also help lawyers with creative tasks, such as brainstorming, storytelling, or creating marketing material.

Many, if not most, lawyers have heard about genAI. But many may dismiss it as a trend or lack the free time to explore the potential of these tools. I see you and I get it!

However, genAI is relevant and being used in legal practice. And lawyers need to understand the benefits and risks for themselves, their organizations, and their clients.

Here are three things lawyers should be doing now with genAI in their law practice:

1. Remember your ethical requirements

Before experimenting with various genAI tools, lawyers must remember the ethical guide rails demanded of them. GenAI raises multiple ethical issues for lawyers, such as confidentiality and supervision, and lawyers have a duty to adhere to their ethical obligations and ensure that their use of genAI—and its use by those they supervise in their practice—doesn’t violate these duties.

For example, lawyers have a duty to protect the confidentiality and privacy of their clients’ information, and to ensure it’s not disclosed, misused, or compromised by genAI tools. (See Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct

However, GenAI tools categorized as “self-learning” leverage previously inputted data from users to enhance their outcomes. This entails continuous refinement of future responses as additional inputs from users are integrated into the existing parameters. As emphasized by a recent bar ethics opinion on using genAI, when genAI tools have the potential to include such inputs containing confidential information in future answers, there exists a risk of breaching confidentiality (Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 24-1).

This advisory opinion underscores that such a risk can be alleviated by employing an in-house genAI tool rather than relying on an external tool hosted and managed by a third party, such as ChatGPT or Copilot. This can help attorneys retain greater control over data security.

2. Experiment with genAI tools

Unlike traditional internet searching, where you input keywords and sift through search results, interacting with genAI involves a more dynamic and conversational approach. To begin, users select a platform or tool that offers genAI capabilities. Once in the platform, users type their questions or prompts into the chat box, initiating a dialogue with the tool.

One of the most striking differences you may notice with genAI is the conversational style of interaction. Instead of receiving a list of static answers to a question, like a traditional Google search, users engage in a back-and-forth exchange with the platform, much like conversing with another person.

This encourages users to frame their questions in a natural and informal manner, fostering a more engaging and intuitive experience.

While I’ve written before about getting started with genAI for lawyers, I suggest more personalized experimentation. Explore the nuances of language and context by adjusting your prompts and observing how the AI responds, such as asking it to recommend movies or books, places to visit and things to do for an upcoming trip, or what to make for dinner using a list of ingredients in your fridge.

By trying different phrasings, tones, or levels of specificity, you can uncover the breadth of the genAI’s capabilities and fine-tune your interactions accordingly. You can tap into your creativity to go beyond seeking information or answers, leveraging genAI to brainstorm ideas or better organize your tasks.

Being proactive and curious about genAI can help lawyers gain a competitive edge and a reputation for being innovative and forward-thinking.

 3. Train and supervise your team on genAI

As you’re experimenting with genAI, odds are your team is too. Training and supervising employees in the use of genAI is not only an ethical requirement (Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct 5.15.3), it requires a structured approach focused on policy, education, and ongoing support.

Ensure your organization has a policy for using genAI in accordance with lawyers’ professional obligations and properly train them on its capabilities and limitations with emphasis on ethical considerations.

Establish clear guidelines and best practices for using the technology in the workplace, such as a process for reviewing the work product and verifying the accuracy and sufficiency of research conducted on the platform.

Consider how your organization can foster a culture of continuous learning. Provide access to educational resources, encourage knowledge-sharing among employees, and solicit feedback on AI tools, while balancing risk and quality assurances.

This can help mitigate potential challenges associated with genAI, such as bias or misinformation, and empower employees to explore the technology’s creative potential within the boundaries of ethical standards and organizational policies.

Training and supervision should be ongoing. GenAI is constantly evolving and improving, and new genAI tools and applications will continue to become available. Make sure you account for this in your training and supervision.

Approach genAI strategically

As you navigate the realm of genAI in your legal practice, approach the technology with a strategic mindset.

Embracing genAI requires a nuanced understanding of its capabilities and benefits. By staying abreast of ethical requirements, experimenting with genAI tools in a personalized manner, and training and supervising your team effectively, you can position your practice to be at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.

Stay curious, stay informed, and embrace the transformative power of genAI to propel your law practice into the future.

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