In the fast-evolving landscape of legal practice, staying ahead of the curve is not just an advantage, but a necessity. Staying up to date on new technology helps lawyers attain competence in the benefits and risks of technology for you and your clients, while providing ways to streamline your work and enhance client service.
Whether you realize it or not, most lawyers are already using AI. As my colleague Erika Harold wrote, “AI is already an integral part of the legal profession, whether through e-discovery, contract review, legal research, or client billing applications.”
However generative AI (genAI) tools like ChatGPT are different than traditional AI, which analyze historical patterns to detect and categorize data sets, formulating insights and predicting future outcomes. GenAI, on the other hand, learns patterns from data to produce entirely new content.
I have written before about how ChatGPT and other genAI tools do their thing. As a refresher, when using ChatGPT, a user inputs a question or command, called a “prompt,” asking the platform to do something. ChatGPT then analyzes a diverse range of web-based text sources that it has access to — or is “trained on”– and generates a response based on these sources. The response often seems like it has come from a human.
While this quick guide is meant to help lawyers feel more comfortable using ChatGPT, many other emerging “chatbot” tools can also be used, often free or at a minimal cost. I will get into that later. For now, let’s dive into a ChatGPT primer for lawyers.
How to access ChatGPT
You can access ChatGPT from a web browser or your phone. To access ChatGPT from a web browser:
- Go to: https://chat.openai.com/auth/login and click “Sign up.”
- Create an account using your email or sign in using your Google, Microsoft, or Apple account.
- Once logged in, type your prompt into the “Send a message” box. Draft your prompt using natural, conversational language, like you are talking to an assistant.
- A response will be generated instantly as if a person is typing it.
- Just like chatting with an assistant, you can refine or follow up on the response by inputting additional prompts, as if to continue the conversation. Or start a new chat by clicking “New chat” in the upper left corner.
- Your history of chats is logged in the left window so you can return and resume previous chats.
- You can share your chat by clicking the share button in the upper right to create a link and copy a response by clicking the clipboard icon next to the response. (IMPORTANT: ChatGPT can provide inaccurate and biased information, so it is best to use it as a starting point or to supplement your work, and critical to verify any content used. I will get into this more later.)
To access ChatGPT from an iOS or Android phone:
- Follow the same process as above using your phone’s browser or download the official ChatGPT app by OpenAI (watch for imitators) for iOS or Android.
- Sign up to create an account using your email or sign in using a Google, Microsoft, or Apple account.
- Once logged in, follow the steps above (starting at 3) to get started.
Effective ChatGPT prompts for lawyers
The key distinction between ChatGPT and traditional search engines is the nature of the interaction. While search engines rely on keywords and algorithms to generate results, ChatGPT responds to natural language prompts.
This means that lawyers should engage with ChatGPT in a conversational manner, which can provide more nuanced and contextually accurate responses. And the ability to ask ChatGPT follow-up questions and tailor responses with subsequent prompts turns the traditional “Google it” on its head.
Lawyers should draft prompts that are detailed and tailored to specific needs. As the examples provided in a previous post demonstrate, genAI is particularly good at helping lawyers summarize content and serving as a starting point for drafting documents.
Here are some sample ChatGPT prompts lawyers may use for common tasks:
- For summarizing content (documents, laws, opinions, etc.)
- Initial prompt: “Summarize the following into an executive summary and include key bullet points outlining all issues, analysis, and conclusions throughout” [paste the content to be summarized in window].
- Follow-up prompt: “Identify the legal issues and analyze the potential risks and benefits of pursuing a legal strategy to succeed on these issues including costs and risk management.”
- For drafting litigation content
- Initial prompt: “You are preparing discovery interrogatories in a personal injury lawsuit that involved an interstate highway collision of multiple vehicles including cars and tractor-trailers. Draft a comprehensive list of detailed interrogatory questions structured to better understand the chain of events of the entire collision, all the parties involved, and issues of liability due to foreseen and unforeseen circumstances.”
- Follow-up prompt: “Generate more questions related to weather conditions and the driving and medical histories of those involved.”
- For drafting marketing content
- Initial prompt: “Draft a courteous and professional response to the following negative online review that is brief and offers further dialogue to improve upon their experience:” [paste negative review].
- Follow-up prompt: “Rewrite it using a more sympathetic tone.”
Risks and ethical considerations
While ChatGPT and other genAI tools hold immense potential, it is crucial to be aware of potential risks. Lawyers must balance using these tools to increase efficiency with critically assessing their responses.
As with many novel applications, there are ethical and practical issues to consider with ChatGPT, particularly regarding confidentiality (Rule 1.6) and supervision (Rules 5.1, 5.3) demands on lawyers. To address these issues, two best practices should be kept in mind:
- Nothing is confidential – Sharing sensitive client information or proprietary details with ChatGPT could pose risks to client confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. Lawyers should draft prompts in a hypothetical context and without private details or personal information.
- Verify responses – ChatGPT’s responses are based on patterns in the data it was trained on (i.e., has access to). It may not always provide accurate responses and even produce inadvertently bias or false content. Additionally, it could use segments of content from another source without permission. That is why ChatGPT is best used as a supplement or starting point to your work product rather than as a definitive source.
When used responsibly, ChatGPT offers an innovative approach to the delivery of legal services. While it will not replace the nuanced skills and judgment of a lawyer, genAI can revolutionize how lawyers apply their expertise.
As I mentioned above, while this blog focused on ChatGPT, many other emerging chatbot tools can also be used, often free or at a minimal cost, including:
- Bard – Google’s internet-connected genAI tool, powered by PaLM2
- Bing – Microsoft’s search engine now with AI-powered functionality (requires using Edge web browser)
- Claude AI – a genAI tool created by AI research company Anthropic
- LLaMa 2 – Meta’s genAI tool
- Perplexity AI – a genAI tool powered by GPT-3
Expect this list to grow quickly along with an array of other AI-driving tools that can produce images (e.g., Midjourney), write code (e.g., GitHub Copilot), make videos (e.g., Runway), and even change your voice (e.g., Voicemod).
Give them a try and comment below with your experience or favorite prompts!
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