As generative AI continues to rapidly improve in terms of its performance and capabilities, it is clear the technology will have important uses in many sectors. Despite its potential, the legal sector continues to resist AI in order to protect lawyers rather than integrating it as quickly as possible to benefit clients.
The clearest example of this resistance can be seen with the reaction to DoNotPay, a legal technology company that bills itself as the world’s first robot lawyer. The company announced in December 2022 plans to use its AI system to fight a case in traffic court. Under the proposed move, the company’s AI system would have listened to court arguments in real-time via a smartphone and issued instructions to the defendant via headphones to respond. DoNotPay quickly retracted its announcement after multiple state bars threatened prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law.
This type of opposition to AI-enabled legal services is misguided for three reasons.
First, permitting nonlawyers to create and offer tech-enabled legal services would help close the access to justice gap in the United States. A 2021 survey on low-income Americans found that 93 percent do not get any or enough help with their legal issues. Some companies, such as Upsolve, offer automated tools that can help clients with legal issues. However, these companies cannot provide much more than basic document creation services because of state rules against the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers.
Second, concerns over the quality of tech-enabled legal services and consumer protection are overblown. OpenAI’s GPT-4 recently scored in the 90th percentile on the Uniform Bar Examination and performed well on a part of the exam, known as the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), that does not test substantive knowledge of the law, but rather lawyering skills. Despite its performance, the National Conference of Bar Examiners recently stated that “AI cannot currently match” the skills attorneys gain through their education and experience. However, this statement will likely be proven incorrect as the technology continues to develop.
Finally, increased adoption of AI-enabled legal services benefits consumers would make legal services cheaper for clients. Allowing robot lawyers to offer legal services would increase competition within the legal field and force law firms to reduce costs or innovate to remain in business. Lower cost legal services would reduce overhead for businesses across virtually every sector, increasing their productivity and growing the economy.
Policymakers should welcome increased automation in the legal industry and the potential for tech to deliver better and more affordable legal services.