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Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Family Lawyers? 

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Family Lawyers? 

In the first part of our three-part series, we introduced the concept of “Artificial Intelligence” – or AI – which can produce computer-generated text and code on command.

Conversations about the limits of AI have come to the forefront, with the recent rollout of the latest version of ChatGPT, the OpenAI chatbot.   Although its predecessors have been around for awhile, this latest ChatGPT edition crosses a new threshold in usefulness and quality.

As a result, the media is full of fun little illustrations of its capabilities: Everything from helping to write questions to ask during an Elon Musk interview, to penning instructions in biblical verse on how to remove peanut butter from a VCR.

But there’s been a bit of fear-mongering too.  ChatGPT has sparked a lot of real-life conversations about how AI systems might change commerce and the business world as we see it.

Can AI Replace Family Lawyers?

One of those discussions explores whether AI is sophisticated and accurate enough to take over the role of Family Lawyers in Canada and elsewhere.

We don’t think so.

That’s mainly because legal reasoning is based on logic, discernment, and critical thinking.  In contrast, AI reasoning is based on statistics, and probabilities.  Plus, lawyers in every field of law have certain esoteric duties and obligations towards their own clients, and towards the public.  These include overriding ethical, fiduciary and competency obligations to clients and the public. These can never be replaced by AI-assisted initiatives.

[Will artificial intelligence (AI) replace Family Lawyers? In this special series, “30 Days of AI”, we examine the evolution of AI and the potential impact for clients, family lawyers and legal commentary.  By publishing legal content generated by AI we aim to gauge its effectiveness through user experience and commentary. It will be interesting to test the AI and determine if the answers and commentary generated remain static or evolve in time.]

But more importantly, and no matter advanced and sophisticated AI and other technology becomes, it can never even come close to approximating the proverbial “personal touch”.  For clients, Family Law processes are emotionally fraught, and confusing.   There are many steps and aspects that require a real person on the other end of them – namely an experienced Family Lawyer who can understand and relate to clients as only a fellow human being can do.

To replace a lawyer entirely with a robotic AI simulation only risks degrading and depersonalizing the legal process even further.

What Can AI Contribute, Though?

To be fair, this is not to say that AI can never be part of the Family Law system.   In fact, it presents a great opportunity for improving legal services, because (among other things) AI can be used to:

  • Serve a gatekeeping role, by adopting an intuitive question-and-answer format that guides users to tailored – but still rudimentary – legal advice or resources.
  • Perform some of the more mundane “grunt work” tasks (like routine form-filling for litigation), that are currently performed by junior lawyers, law clerks or students.
  • Speed up some aspects of legal research, contract review, court filings, e-discovery, and document assembly.
  • Help with certain steps that can lead to dispute resolution.

On a day-to-day basis, AI might also assist lawyers with drafting simple legal documents, analyzing financial statements, and performing case management tasks.

It’s safe to say that for now, AI lends itself well to a hybrid model, where lawyers can exploit its benefits to reduce costs and heighten efficiency, while still providing tailored, fine-tuned legal advice that addresses each client’s unique needs.

Improving Access to Justice

The good news is that if AI takes over some of the routine functions previously being done by Family Lawyers and clerks, it will actually make the entire justice system more efficient and cost-effective.  Lawyers can be freed up to concentrate on higher-level tasks that truly take advantage of their expertise, experience, and skill-set.  This includes giving tailored advice to clients, negotiating domestic contracts, settling Family Law disputes, and going to court if necessary.

This shift in the allocation of work can only improve efficiency, and access to justice.

What’s in Store for the Future?

Improvements in AI and other computer technologies are revolutionizing many sectors of business and society, including the Family justice system.  All lawyers should be poised to adopt and take advantage of these new tools to complement existing methods.

After all, it was only a short time ago that the Family Law system in Ontario was entirely paper-based, with hardcopy court filings required in virtually all proceedings.  Now, lawyers have warmly embraced the benefits of using digital materials and remote hearings.  So it’s not a huge leap to make AI the next uncharted frontier to be explored.

In the final instalment of this three-part Blog series, we will examine whether AI-based systems can replace judges and other legal decision-makers.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.