How legal practitioners can embrace AI

Chatbots are increasingly being used within legal practices and courtrooms. Freepik

Chatbots are increasingly being used within legal practices and courtrooms. Freepik

Published Jan 10, 2024



Artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots are starting to make real inroads into the daily lives of South African law practitioners - mirroring the way their global peers are embracing the opportunities provided by these advancements.

However, legal professionals must take care to ensure they use AI as a complementary and augmentation tool; not a replacement for human insight and due diligence.

Assist or replace?

The concept of the legal bot is to assist the legal practitioner as well as allow for a more streamlined approach to the courtroom. The idea is also to create a more affordable option for clients, and perhaps even one without any of the ethical issues or conundrums normally faced by legal practitioners. In theory, this is a brilliant idea. However, the practical side of it requires some development and consideration.

It is important to consider the function of a legal representative in a matter in order to assess if the legal bot is capable of actually replacing the legal practitioner.

The legal practitioner is an individual who has accumulated several years of knowledge in order to be able to apply their critical thinking to the law as it relates to the client’s particular issue. They are required to use the skills of reasoning, critical thinking and creativity to assess the merits of the client’s case and present feasible valid solutions – functions that cannot yet be replicated successfully by AI.

So for the foreseeable future, AI will be a helpful tool to augment the work of legal practitioners - rather than replace them.

Getting to grips

As the legal fraternity increasingly starts to embrace AI, practitioners who have held off on understanding the environment would do well to ensure they get a handle on the technology. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Be aware of the current and emerging trends of AI in the legal profession, and how they can impact your career and practice. You can read articles, reports, blogs, podcasts or books on AI and law. Moreover, follow the developments of AI-related cases, regulations and innovations in South Africa and globally.
  • Be open to learning new skills and competencies that are relevant and valuable for using AI in the legal profession such as data literacy, digital literacy, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, communication, collaboration and ethics. You can enrol in online courses, workshops, webinars and boot camps on AI and law, as well as seek mentorship, guidance and feedback from experts, peers or practitioners.
  • Be proactive in exploring and experimenting with AI tools and applications that can enhance your legal practice such as legal research, document automation, contract analysis, due diligence or dispute resolution. You can try out different AI platforms, software or chatbots to evaluate their features, benefits, limitations and risks.
  • Be responsible and ethical in using AI, adhering to the relevant laws, codes, standards and principles that govern the use of AI in South Africa and globally. Embrace the fact that you are part of developing this underdeveloped area of law. You can also participate in the public discourse and advocacy on AI and law, and contribute to the development and improvement of AI policies, regulations and governance.

Being on top of AI developments and being able to ethically integrate AI into your daily practice will put you ahead of many of your peers and competitors.

While the legal bot may grow in its potential to make an impact in the legal field, it is unlikely that it will wholly replace the legal practitioner as it lacks the personality, ethical nature, critical thinking, creativity and reasoning required to approach a legal issue.

* Martin is the head of Law at The IIE