Law firms should develop policies on the use of AI

September 1st, 2023

De Rebus news reporter, Kgomotso Ramotsho spoke to legal practitioner Azhar Aziz-Ismail on what legal practitioners should and should not do when using ChatGPT (and similar forms of generative artificial intelligence (AI)). This comes after a South African legal practitioner was caught in the magistrate’s court using ChatGPT, referencing what was described as ‘fictitious’ citations, facts, and decisions.

Legal practitioner, Azhar Aziz-Ismail, cautions the responsible use of artificial intelligence chatbots.

Mr Aziz-Ismail is a Knowledge Manager who is developing and managing the Knowledge Department at Clyde & Co. He is also the youngest executive member of the Gauteng Attorneys Association (GAA) and Johannesburg Attorneys Association (JAA), and heads the Knowledge, Legal Technology, and Innovation portfolio of the JAA. Mr Aziz-Ismail explained to De Rebus that ChatGPT is a generative AI chatbot that uses natural language processing and is not connected to the Internet. He said that ChatGPT has a free version and a premium version, which is a lot more accurate.

Mr Aziz-Ismail pointed out that ChatGPT should be used as a basic starting point when one is doing internal research, because it is not connected to the Internet, therefore, it is not going to pull information live from the Internet. He added that when correctly instructed to give certain information and it does not have that information, it typically responds by stating that it does not possess that particular information. Mr Aziz-Ismail pointed out that the free version of ChatGPT, which is in the testing stage, is available to the public so that people can train it. He added that a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that ChatGPT is a search engine. In reality, it is a large language model that does not have access to real time information. The last update that ChatGPT had was in September 2021.

Mr Aziz-Ismail said that the most important thing that legal practitioners should know is that what you type in, is what you are going to get out. The more specific one is, the more tailored the response will be. He added that ChatGPT makes life easier by helping users write things eloquently, but to get what you want, one cannot copy and paste, one must review what they type.

Mr Aziz-Ismail pointed out that ChatGPT is generative AI and generative AI can be manipulated, however, he mentioned that there are safeguards OpenAI have put in place warning users of some of the risks of using ChatGPT. Mr Aziz-Ismail spoke about AI ‘hallucination’ and said that this is where the risk comes in with ChatGPT. He noted AI hallucination came to be known in the legal profession in March 2023. He explained that AI hallucination is when AI creates information out of thin air, that does not exist. He said that it is risky for legal practitioners to use ChatGPT for research. He pointed out that this started in New Zealand, where a legal practitioner used generative AI to find relevant case notes, which did not go well.

Mr Aziz-Ismail pointed out that a legal practitioner in New Zealand found a case through ChatGPT, however, on researching the case reached out to the Law Society in New Zealand, where the law librarians found that the case did not exist. ‘This gave us as lawyers the first [instance] of artificial intelligence hallucination’. He added that as great as AI is at helping legal practitioners with writing, it can generate both real cases and non-existent cases. He pointed out that legal practitioners need to be responsible when using ChatGPT. He added that law firms must have policies around generative AI. That law firms must also develop standards on the dos and don’ts of using generative AI. Some of the tips he shared on what and what not to do, when using generative IA, include the following:

  • Legal practitioners using AI technology should only use it as a starting basis of internal research, however, it should not be the end all of the legal practitioner’s research.
  • Legal practitioners must apply their own legal expertise when critically assessing the AI content for accuracy.
  • Legal practitioners need to check cited case law, articles, sources, and anything that ChatGPT refers to, to make sure it is not AI hallucination.
  • If used for research, legal practitioners must only use AI for internal research and verify the information generated.
  • Another risk that legal practitioners should be aware of when using AI is intellectual property copyright. Do not infringe on copyright.
  • Legal practitioners need to examine publicly available information when using ChatGPT, they must fact check.
  • Legal practitioners should not input individual client information or any commercially sensitive information belonging to the firm or clients, which can identify a matter, legal practitioner, client, or other employees at the law firm.
  • Do not enter special or sensitive information on a chatbot.
  • Junior legal practitioners using generative AI need to notify the person reviewing their work, so that they can apply extra scrutiny to it.

Mr Aziz-Ismail said: ‘While these tools are amazing, we need to be responsible lawyers, we need to do our due diligence. We need to make sure that we are applying our minds and legal expertise. What is also important to emphasise is that artificial intelligence does not mean the end of lawyers. It is not going to replace you as a lawyer. What it is going to do, is that lawyers who use artificial intelligence smartly, correctly and take advantage of it, will replace those who don’t, who refuses to move with the time. It is not that you should not use it, play around with it, explore it, but don’t blindly use it in your work. You have the legal expertise and be careful of your prompts.’ He added that if legal practitioners are not careful with prompts when using AI, they might pull up things that are not applicable in the South African jurisdiction. Mr Aziz-Ismail stressed that legal practitioners have a greater duty of confidentiality and a greater duty of privilege.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (Sept) DR 10.