An increasing number of Canadian law firms are adopting AI technology and chatbots into their professional work. As a result, first-hand experience with platforms with catchy names like Leah and Harvey is growing rapidly, revealing both exciting and cautionary outlooks.
Monica Goyal, director of legal innovation at Toronto-based Caravel Law, writes in Canadian Lawyer magazine that her firm has been working with a number of AI tools, including Harvey. While many do a passable job reading contracts and drafting emails, she says Harvey is more sophisticated.
“Harvey describes itself as a legal assistant, and in some ways, it is. You can use the software to, as an example, draft a legal letter, draft a motion for summary judgment, and prepare research briefs.”
Goyal writes Harvey can respond to open-ended questions from which it can draft contract clauses and legal memos, and can even draft statements of defence and summary judgement motions.
“It does a surprisingly good job in these cases.”
Michael McGinn, manager of innovation at Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP, told the Daily Commercial News AI is particularly useful for summarizing and analyzing the vast amount of textual data associated with provincial and municipal regulations.
Specific to the construction industry, McGinn says AI has potential when it comes to the difficult task of navigating municipal building codes and bylaws. It can also be put to use identifying legal risks in contracts with non-compliance with specific regulations or identifying potential contract disputes.
The positive contributions that Harvey and similar platforms can provide legal teams are attractive, particularly where administrative backlogs and case volumes become extreme. However, there are limitations and potential problems.
A judge in Colombia created uproar in his legal community after he admitted to using ChatGPT in a medical insurance case ruling. Although he explained he tempered the AI’s input by using precedents from previous rulings, it calls into question the judiciary’s access to appropriate AI training.
When it comes to developing legal arguments, there’s also a risk the AI might go beyond being a legal co-pilot and invent, or hallucinate, scenarios.
Professor Paul Daly, university research chair in administrative law and governance at the University of Ottawa, admitted to being “taken hook, line and sinker” when he used ChatGPT to generate a list of articles that might help him on a research project concerning administrative monetary penalties.
“After some prodding, it generated a long list of articles for me. The only problem is that these articles do not actually exist.”
In the final analysis, AI and chatbots need to be used with care and discretion for a number of reasons. A simple draft is one thing, but complex multi-page agreements are another.
“We cannot substitute human judgment for a computer. These tools may provide a first draft, inspiration, or insights that could be used in a final deliverable for a client,” writes Goyal.
McGinn concurs, saying, “Context-AI can help with the initial draft, but human review is necessary to ensure the document’s legal soundness. If the AI decision-making process is not explainable, it could lead to legal and ethical issues.”
Another challenge for Canadian law firms, McGinn says, relates to access limitations to Canadian case law through databases like CanLii.
“Current efforts by vendors are largely focussed on training tools on U.S. law as opposed to Canadian law.”
Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP has taken steps not only to ensure legal accuracy, but is developing high standards for AI confidentiality practices, such as regular audits for fairness and transparency.
Also in place is a team of security professionals as part of the firm’s “extremely strong security measures” concerning data access, all running behind firewalls.
The case for AI is overwhelming, writes Goyal.
“Some people have argued that GPT technologies are a fleeting interest and that many legal technologies in the market have had little impact in changing how lawyers do their work. I disagree. We lawyers will not be able to ignore them.”
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Legal Notes column ideas to email@example.com.