February 1, 2024

Barristers Cautioned Due To Risks of ChatGPT

This post was written by: Michael Sayers

The Bar Council has updated its guidelines for barristers on the use of ChatGPT and other AI technologies.

Although the guidelines confirm that utilising trustworthy AI tools to enhance legal services is not intrinsically wrong, they do highlight the need for barristers to proceed with caution and thoroughly check the work being produced by the AI. The most common risks include information disorder caused by systems unintentionally producing false information, violations of intellectual property rights, and breaches of confidentiality and sensitive information.

The Bar Council is especially concerned about the potential for “hallucinations,” bias, anthropomorphism, and “stereotype reinforcement” on some AI platforms. Indeed, it warned that there has already been at least one case in the UK where a litigant in person presented nine legal “authorities,” all of which turned out to be completely made up by an AI system like ChatGPT.

According to the guidelines, using AI in an irresponsible manner can result in severe and embarrassing outcomes for barristers, such as being sued for professional negligence, breach of contract, breach of confidence, defamation, data protection violations, infringement of intellectual property rights (including passing off claims), and reputational harm. It might also lead to violations of professional obligations and guidelines, which would call for disciplinary action and penalties being imposed.

According to research, new software “should not be a substitute for the exercise of professional judgement, quality legal analysis, and the expertise which clients, courts, and society expect from barristers,” even while technology can “complement and augment human processes to improve efficiency.”

The Bar Council’s chair, Sam Townend KC, stated:

“The growth of AI tools in the legal sector is inevitable and, as the guidance explains, the best-placed barristers will be those who make the effort to understand these systems so that they can be used with control and integrity. Any use of AI must be done carefully to safeguard client confidentiality and maintain trust and confidence, privacy, and compliance with applicable laws.”

He went on: “This Bar Council guidance will support barristers using LLMs to adhere to legal and ethical standards by outlining the key risks and considerations.” “It will be reviewed periodically, and practitioners must remain alert and adjust as the legal and regulatory environment shifts.”

Judges and solicitors were given advice on the use of AI at the end of last year, and this new guidance is the most recent in a series of documents that have been sent to them. The whole topic of AI is a controversial one, particularly within professional fields. One of the concerns is that  it strips away the natural or human aspect of the work, which in turn can potentially damage the reputation and validity of the work.  However, it is clear AI is here to stay and work must now be done on educating lawyers and how best to use AI – and when not too!