ESG, AI, oh my: new trends causing anxiety for lawyers

A healthy dose of dread is understandable, but both of these things offer opportunities

ESG, AI, oh my: new trends causing anxiety for lawyers

Mandatory ESG – environmental, social, and governance – reporting is coming to Canada. While regulators’ intentions are undoubtedly good, these requirements can cause anxiety for in-house counsel.

“This is the year that everything changes, from a disclosure perspective,” says Conor Chell at MLT Aikins LLP. “Up until now, virtually all ESG disclosure has been made voluntarily, which means that companies have had unlimited discretion in terms of the topics they pick and the manner in which it happens.”

Chell says that transitioning from voluntary to mandatory ESG reporting is risky for businesses and may even lead to a spike in the already-growing threat of ESG-related litigation. Reporting can give claimants ammunition to commence actions and reveal retrospective evidence of “greenwashing.”

Similarly, developments in generative artificial intelligence are causing nervousness for many legal professionals afraid of being rendered obsolete by tools such as ChatGPT. While many lawyers are wary about jumping on the AI bandwagon, “at some point, it’s going to be irresponsible not to use it,” says Scott Stevenson, co-founder of legal tech tool Spellbook.

Like ESG disclosure, however, using AI can be riddled with risk despite good intentions. Hallucinations, a lack of nuance, and privacy violations are all possible when these tools aren’t used carefully.

But both developments may be good news for lawyers willing to put in the time and effort.

Stephen Pike at Gowling WLG says mandatory ESG disclosure means “there is a chance here for businesses to think about how they can tell their story in a way that will foster greater engagement and positively enhance their relationships with their stakeholders, which can include everyone from investors, consumers, suppliers, governments and regulators.”

By automating grunt work and administrative chores, AI can make the justice system more equitable, efficient, and publicly accessible, University of Toronto law professors Benjamin Alarie and Abdi Aidid argue in their new book, The Legal Singularity: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Law Radically Better.

So, a healthy dose of anxiety and dread is understandable at the pace of change in these new areas. But take a breath and realize that this also means opportunity.

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