Legal profession approaching genAI with hesitancy, but also excitement: Thomson Reuters report

Respondents working in courthouses indicated the most hesitancy

Legal profession approaching genAI with hesitancy, but also excitement: Thomson Reuters report
Zach Warren, Thomson Reuters Institute

The legal profession is still in wait-and-see mode with generative AI (genAI), but its attitudinal trajectory points toward adoption, according to the Thomson Reuters Institute’s “2024 Generative AI in Professional Services” report.

In its report, the institute sought to measure the level of GenAI use in professional services, stakeholders' perceptions of its implementation, and the impact genAI will have on efficiency, billing, and job losses.

For the second year in a row, the institute found that while most respondents in the legal industry believed that genAI could be used in their work, more than half also said that it should be used.

“There's a growth curve, generally, for genAI within the legal profession,” says Zach Warren, technology and innovation insights lead with the Thomson Reuters Institute.

“A lot of legal-specific tools are starting to introduce genAI… Everybody is baking genAI into their tools these days. So, as a result, we're expecting adoption to really grow.”

The “2024 Generative AI in Professional Services” report surveyed 1,128 professionals in the legal, tax, accounting, risk and fraud sectors, and the government. Respondents were located in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and 16 percent were from Canada. Forty-six percent of respondents – the largest segment – came from law firms and corporate legal departments.

Fourteen percent of respondents from law firms and corporate legal departments said they were already using genAI, twelve percent said they were planning to use it, and 35 percent said they were still considering it.

“People are very much in wait-and-see mode – in education mode – trying to figure out what this is all about,” says Warren.

He says the respondents indicated much more willingness to use genAI compared to last year's survey. Whereas last year, above 60 percent of respondents said they had no plans to use the technology, that number was around 40 percent this year.

“Some firms on the smaller side may be a little bit slower to take up this technology, but they're starting to. They're starting to undergo development, undergo testing, getting involved with betas, and figuring out what this technology is all about from the organizational standpoint. As a result, maybe it's not a large growth in adoption. But we are seeing a large growth in consideration.”

Warren says he was surprised at the apparent lack of training and education around genAI in the legal sector. Seventy-four percent of respondents from law firms and legal departments said they had yet to undergo any training or education.

“With how much press and publicity generative AI has gotten, it really surprised me that people weren't more actively preparing for the eventuality that generative AI is going to be a part of what they're doing on a daily basis, especially with so many people saying that it should be a part of what they do.”

Warren says that in many cases, corporate legal departments are ahead of law firms on genAI adoption and want their outside law firms to use it.

Thirty-five percent of all the professionals surveyed said their sentiment on the future of genAI was one of hesitancy. Forty-four percent said they were either hopeful or excited, and only two percent said they were fearful. However, those respondents who work in courthouses had a different view. Thirty-one percent said they were concerned about the future of genAI, and only 15 percent said they were excited, the lowest for any job category.

According to the report, those who said they were hesitant about genAI were primarily concerned with “fears about potential inaccuracies in results and skepticism that it can deliver promised results.”

Respondents reporting positive views about genAI cited the increased efficiency and productivity as the main reason for their optimism.

Thomson Reuters sponsors the LegalTech Summit Canada, which will take place June 12 at the Arcadian in Toronto.

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