How Attorneys Can Harness the Power of ChatGPT: A Comprehensive Guide

Trust and then verify; AI is a great tool when you check your work.

 min. read
May 24, 2023
How Attorneys Can Harness the Power of ChatGPT: A Comprehensive Guide

AI has transformed how we do business, and the legal profession is no exception. At the center of this revolution is ChatGPT, an advanced language model that can help attorneys streamline their workflow, better serve their clients, and even bring a touch of humor to the table. But, like any tool, it has its quirks and requires a bit of finesse to use effectively.

In this post, I'll share some tips and tricks for attorneys to get the most out of ChatGPT.

What is an LLM?

Before we dive into the specifics of ChatGPT, let's get some terminology sorted out. LLM, in this context, stands for Large Language Model. It's the underlying technology that powers ChatGPT. But what is a Large Language Model, and how does it work?

You can think of an LLM as a super-scribe, trained to understand and generate human-like text based on the prompts it's given. It's been fed a vast amount of data from books, articles, websites, and other text sources, and uses this knowledge to create coherent, contextually relevant responses.

Here's an analogy that might help. Consider how a law student becomes proficient in law. They study numerous case laws, legal theories, and principles. They learn from past cases, judgements, legal texts, and so on. When faced with a new legal situation, they draw from this extensive knowledge to form their responses.

In a similar fashion, a Large Language Model, like ChatGPT, has 'studied' a vast corpus of text. When given a prompt, it generates a response based on patterns and information it learned during its training. Just like a well-prepared attorney can tackle a wide range of legal queries, an LLM can generate text on a wide variety of topics. However, it's important to remember that, unlike the attorney, an LLM doesn't truly understand the text it generates - it's simply mimicking human-like text based on its training.

Getting Prompts Right

The cornerstone of using ChatGPT effectively is crafting the right prompts. But what is a prompt? It's simply a statement or question you pose to ChatGPT, which it uses to generate a response. The prompt could be anything from a serious legal question to an idea for a picture to create or a bad Dad joke.

Let's consider some examples. As an attorney, you might ask ChatGPT, "What are the key points to consider in a personal injury case?"  If that response isn't quite what you're looking for; ask again. ChatGPT has context of your previous questions for a given sessions so you can say, "Can you be more specific with your examples?" And, of course, if you're looking for a light-hearted moment in your day, why not ask ChatGPT for a lawyer joke?

Specific Productive Examples

To truly understand the power of ChatGPT in a legal setting, let's consider two specific examples of how an attorney might use it.

1. Legal Research

Suppose you're preparing for a case involving a complex area of law that you're not intimately familiar with - say, antitrust regulations in the pharmaceutical industry. Instead of spending hours poring over textbooks and articles, you could use ChatGPT to kickstart your research. A simple prompt such as, "Summarize the key aspects of antitrust laws in the pharmaceutical industry," could yield a useful overview, highlighting the main points you need to consider.

2. Drafting Documents

ChatGPT can also assist in drafting legal documents. While it's not ready to independently produce ready-to-submit court documents, it can certainly help to get the ball rolling. For example, if you're drafting a client letter, you could provide a prompt along the lines of, "Draft a letter to a client explaining the basics of their upcoming contract dispute case." The response could serve as a starting point, giving you a rough draft that you can then refine and personalize.

"Well, That's Not Good Enough..."

Don't be discouraged if the first response isn't perfect. Refine your prompts, provide more context, or ask your question in a different way. The beauty of ChatGPT is that it isn't like a one-shot Google search; it can handle iterative refinement.

Let's say you're preparing for a deposition of a functional capacity evaluation expert witness. You can ask ChatGPT, "What kinds of questions should I ask a functional capacity evaluation expert during a deposition?" If the response isn't specific enough you can clarify, "Can you give me questions related to knee injuries and traumatic brain injury as well?" Remember, ChatGPT remembers the context from the previous question during that session.

In another example, suppose you're an attorney working on a contract dispute. You might start with a broad prompt, "Can you summarize the key aspects of contract law?" If the response isn't quite what you're looking for, you can refine the prompt to be more specific, "Can you summarize the key points of contract law pertaining to breach of contract cases?"

Trust, but Verify

Yes, ChatGPT is powerful, but it's not infallible. When ChatGPT is wrong, it's very confidently wrong. It doesn't express doubt or uncertainty because, well, it can't. It's a machine. It's important to approach the use of AI with a 'trust but verify' mindset. While ChatGPT can provide you with valuable insights and save you time, it's essential to double-check its outputs, especially when it comes to legal matters.

Just as you would proofread a brief or double-check a contract, it's crucial to apply the same rigor to the outputs from ChatGPT. You might find yourself having to correct or adjust its responses, and that's a part of the process. Remember, AI is not a replacement for human expertise, but rather a tool that can assist you.

AI Speeds Up Your Workflow

Used correctly, ChatGPT can be an invaluable addition to your toolbox. It won't replace you – it can't negotiate a settlement or argue a case in court – but it can significantly speed up your workflow. It can help you compile information, draft documents, and even brainstorm ideas for your cases. And it can do this quickly, saving you valuable time that you can dedicate to more complex tasks that require a human touch.

In Conclusion

As we round off this guide, the recurring theme is 'trust and verify.' Harness the power of ChatGPT, but don't forget to apply your human judgment to its outputs. The aim here is not to hand over your work to AI, but to use AI as a helpful assistant that makes your work easier and more efficient.

In the end, the most important thing is to explore, experiment, and learn. As you continue to use ChatGPT, you'll get a better feel for crafting effective prompts and interpreting its responses. It's a journey – one that can lead to greater productivity and a touch of fun in your legal practice.

Welcome to the future of legal work, powered by AI. Enjoy the journey!