Large language models: maximalism & lawtech

Contacts: Dr Harvey Maddocks


The legal industry is experiencing rapid technological advancements that have potentially far-reaching implications for the sector. These legal-technical advances (LawTech) promise to revolutionise legal practice, offering increased efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and improved legal services for the end consumer by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and data analytics, to streamline processes, reduce manual workloads, and deliver more accurate and timely results. However, these rewards are not without risks, which are often overlooked.

Large language models (LLMs) are advanced artificial intelligence systems, capable of processing, and analysing vast amounts of pre-existing data through complex deep neural network models and generating human-like responses. Well-known examples are BERT, GPT and LLaMA.

Maximalism is a design philosophy that advocates for comprehensive and all-encompassing solutions that push the boundaries of performance and capabilities.

Combining these two in the realm of LawTech, adopters seek to use LLMs as widely as possible, providing a solution to many of the issues faced within this sector.

By leveraging the full potential of LLMs, legal professionals can optimise multiple aspects of their work, encompassing both time and labour-intensive tasks. Automated document generation could reduce a high-time, low-labour, activity to a few (if any) buttons clicks; Legal research and contract analysis, which are both time and labour-intensive, could be condensed to a summary review only. According to some of the most vocal advocates these approaches could potentially deliver unparalleled accuracy and efficiency, ushering in a new era of transformative advancements in the legal industry.

The promises of these technologies have created a sense of urgency among legal firms and practitioners so as not to be left behind by the competition. The fear of losing market relevance and clients to more technologically savvy competitors, who appear to be able to do more, in less time and at lower cost, might lead them to embrace LLMs in a maximalist fashion without thoroughly evaluating their long-term impact, compatibility with existing systems and strategies, and, the potential, often significant, risks.

This allure of immediate benefits and hype-driven adoption has sometimes overshadowed the importance of conducting due diligence. Rushed implementations of LawTech (or any technological) solutions can lead to unintended consequences, such as security vulnerabilities, data breaches, or dependency on unreliable tools. Additionally, a lack of proper training and integration can hinder the full potential of these technologies and even create additional challenges.

The high cost of investing in unnecessary or ineffective technology poses a significant financial risk for legal organisations. As the legal industry increasingly relies on technological advancements, there is a growing temptation to adopt cutting-edge solutions to reduce operational costs, without a thorough assessment of their actual value. In addition to the significant initial cost, implementing technology that does not align with an organisation’s needs, current infrastructure and future strategy, can lead to further wasted time and costs in integration, testing and training. Unnecessary or poorly chosen technology may result in disruption to daily operations, exacerbate inefficiencies, and even hinder access to justice if the focus shifts away from addressing critical legal issues effectively. It is imperative, therefore, for legal professionals and decision-makers to conduct comprehensive analyses and evaluations before committing to any technological investment.

While LLMs and artificial intelligence (AI) have demonstrated remarkable capabilities, these technologies lack the nuanced understanding gained from decades of experience, empathy, and ethical reasoning that human lawyers possess. Disregarding the importance of human judgment and expertise in the face of rapid technological advancement would have profound implications for the legal profession. Over-reliance on LawTech can potentially overlook the individual context and unique circumstances of each case, leading to erroneous outcomes and an erosion of trust in the legal system. Human judgment is essential in handling complex legal matters, mediating disputes, and interpreting the intricacies of the law. By neglecting the human element, legal organisations risk devaluing the fundamental qualities that make the legal profession indispensable to society.

To navigate these unchartered waters, legal professionals must balance embracing new and exciting technologies on the one hand; and, on the other, thoroughly assess the impact, risks, and consequences of adopting any new technology before implementation. Emphasising careful evaluation, testing, and training will ensure that any chosen solutions align with their specific needs and long-term strategies. By doing so, the legal industry can fully harness the potential of technology, maximising the benefits in an informed and strategic manner while mitigating the potential risks.

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