Some 200 lawyers attended the Mauritius Law Society Colloquium for admitted attorneys on 21 October 2023. “The annual Colloquium was hosted by the Mauritius Law Society along with the Institute of Judicial Legal Services,” says Preeta Bhagattjee, director at Werksmans Attorneys, the LEX Africa member for South Africa. “The one-day event was addressed by the chairperson of the Institute, Mr Justice Joseph Gérard Angoh, and the President of the Law Society, Ms Dya Ghose-Radhakeesoon.”
One of the topics focused on the impact of AI on legal work and redefining the work of legal professionals, and Bhagattjee was one of the panellists on this discussion, which focused specifically on the legal profession in Mauritius.
As a panellist, Bhagattjee was positioned as a speaker from outside Mauritius to give a flavour of what is happening in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, and to discuss the risks and opportunities of AI for the legal profession.
Bhagattjee says there were a lot of young professionals at the Colloquium who were keen to learn and understand more about generative AI and ChatGPT in particular. AI was discussed in terms of how it is an enabler for the legal profession, what are the risks of using AI, and what will lawyering look like in the future. “I quoted futurist Ray Kurzweil who maintains that 2045 will be the tipping point when AI will have the capability to mimic and far exceed human abilities, and therefore we need to put the right building blocks in place for the responsible use of AI.”
The doomsday scenario is the threat that AI will replace lawyers completely, says Bhagattjee. “My view, and the general sentiment, is that AI used responsibly won’t necessarily replace jobs in the legal profession. But it’s going to reshape and revolutionise what lawyering will look like in the future, from how candidate attorneys or junior lawyers are trained, all the way to how legal advice is dispensed with the use of AI.”
While people understand conceptually that AI is an opportunity which can be an enabler for the legal profession, it is quite overwhelming for people to get their heads around how the profession will look in the medium to long term especially given the breakneck speed at which the development of and proliferation of AI and emerging technologies is progressing. “What are the levers or changes that need to start happening in the legal profession in order to get there, and how do we do it in a uniform and responsible way, in line with preserving the professionalism and ethics of the legal profession, and maintaining trust and accountability?”
Bhagattjee says the positives of AI are that it will create efficiencies and promote access to justice and legal advice at a more affordable cost because it will be AI assisted, and the time spent by lawyers on mundane routine tasks such as rudimentary research can be done in a far quicker and more precise manner by using AI tools to provide the output.
“Where we are now with AI is that it can facilitate, enable and collate information to enhance and assist lawyers to do their job. But it would not replace the value-add and the essence of lawyering, which is applying legal knowledge to facts in specific circumstances, and providing appropriate advice for a particular matter,” says Bhagattjee.
Lawyers cannot simply say to a generative AI tool, here is a set of facts, and then rely on the AI answer because the data that generative AI tools are trained on may not be correct. So, it could deliver the wrong answer or outdated research information. It could also be confidently wrong no matter how many times you prompted it, and it could inadvertently infringe a third party’s intellectual Property rights by using third party owned content. Or you may miss important issues because the AI tool is not properly trained or there are deficiencies in the code, or it has been calibrated incorrectly.
“There are a number of risks that need to be balanced with the benefits of these tools, which may in future be resolved or be addressed more robustly. And if a lawyer uses a public generative AI tool and asks for information on a client or inputs the client’s details into a prompt or, that will create risk in addition to being potentially in contravention of several laws. To counter this the lawyer should not use client information at all. This is the preferred approach because the information is effectively out in the public domain and you don’t know who may access it,” says Bhagattjee.
There are, however, certain enterprise proprietary versions of AI, where information is supposedly locked down technically so that it may be safer to put identifiable or confidential information into it. “For example, a law firm develops an AI tool and uses its own data to train it and the system is locked down and secured” says Bhagattjee. There is also enterprise, paid for options of generative AI tools, that purport to be using privacy enhancing technologies to ringfence the environment, so that it would be safer to input confidential information into them.
The focus of the discussions at the Colloquium was on the legal profession, but looking at it more broadly, AI can be an enabler for growth and development across Africa in areas such as healthcare, innovation, agritech and edutech which are ripe for cost effective and easy to implement and proliferate AI-based technology. This has potential developmental and societal benefits and implications for regional and continental legal and regulatory developments, says Bhagattjee.
From a business perspective, AI is proliferating and being implemented in different forms at a rapid rate, such that a business is not always able to take a step back and look at it from a holistic perspective. Because it’s disruptive and it’s being embedded into general tools that businesses use across the board, it would be important for businesses to formulate an AI governance and risk strategy so that these tools are implemented and used in a responsible and uniform way across the business. It is advisable to manage the risks associated with the use of AI by creating appropriate policies and frameworks for AI use by staff and to also train staff to use AI responsibly and in line with the business’ rules for same.
“Generative AI is so accessible that it can and is probably already being used by staff in most businesses who are generating content that is making its way into the business without management realising this. So now is a good inflexion point for corporates to make sure that rules, guidelines and guardrails are put in place for the effective and controlled use of AI tools, before it’s too late and these tools have proliferated across the business,” says Bhagattjee.