Largely because of fears of machine superiority and loss of human jobs and functions to Artificial Intelligence, debate about its impact on society has verged on the dramatic and, in some cases, the hysterical.

However, the only rational response is to learn to live with it, understand its capabilities and its limitations and think about checks and balances to ensure a net benefit rather than an irreversible harm.

The impressive power of the technology, and particularly tools such as Chat GPT, has been exercising the minds of the legal profession as it gets to grips with the practical, economic and ethical implications of AI.

AI will become an indispensible tool for coping with the immense amount of data which lawyers must handle in complex cases, and some of the mundane processes which underpin the legal infrastructure.

In high-volume practices, machine learning and data analytics can be beneficial in identifying and increasing leads and prospects.

AI comes into its own in case management, with its limitless capacity for examining volumes of data, finding patterns, and making predictions or choices using algorithms and statistical models.

This is creating faster, more streamlined case management, and it may soon become a recognised basis for client complaint if improved speed and efficiencies are not achieved.

More troubling discussion is taking place around whether AI could carry out some of the tasks traditionally performed by lawyers, such as researching, preparing and presenting cases.

The pitfalls were illustrated recently by New York attorney Steven Schwartz, who used ChatGPT to write a legal brief. The chatbot fabricated the case law he cited in court and reassured him repeatedly the information was accurate. The judge was unimpressed.

Lawyers must be aware of the client confidentiality risks of using AI bots. If they fed client-specific information into a bot such as ChatGPT, it would become the property of OpenAI, the bot developer, and could be disclosed in other cases.

Scots law, of course, has its own unique characteristics, of which AI bots - at this stage - would likely be unaware, leading them to rely on English and Welsh cases and precedents which would have limited relevance.

However, it is learning fast. Chat GPT4 scored in the top 10% in the US Bar exam. It is conceivable that law-specific bots will be developed to concentrate solely on particular areas of expertise.

Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice in England and Wales Sir Geoffrey Vos said in June 2023 that public trust may limit the use of AI in legal decisions, pointing to the emotional and human elements involved in areas such as family and criminal law.

He warned that while AI has the potential to be a valuable tool for predicting case outcomes and making informed decisions, it was not infallible and should be used in conjunction with human judgment and expertise.

He pointed out that ChatGPT itself said: “Ultimately, legal decision-making involves a range of factors beyond just predicting the outcome of a case, including strategic and ethical considerations and client goals.”

Sinead Machin is a Senior Associate at Complete Clarity Solicitors and Simplicity Legal