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Putting the “AI” in Atamai – 10 Tips for using AI in legal practice

Atamai is the Samoan word for wisdom.  At the high school I went to, the motto was “Atamai e tautua mo Samoa” – “Wisdom to serve Samoa”.  If you are into language, then you might love that the word atamai translates to “picture/image from”, which I’ve always thought was a poetic way to describe wisdom.  That is, the knowledge you might learn from a picture from someone else or something else.  If you believe the adage that a picture speaks a thousand words then imagine how much a picture can teach you.

In the same way, artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT etc is a picture – or data and metadata – from some supposed magical database, being transformed and transferred to us.  If you have seen the television program “A Murder at the End of the World”, the show describes AI as a mirror of us, the beautiful and ugly reflection of humanity.

How do we grapple with all this data at our fingertips as lawyers?  Thankfully, I don’t have to figure this out on my own because the QLS has published an entire Guidance Statement on this topic – the first of its kind in Australia – you go, QLS!  You should read the statement for yourself, but I have summarised my top 10 tips that I took away from it.  The “picture from” the Guidance Statement that I formed from reading it.  So, grab your virtual cape, adjust your digital monocle or eyepatch, and let us dive into the wonderful, wacky world of AI for lawyers.

1. AI? More like “Fia ai”, Samoan for, “I’m hungry” – hungry for knowledge!  Do not be afraid to let AI into your legal life.  However, keep a discerning eye. It may be your secret weapon for justice, but remember, fancy robots can be biased too – and give you made up cases that do not exist in our reality (but maybe in an alternate universe accessible only by the AI).

2. Take time to understand some of the basics – the useful AI concepts segment of this guide is great.  Don't get bamboozled by AI jargon.  I absolutely think if you are bilingual or can code switch then learning about AI should not be too difficult.  Take time to be across these terms like "Large Language Models" (think super chatty robots), "Machine Learning" (it is like magic, but with math) and Ingestion (no it is not that thing that happens when you eat too much taro).

3. Sharpen your skills because robots cannot replace awesome lawyers. AI, like any technology, is only as good as the human using it.  As such, whether you are an employer or employee, understanding the capability and limitation of AI is going to be useful.  I personally found the book, The Digital Mindset, by Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley, an interesting read (or listen if you have Spotify) for this reason.

4. Confidentiality, and your ethical duties, are always going to paramount.  You should always be mindful of how you use AI, especially if it involves confidential client data.  This may mean you will also need to evaluate data access, storage, and security practices of AI providers.

5. Transparency is key (unless you are a lawyer from a ninja jurisdiction practicing cloak and dagger justice).  Inform clients when AI tools will be utilised in their matters, especially for significant contributions. Disclose AI involvement if AI-generated material is used in court proceedings (if at all).

6. Supervision should be mandated for any work produced by AI.  AI is a powerful tool, but it is not a substitute for your legal eagle eyes doing the work to ensure anything produced aligns with ethical standards and client interests.  AI tools should be used as an aid, and not a replacement for your professional judgment. 

7. You are still the boss and real bosses value accountability. Lawyers are responsible for the quality and nature of work produced using AI. This includes duties to the court, avoiding conflicts, detecting money laundering and fraud, and exercising professional judgment. Don’t be this lawyer in Canberra who handed up a character reference in Court clearly written by an AI… are you not “embarazzed”?

8. Develop and implement a clear policy outlining approved AI tools, conditions of use, and supervision protocols for your organisation.  If you already have one, then good for you.  If you wanted to be super meta, you could get Chat GPT to fix up your first draft. But probably a better option is to use the QLS template policy on its website

9. Billing considerations are important (and thankfully, I do not work in private practice so I do not have to think about this…or maybe I do, I will check with my boss later).  Differentiate practice overhead costs (AI tools, licenses) from client-billed work. Track and bill time spent using AI tools appropriately based on the billing agreement (time-based, fixed fee, etc.).  It would also be prudent to double check that your insurer covers for your specific use of AI.

10. Stay woke on AI because if The Simpsons predictions are anything to go by, then we are in for a fun ride.  The world of AI is constantly evolving and so our awareness of ethical considerations, legal issues, and best practices surrounding AI use in legal practice. 

As practitioners from the Pasifika or the Moana, (or wherever, you, my humble reader, may be from – okay then Bridgerton reference!), AI cannot replace our cultural knowledge and ways of knowing.  That will always be uniquely us.  We must also then remember that as people held up in our communities as leaders or arbiters of knowledge, we must also be prepared to upskill or inform our community about the scope of AI as an access to justice tool and support them to increase their legal literacy, regardless of whether they can get their heads around AI. 

Thanks to the QLS for creating this Guidance Statement to help us lawyers be brave and ethical when using AI.   To that end, let us remember to keep putting the AI in our “atamai” to serve with excellence our ethical obligations to the administration of justice.


Author: Tile Imo



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