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Thomson Reuters survey: Generative AI could save legal professionals 12 hours weekly by 2029

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The Florida Bar’s 2024 Membership Opinion Survey also delved into the frequency with which Florida lawyers use various generative AI applications and what impact they think it will have on the profession going forward

Artificial IntelligenceA new survey of more than 2,200 professionals working across legal, tax, and risk and compliance fields globally predicts generative AI has the potential to free up 12 hours per week within the next five years, with four hours per week saved in the next year alone.

That, according to Thomson Reuters’ recently released 2024 Future of Professionals report, is the  equivalent of adding an additional colleague for every 10 team members. For a U.S. lawyer, the survey says, this could translate to an additional $100,000 in billable hours.

The survey also found:

  • 77% of professionals believe AI will have a high or transformational impact on their work over the next five years. Additionally, 78% say AI is a “force for good” in their profession, while 37% of respondents haven’t yet used GenAI in their work.
  • 79% of professionals predict significant or moderate improvement in innovation within their companies over the next five years. Over that same period, they anticipate 56% of work will utilize new AI-powered technology.
  • 57% of professionals believe certification processes for AI systems should be introduced, and 55% believe professional or industry bodies should make their own standards.

As for the estimated $100,000 in additional billable hours prediction, Thomson Reuters says it was calculated from data it gathered directly from participating firms’ financial management systems, which was then “anonymized and aggregated.”

“Ultimately, the way lawyers choose to reinvest their time savings will depend on their individual priorities and goals, which may include increasing billable time, pursuing new business opportunities, or other strategic initiatives,” the survey said.

Steve Hasker, Thomson Reuters president and CEO, said professionals no longer need to speculate on the potential for AI to impact their work as they are now witnessing its effects firsthand.

“As we look to the future, one thing is clear: AI-empowered professionals and their companies will outpace those who resist this transformative era,” Hasker said in a statement, adding the responsible use of AI is crucial, with nearly two-thirds of professionals stressing human oversight.

Of those surveyed, 63% are already using AI-powered technologies as a starting point for tasks, with research, summarization, and drafting cited as the most common use cases.

The Florida Bar’s 2024 Membership Opinion Survey also delved into the frequency with which Florida lawyers use various generative AI applications and what impact they think it will have on the profession going forward.

A full 80% of those surveyed say they do not use generative AI in their legal practices, signaling a significant gap between recognition and implementation in this technologically evolving field.

Only 11% of respondents said they frequently or occasionally use ChatGPT, and the numbers for using other AI platforms drop off from there, such as Microsoft Bing (6%), Lexis+ AI (4%), CaseText (3%), Google Bard (less than 3%), LegalZoom AI Predict (less than 2%), LexMachina (less than 2%), Luminance (0%), and other generative AI programs (6%).

Those who report using AI in their practices says they do so for:

  • Legal research and analysis, 11%
  • Drafting documents, 5%
  • Case analysis, 4%
  • Summarizing documents, 4%
  • Automated client communication, 3%
  • Risk assessment and prediction, <1%
  • Other, 5%

The most frequently mentioned items under the “Other” category involve drafting emails and letters.

The Board of Governors in January unanimously endorsed Advisory Opinion 24-1, setting ethical guidelines for the use of AI in the profession. Crafted collaboratively by the Board of Governors, in consultation with the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics, the Special Committee on AI Tools and Resources, and members of The Florida Bar, the advisory marks a pioneering initiative aimed at addressing emerging challenges generative AI presents in the legal landscape.

Among other things, the opinion recommends that a lawyer obtain the “affected client’s informed consent prior to utilizing a third-party generative AI program if the utilization would involve the disclosure of any confidential information.”

A section of the opinion, “Oversight of Generative AI,” begins with a warning — “Lawyers who rely on generative AI for research, drafting, communication, and client intake risk many of the same perils as those who have relied on inexperienced or overconfident nonlawyer assistants.”

It concludes: “In sum, a lawyer may ethically utilize generative AI but only to the extent that the lawyer can reasonably guarantee compliance with the lawyer’s ethical obligations.”

Those obligations, according to the conclusion, include “the duties to confidentiality, avoidance of frivolous claims and contentions, candor to the tribunal, truthfulness in statements to others, avoidance of clearly excessive fees and costs, and compliance with restrictions on advertising for legal services.”

Asked in the Thomson Reuters survey to indicate their strategic priorities for the next 18 months, 50% of law firm respondents selected AI in their top five, edging out productivity (49%). The top areas where corporate C-suite respondents anticipate AI will have the biggest impact are operational strategy (59%), product/service strategy (53%), and talent strategy (40%).

The vast majority (95%) of professionals agree it’s a step too far to allow AI to represent clients in court or make final decisions on complex legal, tax and risk, fraud, and compliance matters. Areas where professionals are more comfortable with AI include drafting basic documents, research and analysis, and basic administrative tasks. A majority (57%) of respondents say certification processes for AI systems should be introduced, and 55% believe professional or industry bodies should be tasked with developing these standards.

The Thomson Reuters survey was conducted in April and May 2024 via an online survey. More than 2,200 professionals from the legal, tax and accounting, and risk and compliance fields employed by corporations, firms, and government agencies completed the survey. Approximately 44% of participants were based in the United States, with the majority of other respondents in the UK, Canada, Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand.

To access the full report, visit https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en/c/future-of-professionals.html.

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