Barristers warned against risks of ChatGPT

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By Rhys Duncan on


But Bar Council says AI use not ‘inherently improper’

Barristers have been given new guidance by the Bar Council on the use of ChatGPT and other AI systems.

Whilst the guidance states that there is “nothing inherently improper about using reliable AI tools for augmenting legal services”, it emphasises that barrister should exercise caution and carefully consider the numerous risks.

Chief among these potential pitfalls are breaches of confidentiality and privileged information, infringement on IP rights, and information disorder through systems inadvertently generating misinformation.

The Bar Council is also worried about the risks of anthropomorphism, bias and “stereotype reinforcement” on some AI platforms, as well as “hallucinations”. There has already been at least one case in the UK where a litigant in person presented nine legal ‘authorities’, all of which, it transpired, were entirely made up by an AI system such as ChatGPT, the barristers’ body warned.

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The “irresponsible” use of AI can lead, the guidance goes on, “to harsh and embarrassing consequences, including claims for professional negligence, breach of contract, breach of confidence, defamation, data protection infringements, infringement of IP rights (including passing off claims), and damage to reputation”. It could also result in breaches of professional rules and duties, leading to disciplinary action and sanctions.

Whilst new software can “complement and augment human processes to improve efficiency” the report adds, it “should not be a substitute for the exercise of professional judgment, quality legal analysis and the expertise which clients, courts and society expect from barristers”.

Sam Townend KC, chair of the Bar Council, said:

“The growth of AI tools in the legal sector is inevitable and, as the guidance explains, the best-placed barristers will be those who make the efforts to understand these systems so that they can be used with control and integrity. Any use of AI must be done carefully to safeguard client confidentiality and maintain trust and confidence, privacy, and compliance with applicable laws.”

He continued: “This Bar Council guidance sets out the key risks and considerations and will support barristers using LLMs to adhere to legal and ethical standards” he continued. “It will be kept under review and practitioners will need to be vigilant and adapt as the legal and regulatory landscape changes.”

This new guidance marks the latest in a series of documents issued to lawyers, with judges and solicitors offered advice on the use of AI at the end of last year.

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