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What Legal Tech Is Doing to Legal Ethics

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 21, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While we may all be patiently waiting for the robot lawyer revolution, at the end of the day, legal ethics are probably not going to change due to the new emerging technology, including A.I. At least according to a recent multimedia exploration on the topic by Thomson Reuters and Above the Law partnership. (Disclaimer: Thomson Reuters is the parent company of FindLaw).

However, what will change does concern the intersection of legal ethics and legal tech: How lawyers practice law. As more and more new consumer and legal tech gets developed and integrated in everyday life and legal practices, lawyers need to be aware of where legal ethics can be jeopardized. Below, you can read about 3 ethical issues that will confront lawyers as new legal tech gains more widespread usage.

Unauthorized Practice by Chatbots, A.I.

Among the biggest concern that new legal tech brings for the lawyers pioneering it involves the unauthorized practice of law. Many of the free (and paid) legal services chatbots that have debuted recently were not even developed by attorneys. 

And while some chatbot and A.I. consumer-facing legal tools do have lawyers behind the scenes, there is definitely a fear that consumer-facing tools will be used incorrectly, leaving that behind-the-scenes lawyer potentially liable.

Unauthorized Disclosure of Privileged Information

Do you know where your AI saves its data, and what it's doing with that data? Do you know if anyone, or anything, else has access to the data? Will an A.I.'s machine learning inadvertently reveal client confidences? And if you know that the data is secure from these risks, can you be sure that it will be safe if it is hacked?

As the Thomson Reuters/ATL exploration explains, modern lawyers need to have a basic understanding of how the tech they use actually works. No, you don't need to know how to code, but you do need to know what's happening to the information being provided, collected, and potentially, and in particularly, distributed.

Technological Incompetence and Overbilling

For attorneys that can't keep up with what becomes generally accepted as standard practice for lawyer tech, like email, there could be an ethical issue with charging clients for tasks that take twice as long due to antiquated business practices.

And while many states have even adopted tech competency rules, these seem to be extensions of the pre-existing ethical duties. But the burden of technological competence will likely become higher with each passing year and new development.

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