Legal Profession Split on How to Regulate AI Use

A survey of UK lawyers by Thomson Reuters has found a divided picture over how AI should be regulated, with 44% of inhouse lawyers seeking Government regulation, but with 50% of them seeking a more laissez-faire approach with AI use among lawyers handled via self-regulation.

For law firms, 36% wanted Government oversight and 48% preferred self-regulation. In short, the profession is split – not exactly down the middle – but divided significantly enough to cause headaches for the Ministry of Justice and Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The data comes from TR’s State of the UK Legal Market survey. They also noted that this compares to ‘26% of lawyers surveyed in the US and Canada who think the government should regulate AI’.

Also, perhaps understandably, lawyers in the UK were concerned about:

  • The potential for inaccurate responses (74% of lawyers see this as a concern)
  • Concerns about data security (68%)
  • Complying with relevant laws and regulations (63%)
  • Privacy and confidentiality of information entered into GenAI tools (58%)
  • Ensuring that GenAI tools are used ethically and responsibly (50%)
  • Becoming too dependent on technology, reducing critical thinking and creativity (50%)

Kriti Sharma, chief product officer for Legal Tech at Thomson Reuters, said: ‘Regulation plays a critical role in instilling the trust needed to achieve widespread adoption of AI solutions. That said, it’s exciting to also see firms taking clear steps to self-regulate such as investing in AI skills training, and setting robust guidelines, so they can start harnessing its benefits now while also ensuring its safe use.’

The announcement, which comes just as the legal tech giant stated that its own genAI products are a lot more accurate than how a study by Stanford University found them to be, sends a mixed message.

Lawyers are worried about a wide range of issues, yet clearly there is no majority in favour of Government regulation of AI, and by extension the use of AI in the legal world.

At present the UK does not have a set of regulations for genAI, and it’s outside of the EU, so the AI Act there will not have force. Meanwhile, in the US, there is sometimes the feeling that although the White House wants to do something, they also fear holding back a new part of the economy that is largely US-based.

In short, it’s a classic new tech vs regulation muddle and laissez-faire looks likely to win for now, at least in the US and UK. In part this is because there is still so much to learn before starting to apply regulation.

No doubt the picture will become clearer as more lawyers use genAI tools and form a realistic, hands-on opinion of the risks and rewards involved.