Alex Smith

Alex Smith

Senior Director at iManage

What impact will the latest AI sensation have on the legal sector? Alex Smith, senior director at document management platform iManage, asks whether ChatGPT will be the biggest thing to happen to knowledge management in 2023.

ChatGPT has fast become the talk of the town. The internet is positively agog at the array of written content that this AI-powered tool is capable of generating with just a few simple prompts from the end user: everything from essays and poems to jokes and fiction.

It’s not just fun and games of course: ChatGPT can easily be pressed into service for professional purposes. Bloomberg reports that 30 per cent of professionals are already using the tool for work-related tasks like drafting emails or generating code.

The legal sector is a particularly ripe arena for ChatGPT to make inroads. All one has to do is plug in prompts like “Draft me a fully bulletproof contract for a Singapore real estate purchase” or “Tell me what clauses should be included in a standard employment contract”, and ChatGPT will dutifully spit out responses.

The almost magical powers of ChatGPT have started to raise speculation that this innovation might disrupt the way knowledge work is done moving forward. This belief is only bolstered by the fact that Microsoft – which recently announced a $10 billion investment in ChatGPT’s parent company Open AI – is seeking to incorporate the technology into the Microsoft Office suite that nearly every legal professional has on their computer and uses every day.

So, the question is, just how fast are tools like ChatGPT going to transform the legal industry? Will knowledge management be taken over by machines in the coming year?

A shadow on the horizon

ChatGPT is certainly changing the conversation, but there is something decidedly less glamorous that could prove to have an even bigger impact on how knowledge management and knowledge work in general are performed over the coming year: the economy tipping over into recession.

Nothing drives changes to the actual work lawyers do like a sharp reversal of external economic conditions, which spurs firms to adopt a “lean and mean” mentality to successfully stay in the black.

Operating as efficiently as possible is a “need to have” rather than a “nice to have” once the economic winds start blowing in the wrong direction, and effective knowledge management has a key role to play in this regard.

Knowledge management had already been working overtime during the pandemic, helping legal professionals who were working remotely – and could no longer count on popping their heads over the cubicle or dropping into someone’s office to ask a quick question – to tap into the collective knowledge of the firm.

In a recession, this same ability to access the right knowledge at the right time to deliver the best level of service to the client is even more critical.

Proper KM delivers multiple benefits

As always, knowledge management wears multiple hats in this type of economic environment, helping to drive consistency and process improvements on the one hand but also to unearth new opportunities.

For example, the templates, checklists, and best practices that apply to deals that are conducted when the economy is firing on all cylinders are going to be very different from those that are conducted in a recessionary environment. There’s an entirely different set of risks to be aware of, protect against, and navigate around, which means the due diligence process for any deal is going to look very different.

Creating knowledge assets that can help support legal professionals in this new environment – in effect, bringing them up to speed for how to operate with a “recession mentality” – is very much a matter of good old fashioned data hygiene, including taxonomy, classification, and other underlying information architecture aspects. Knowledge needs to be properly classified before it can be shared, found via search, or mined for insights.

And make no mistake, there are rich insights to be gleaned. A firm can look across the entire organisation to see what trends are taking root in this environment.

Are certain types of clients in certain regions or industries asking for specific types of work? This is a chance for a firm to get out in front of an emerging trend and capitalise upon it before a competitor does, seizing opportunity as it arises.

Forging a path forward

ChatGPT is an exciting and innovative new technology, but it is not going to take over knowledge management in the coming year. Humans will still very much be part of the equation, doing their part – in conjunction with any supporting technologies – to make sure legal professionals have all the resources they need to effectively do their jobs.

In an economy teetering on the brink of recession, nothing less will do if firms want to successfully forge a path forward.