Leveraging Artificial Intelligence in the Trust and Estate Practice

Mar 1, 2024 10:00:00 AM


Leveraging AI-Blog

By Mary E. Vandenack, JD, ACTEC, COLPM®, CAP®, Accredited Estate Planner® (Distinguished) Nominee

Artificial intelligence (AI) is generally defined as “the capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behaviour; the field of study concerned with this.” While artificial intelligence has recently been in the forefront of the media due to the rapid evolution of new applications and use of the technology, the concept has been around for a long time.  

What is Artificial Intelligence?

While the term artificial intelligence refers to the overarching concept, there are many different ways to further define artificial intelligence. In general, artificial intelligence can be characterized as either narrow or strong. 

Narrow artificial intelligence is a system designed to perform a very specific task. An example of narrow artificial intelligence is Alexa or Siri. A readily available and very useful form of artificial intelligence for lawyers is the feature in both Gmail and Microsoft Outlook that provides suggested answers to emails and wording for finishing sentences. Google has a similar form of artificial intelligence that helps complete your search request. Virtual assistants powered by AI also fall in the category of narrow artificial intelligence.

Strong artificial intelligence describes a machine that functions similarly to a human being in terms of solving problems. Such artificial intelligence can understand and generate natural language responses. Examples of strong artificial intelligence are generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Jasper. ChatGPT has recently brought artificial intelligence to the forefront in the legal world as well as the general business world. While generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT are currently the talk of artificial intelligence, it is expected that there will be substantial competition over the next several years as more software and companies are building these functions into their platforms and websites. It is also worth noting that lawyers should exercise care if they decide to use ChatGPT to ensure continued compliance with all ethical obligations. For example, lawyers must consider whether the use of strong artificial intelligence will adequately protect client confidentiality, especially if they are uploading client information into the chatbots.

Uses of Artificial Intelligence in the Estate Planning Practice

Artificial intelligence already has the potential to change the practice of law by facilitating the automation of processes, improving accuracy, reviewing documents, improving legal research, and assisting in providing innovative client services. In determining how to use artificial intelligence in an estate planning practice, it is important to distinguish between the benefits of using artificial intelligence and the limits.

Legal Research

Legal research is one of the areas that has benefited significantly from artificial intelligence. For example, Casetext is an AI legal assistant that can perform various tasks, including legal research. It was one of the first research services to begin working with OpenAI. Using OpenAI, Casetext developed a service called CoCounsel that provides a legal research assistant that can review and summarize documents, search a database, and engage in other routine legal tasks. Recently, Thomson Reuters announced its purchase of Casetext for $650 million. This acquisition demonstrates recognition of the value of generative AI in the practice of law. 

Document Automation

Document automation is a form of artificial intelligence that is already in use in most estate planning practices. Both natural language processing and machine learning are utilized in document automation systems. Machine learning is defined as the “branch of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science which focuses on the use of data and algorithms to imitate the way that humans learn, gradually improving its accuracy." 

Document automation services can be used to automate predictable and repetitive processes, including filling in templates, formatting, and integrating data. Automating these processes enhances efficiency and reduces error. Document automation is already included in drafting systems and practice management systems. 

Preparing Client-Friendly Explanations of Complex Materials

As attorneys, our technical expertise can sometimes impede our ability to express things simply and clearly. Artificial intelligence can be used to help create simplified explanations of complex topics for clients. For example, AI chatbots can assist in preparing concept memoranda, which are simplified explanations of proposed strategies. 

Know the Limits of Artificial Intelligence 

When using artificial intelligence tools, it is important to understand that the models are only as good as the data they are sourcing along with the data that is fed to them. If the data is  embedded with errors, the resulting content will also contain those errors. In addition, because much information is drawn from the internet, when artificial intelligence makes predictions, the predictions may be inaccurate, as they could be based on false information (which, unfortunately, is widely available across the internet).

Readers are likely already familiar with the recent case in which a New York lawyer submitted a brief generated by ChatGPT, which was not adequately reviewed. The ChatGPT-created brief included references to cases, rulings, and quotes that did not actually exist; in other words, ChatGPT fabricated these sources and citations. Ultimately, this mistake resulted in public embarrassment and sanctions. 

To the extent you use ChatGPT to obtain information . . .

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