AI and the legal profession

AI legal profession

How your lawyer might use AI and why this is nothing to worry about

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has had a disruptive influence on society. AI is a very broad term that describes the ability of machines to perform tasks that previously required human intelligence, such as reasoning, learning, and decision-making. Types of AI include machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, deep learning, narrow AI, and general AI. Even if you have never used ChatGPT, you almost certainly use AI every day. Examples include digital assistants like Siri (iPhone) and Alexa (Amazon); chatbots you see on websites and WhatsApp; search/recommendation algorithms (e.g., when Spotify and Netflix tell you “you might like…”); navigation tools like Google Maps or Waze; facial recognition (which unlocks your phone or admits you to your complex); and much more. 

AI has made rapid advances in a very short period of time, thanks to the availability of large amounts of data, powerful computing resources, and breakthroughs in algorithms and techniques. AI tools and platforms do not just power household devices and activities; they have many commercial, industrial, and professional applications, including the legal profession. AI-powered technology for legal services has the potential to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and provide access to justice. However, integrating AI into a law practice raises ethical and regulatory questions that must be carefully considered.

How is AI being used in the legal sector in South Africa? What are the benefits and challenges of AI in the profession, and what are the implications for the future of South African legal services?

Application and benefits of AI in South Africa’s legal sector

AI is used in the legal sector in South Africa in various ways by legal practitioners and legal service providers. Some examples of the use of AI in the legal industry and the associated benefits are:

Document Analysis

AI can help lawyers and paralegals analyse large volumes of documents, such as contracts, leases, agreements, policies, and court judgments; extract relevant information; identify clauses; compare terms; and flag anomalies.  

Legal research

AI can help lawyers and legal researchers conduct legal research more effectively and comprehensively by accessing and analysing various sources of legal information, such as statutes, case law, precedents, journals, and databases. AI can also help generate summaries, citations and insights from the legal data and provide recommendations and suggestions based on the query and context. One South African legal tech company provides an AI-powered platform that enables users to access and understand the applicable legal requirements for any situation, location, or industry.

Dispute resolution

AI can facilitate and expedite the resolution of legal disputes by providing alternative methods and platforms for settling conflicts, such as online mediation, arbitration, or adjudication. AI can also help evaluate a case’s merits and risks, predict the outcomes and costs of litigation, and suggest optimal strategies and solutions. There is growing interest in the introduction of online AI-powered dispute resolution platforms to help parties resolve their disputes quickly and affordably without going to court.

Using AI in these ways can significantly reduce the workload, time spent, and costs for legal practitioners and service providers, allowing them to focus on more complex and creative aspects of their work, ultimately delivering better and faster results to their clients.

Moreover, AI can potentially enhance the quality and accuracy of legal work. With its ability to process and analyse vast amounts of data, AI can provide more comprehensive and reliable insights, reducing the risk of human error and bias. This increased accuracy can boost confidence and trust in legal services and improve the overall reputation and credibility of the legal profession.

Legal advice

AI can help clients with basic and personalised legal advice and guidance by answering common legal questions, generating legal documents, and offering recommendations and referrals. AI can reach underserved and marginalised communities and providing affordable and accessible legal services. An online platform uses AI to help users create customised legal documents, such as wills, contracts, and company registrations, and connect with qualified lawyers if needed.

This use of AI has the potential to expand access to justice and promote inclusion. Legal services can be made more affordable and accessible to a wider range of clients, particularly those excluded by the traditional legal system. AI can empower communities and protect their legal rights and interests.

Challenges and ethical concerns

While the integration of AI into the legal sector offers significant potential for increased efficiency, accessibility, and innovation, the technological advancement also presents inherent risks and challenges. Ethical and regulatory issues surrounding AI, such as privacy, security, accountability, transparency, fairness, and human dignity, are closely linked to the  management of personal and sensitive data. There are concerns about intellectual property (IP) protection, the rationale of AI decisions, and the presence of discrimination and bias. The Information Regulator, established under the Protection of Personal Information Act of 2013 (POPIA) will likely play a key role in overseeing the use of AI in legal services, particularly where personal data is involved. Legal professionals and organisations need to ensure their use of AI complies with POPIA’s principles of data minimisation, purpose limitation, and security safeguards.

Skills gaps

The legal sector faces skills and capacity gaps in the effective and responsible development, deployment and use of AI. Addressing these gaps requires investment in education, training and infrastructure to build the necessary technical, legal and ethical competencies among legal practitioners, service providers, clients and end users. Furthermore, the deployment of AI may have significant social and cultural implications, transforming legal work dynamics, influencing demand and supply of legal services, and shaping client expectations. These potential consequences must be carefully managed to ensure use of AI aligns with the public interest and contributes to the common good.

Built-in bias

A key concern across all industries is the potential for AI systems to perpetuate or amplify existing bias. This is evident in sectors as diverse as recruitment and law and order. When machines are trained on data that contains bias or discrimination, such as a preponderance of white men in senior positions, the recruitment algorithm will automatically favour white male job seekers. The legal system faces the same challenge. If AI models are trained on historical legal data that reflects societal biases, there is a risk that outputs could discriminate against certain groups or individuals. In South Africa, with our history of racial discrimination and ongoing struggles with inequality, this is a particularly pressing concern.


Another ethical challenge is the transparency and accountability of AI-powered legal services. If legal decisions are made or influenced by AI algorithms, it may be difficult for clients to understand the basis for those decisions or to challenge them if they believe they are unfair. This could undermine key principles of procedural fairness and the rule of law.

Authority and AI hallucinations

The risks of over-reliance on AI were highlighted in a recent case in the Johannesburg regional court, where a legal team used ChatGTP to conduct legal research. ChatGPT generates human-like responses to prompts, including legal queries. However, the tool listed several non-existent cases, leading to complications during the proceedings. The tendency for ChatGPT to “hallucinate”, as its habit of making up sources is called, has been documented in academic circles, journalism, and other contexts. ChatGPT does not deliberately set out to “lie”; it simply predicts the most likely next word in a sequence, causing it to invent false but highly plausible citations. This highlights the need for caution and discernment when deploying AI in a legal context. It also raises the question of whether AI has a place in the legal sector and to what extent it should be relied upon.

A revolution for legal services or a cause for concern?

As we continue to integrate AI into legal practice, the opportunities for transformation are evident. AI has the potential to revolutionise the way legal services are delivered, making them more efficient, accessible, and affordable. However, the ethical and regulatory challenges AI poses cannot be ignored.

AI represents a fundamental shift in the practice of law, promising to reshape the legal landscape. As we embrace this new frontier, we must do so with a keen awareness of the benefits and the risks. By proactively addressing the challenges and harnessing the opportunities, we can work towards a future where AI enhances the legal system’s ability to deliver justice and serve the needs of all South Africans.

As legal professionals we at SD Law, along with policymakers and society as a whole, must actively engage in shaping the future of AI in our profession, ensuring that its development and deployment align with our values and principles.

SD Law can help

SD Law welcomes any tools that can enhance our service to you, our clients. We embrace cutting-edge technology as part of our vision to be a modern, client-driven law firm, but we do so responsibly and ethically. Personal contact with our clients remains a core value of our practice, and “recognition, respect and ethical responsibility” are the words we live by. If you have a legal matter you’d like to discuss, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential, personal discussion.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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