Allen & Overy introduces AI chatbot to lawyers in search of efficiencies

Allen & Overy is introducing an artificial intelligence chatbot to help its lawyers draft contracts, as the magic circle legal firm seeks to adopt the much-hyped technology to find efficiencies for its lawyers and clients.

The London-based group told the Financial Times it had rolled out a chatbot named Harvey after testing it since November for use in tasks such as drafting merger & acquisition documents or memos to clients.

Allen & Overy said it had not yet informed clients of the tool, which is now available to any lawyer at the firm and around 3,500 individuals in total.

While other groups have been experimenting with similar technology, it is the first known use within the magic circle — a group of London-based law firms that work on the City’s top deals — of introducing this type of “generative AI” software across the company for use in active cases.

The move comes as companies across industries explore using the technology, spurred by the November launch of ChatGPT, an AI chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that can parse text and write convincing answers to questions.

Harvey was built using the underlying GPT technology created by OpenAI. The start-up behind the tool, which is also called Harvey, raised $5mn last year, led by the OpenAI Startup Fund.

The technology, known as large language models, is poised to disrupt a range of industries that are dependent on generating large amounts of text, such as media, advertising and education.

This new wave of AI systems has reawakened concerns about the technology’s threat to millions of jobs. But Allen & Overy said Harvey would not replace any of its workforce, and would not reduce billable hours or save money for the company or clients. The firm said future versions of the technology could lead to cost reductions “eventually”.

“It’s not cutting out anyone, it’s not a cost-cutting exercise, it’s a nice smart way of working,” said David Wakeling, head of the firm’s markets innovation group, made up of lawyers and developers. “It’s saving time at all levels.”

Although the firm said “significant purchase decision” had been taken to roll out Harvey, it would not specify how much it had cost.

Allen & Overy’s move comes amid growing pressure on law firms to embrace technology to find efficiencies for clients, following years of rising salaries for their most junior employees.

Law firms have often used technology to deliver work more flexibly, including by charging fixed fees, instead of by the hour.

The AI assistant comes with a disclaimer that its use should be supervised by licensed legal professionals, and it does still “hallucinate”, which is when the programme can produce inaccurate or misleading results.

Lawyers will be alerted that they need to fact check any information generated by Harvey, Wakeling said. The firm added the main purpose of the tool was to come up with basic drafts of documents, which lawyers could use as a starting point for editing and improvement.

Experts have raised concerns over the ethics of using the technology in legal settings, where accuracy is paramount.

Karen Silverman, founder and chief executive of The Cantellus Group, an AI advisory firm said: “This version is probably not that useful, and any lawyer using it other than for fun should be using their skills to aggressively interrogate the results they receive.”

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