July 3, 2024
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal profession has brought significant changes and posed new challenges. As AI tools, such as ChatGPT, become more integrated into legal practices, the debate over how to regulate their use intensifies. Should the legal profession self-regulate, or should the government step in? Recent reports and surveys reveal that nearly half of UK lawyers prefer self-regulation over government control when it comes to AI usage in their field.

The Historical Context of AI in Law

AI’s integration into the legal profession has evolved over the past decade. Initially, AI applications were limited to basic tasks like document management and legal research. Over time, AI’s capabilities have expanded, allowing for more complex functions such as contract analysis, predictive analytics, and even drafting legal documents.

Despite these advancements, the adoption of AI has been met with caution, particularly due to concerns about accuracy, data security, and compliance with existing regulations.

Current State of AI Regulation in the UK Legal Sector

A recent report by Thomson Reuters sheds light on the current sentiments within the UK legal community regarding AI regulation. According to the report, 48% of lawyers in UK law firms and 50% of in-house lawyers advocate for self-regulation of AI, believing that the profession itself should lead the regulatory efforts .

In contrast, only 36% of lawyers in firms and 44% of in-house lawyers support government intervention.

Preference for Self-Regulation

The preference for self-regulation is significantly higher in the UK compared to North America, where only 26% of lawyers in the US and Canada favour government regulation of AI. This divergence in opinion highlights the UK legal community’s desire to maintain autonomy and leverage its expertise to manage AI’s integration effectively.

Kriti Sharma, Chief Product Officer for legal tech at Thomson Reuters, emphasised the importance of regulation in building trust necessary for AI’s widespread adoption. She also noted that many firms are proactively setting guidelines and investing in AI training to ensure safe and effective use of these technologies .


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Impacts of AI on Legal Practices

Benefits of AI Adoption

AI’s integration into legal practices offers numerous benefits. Tools like ChatGPT can significantly reduce the time required for drafting documents, conducting legal research, and reviewing contracts. For example, Klarna’s senior managing legal counsel, Selma Bogren, reported that using ChatGPT to create first drafts of contracts can save substantial time compared to traditional methods.

This efficiency allows lawyers to focus on more complex and strategic aspects of their work. In fact, Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Birss praised ChatGPT after openly using it to write part of a British judgement for the first time in 2023.

Concerns and Barriers

Despite the advantages, several barriers hinder the widespread adoption of AI in the legal sector. The Thomson Reuters report identifies the main concerns among lawyers, including the potential for inaccurate responses (74%), data security issues (68%), and the challenge of complying with relevant laws and regulations (63%).

Additionally, some lawyers fear that clients might object to the use of AI tools, despite no significant evidence of such objections from clients themselves. While these tools have revolutionised research in many domains, law included, they can also threaten lawyer’s entire careers.

Future Forecast and Critical Analysis

The Path Forward

The future of AI regulation in the UK legal sector remains uncertain. The dissolution of Parliament for the general election has temporarily halted progress on the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill.

However, there is an expectation that new measures will be introduced in the next King’s speech, regardless of the election outcome.

Balancing Autonomy and Oversight

The debate over self-regulation versus government regulation is crucial for shaping the future landscape of AI in law. Self-regulation allows the legal profession to leverage its expertise and develop tailored guidelines that address specific needs and challenges. This approach can foster innovation and ensure that AI tools are used ethically and effectively.

However, government regulation can provide a standardised framework that ensures consistency and accountability across the sector. It can also address broader societal concerns, such as data privacy and security, which may not be fully covered by self-regulatory measures.

Critical Perspectives

While the majority of UK lawyers favour self-regulation, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks. Self-regulation might lack the stringent oversight needed to prevent misuse or unintended consequences of AI. Without external checks, there is a risk that self-regulatory measures could be too lenient or fail to keep pace with rapid technological advancements.

On the other hand, government regulation might be perceived as too rigid or out of touch with the practical realities of legal practice. Striking the right balance between autonomy and oversight is key to ensuring that AI can be harnessed effectively while safeguarding against potential risks.


The integration of AI into the UK legal sector presents both opportunities and challenges. The preference for self-regulation among UK lawyers underscores a desire for professional autonomy and expertise-driven governance of AI usage. However, the potential benefits of AI must be weighed against concerns about accuracy, data security, and regulatory compliance.

As the legal profession navigates this complex landscape, a balanced approach that combines elements of self-regulation with appropriate government oversight may be the most effective way forward. By doing so, the sector can harness the transformative potential of AI while ensuring that its use aligns with ethical standards and societal expectations.


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