Across the country, November is recognized as New Lawyer November. AIM is so proud of all the newly admitted attorneys in Alabama and Tennessee! As you begin your legal profession, have faith in your education and confidence in your understanding of the law. Ben Parks, our senior underwriter who also has experience as a private practicing attorney, shares some career advice for the new or young lawyers out there navigating their way for the first time.
Congratulations! You’ve completed law school, prepped for, and passed the bar exam, been sworn in, and now you’re ready to begin your practice. As you embark on your legal career, here are three things to keep in mind to help you get off on the right foot.
1. Stay current with rapid technological advancements.
You are entering the profession at a time of rapid advancements and technology integration into the practice. Hello, Artificial Intelligence (“AI”)! Yes, AI will be, or rather already is, a useful tool to help you be more efficient with those time-consuming tasks like document review and contract drafting. AI can enhance your legal research, sifting through vast amounts of relevant cases, statutes, and precedents at a pace many times faster than us humans could ever achieve. And AI can assist with analyzing large datasets to help you identify patterns, trends, and insights that might be critical to your case.
But do not overlook the pitfalls of overreliance on AI. AI has a propensity to generate responses that contain false or misleading information, presenting them as fact, known as hallucinations. In June of this year, a lawyer in New York was sanctioned for submitting a brief based on legal research generated in part, if not completely, by AI which contained multiple fictitious case citations. The lawyer used AI to search for legal precedents to support his client’s case. The client had been injured on a flight in 2019. The AI tool suggested several cases involving aviation mishaps that he had not been able to find using his usual methods of research. The problem, however, was that the cases suggested by the AI tool were either not real or involved airlines that did not exist. Rather than verifying his research with Westlaw, LexisNexis, or the like, he submitted his brief with the AI generated citations. Yikes!
Additionally, AI brings with it data privacy and security concerns. AI relies on vast amounts of data including personal information, confidential client data, and work product material. When using AI, you must make sure the tools and platforms you are using have robust security measures to protect this sensitive information from unauthorized access. And do not forget your duties to uphold the attorney-client privilege and maintain confidentiality when using this technology.
The accuracy of AI generated legal research and privacy/confidentiality are just a few of the possible ethical pitfalls to consider when using AI technology in your practice. For some further guidance on the use of AI, consider the following. In 2019, the ABA adopted resolution 112 which urged courts and lawyers to address the ethical and legal issues related to the use of AI. Then in 2023, the ABA adopted resolution 604 which offered guidelines for those organizations that design, develop, deploy, and use AI. Earlier this month, the California Bar approved guidelines for lawyers’ use of AI. This guidance urges lawyers to disclose the use of AI to the client, not charge hourly fees for the time saved by using AI and ensure human scrutiny of AI generated outputs for inaccuracy and bias. The Florida Bar’s ethics committee recently released a proposed opinion with similar guidelines. While the Alabama and Tennessee Bars have not implemented rules specifically addressing AI, your use of AI in your practice should still comply with ethical principles of the current rules. Examples, among others, include Rule 1.1 on competence – if you are using AI, you should be up to date with the technology and use it competently in your practice. Rule 1.6 on confidentiality – you are obligated to protect your clients’ information and maintain client confidentiality when using AI. Rules 5.1 and 5.3 on supervision – you must ensure that those lawyers and non-lawyer staff in your firm you have a responsibility to supervise are also in compliance with the rules of professional conduct when it comes to their use of AI.
2. Seek out a mentor.
I don’t mean to dredge up any bad memories but think back to your first year of law school. What did you do to help ensure success in your classes? You sought outlines as well as the inside scoop on the professors – how they ran their classrooms, graded, and so forth, from those who came before you. As you begin your career in law, now is the time to find a mentor, if you have not done so already. My mentor always says that law school teaches you enough to not hurt your clients while you learn to practice law. And I think he is right. Coming out of law school, we know a lot about the law but not so much about how to actually practice law.
Prior to 1776, those wanting to become a lawyer sought out a seasoned lawyer to apprentice with, gaining practical experience working in the lawyer’s office and receiving instruction from the lawyer. Though the process of entering the profession has changed over the last few centuries, lawyers today still benefit from the sage advice and guidance of an experienced and respected lawyer. A mentor can help you cope with the challenges of the profession, help you develop professionally and personally (e.g., help with improving your communication and critical thinking skills) and provide much needed feedback.
If you don’t have a mentor, what is holding you back? Senior lawyers understand the challenges of the profession and are willing to help younger lawyers. Do not hesitate to ask. If you need help, start with your state or local bar association.
3. Do not neglect your well-being.
Beyond eating healthily, hydrating, exercising, and getting enough rest, do not forget to take care of your mental health. Sadly, the profession is known for high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. If you find yourself struggling, help is available. And please seek it. The Alabama Lawyer Assistance Program (“ALAP”) and the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (“TLAP”) offer a wide range of services to help you deal with stress, depression, substance abuse, and so on. The number for ALAP is 334-224-6920, and for after-hours assistance, you can call the Lawyer Hotline at 1-800-605-8678. The number for TLAP is 615-741-3238 or 877-424-8527. For additional resources, check out the resources of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs at www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/.
We at AIM celebrate your accomplishments, and we’ll cheer you on as you begin your legal career journey. If we can help you with risk management concerns or with your coverage, please reach out.
Ben Parks, Author
Ben Parks is a graduate of Mercer University and Mercer University School of Law. He has been a member of the State Bar of Georgia since 2003. After a turn in private practice, he began his career helping lawyers protect their practices from allegations of malpractice and bar rule violations. He started at the former Georgia bar related insurance company (Georgia Lawyers Insurance Company) and throughout his career has served in various underwriting, claims, and business development roles. He is currently the Senior Underwriter at Attorneys Insurance Mutual of the South, Inc.