Florida Bar Hands Down Opinion on AI Ethics
North Carolina Adds to Growing Body of AI Ethics Guidance for Lawyers

New Jersey Preliminary AI Guidelines Released 

Stacked3Here is my recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


New Jersey Preliminary AI Guidelines Released 

If you’re hesitant to test drive generative artificial intelligence technology (GAI), rest assured, you’re not alone. According to the results of the newly released LawPay and MyCase 2024 Legal Technology Report (online: https://www.lawpay.com/support/resources/reports/2024-legal-industry-report/), only 24% of law firms had implemented GAI tools as of September of 2023. Respondents cited many blockers to adoption including a lack of sufficient knowledge about GAI and how to use it (61%) and ethical concerns (53%). 

Fortunately, for those holding out due to lack of ethics guidance, help has arrived. Legal ethics committees across the country are responding to the demand for assistance and are rapidly handing down guidance. The State Bar of California’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct was the first to step up and release a thorough roadmap for ethical generative AI adoption in law firms in November 2023. This guidance was extensive and addressed many different issues including technology competence, confidentiality, and the requirement of candor about AI usage with legal clients and courts.

More recently, both Florida and New Jersey released guidance. Florida issued Ethics Opinion 24-1 on January 19th, which I covered in last week’s column. Then, the  New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Artificial Intelligence and the Courts handed down preliminary guidelines on January 24th (online: https://njsba.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Preliminary-Guidelines-on-the-Use-of-AI-by-NJ-Lawyers.pdf), discussed below.

At the outset, the committee cautioned that its guidelines were preliminary and did not address all issues triggered by GAI usage, including advertising and legal billing. The Committee explained that additional guidance may be issued as warranted as new concerns about GAI usage arise.

Next, the Committee acknowledged the inevitability of GAI use in the practice of law: “[t]he ongoing integration of AI into other technologies suggests that its use soon will be unavoidable, including for lawyers.” Like other jurisdictions, the Committee also emphasized the need for lawyers to ensure adequate oversight of all AI usage “by other lawyers and non-lawyer staff” due to the infancy of these tools.  

Confidentiality was also addressed, with the Committee highlighting the need to carefully vet GAI providers, and acknowledging the rapid growth in the number of legal-specific GAI tools now available to lawyers: “Today, the market is replete with an array of Al tools, including some specifically designed for lawyers, as well as others in development for use by law firms. A lawyer is responsible for ensuring the security of an Al system before entering any non-public client information.”

One notable conclusion reached was that, in contrast to the Florida committee’s conclusion to the contrary, the New Jersey committee determined that the rules “do not impose an affirmative obligation on lawyers to tell clients every time that they use AI,” but there are some situations that might require it.

Finally, the Committee reminded lawyers of the importance of maintaining technology competence in light of the rapid pace of GAI advancement: “In this complex and evolving landscape, lawyers must decide whether and to what extent AI can be used so as to maintain compliance with ethical standards without falling behind their colleagues.”

In conclusion, the recent release of preliminary AI guidelines by legal ethics committees in California, Florida, and New Jersey, provides valuable insight for lawyers seeking to adopt GAI into their firms. However, as highlighted by the Louisiana Supreme Court's recent letter (online: https://www.lsba.org/documents/News/LSBANews/LASCLetterAI.pdf), while this guidance is helpful, it may be unnecessary. According to the Supreme Court, the existing ethical and professional rules and opinions issued that govern the bench and the Bar are sufficient since “ the ethical and professional rules governing the bench and the Bar are robust and broad enough to cover the landscape of issues presented by AI in its current forms.”

In other words, even without specific ethics guidance, GAI adoption is no different than the adoption of other types of technology, so there’s nothing holding you back from learning about GAI and making educated, informed decisions about whether and how to use it in your law firm.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Head of SME and External Education at MyCase legal practice management software, an AffiniPay company. She is the nationally-recognized author of "Cloud Computing for Lawyers" (2012) and co-authors "Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier" (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors "Criminal Law in New York," a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at [email protected].