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North Carolina Adds to Growing Body of AI Ethics Guidance for Lawyers

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


North Carolina Adds to Growing Body of AI Ethics Guidance for Lawyers

As generative AI (GAI) technology proliferates and legal software companies focus on rolling this new functionality into their platforms, ethics committees across the country are recognizing and responding to the implementation challenges that lawyers face. GAI providers promise streamlined workflows and increased efficiencies, but with these benefits come concerns about ensuring accuracy in the results, adequate supervision, confidentiality preservation, and compliant billing processes. 

Because of the many hurdles faced when using GAI in its current state, several jurisdictions have issued ethics guidance over the past few months, which I’ve covered in earlier columns. The State Bar of California was first when it released guidance in November 2023. This was followed by Florida, which issued Ethics Opinion 24-1 on January 19th, and the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Artificial Intelligence and the Courts preliminary guidelines handed down on January 24th.

On January 19th, the North Carolina State Bar Council jumped into the fray with proposed guidance, 2023 Formal Ethics Opinion 4 (online:, which is open for comments through March 30th.

This proposed opinion offers a thorough analysis of the many issues lawyers encounter when using GAI tools, along with commonsense and clear-cut guidance on the ins and outs of adopting GAI in an ethically compliant manner. 

Many of the Council’s conclusions mirror those reached by other ethics committees. For example, the Council concluded that lawyers may use GAI, but the duty of competence means they are responsible for “reviewing, evaluating, and ultimately relying upon the work produced by someone—or something—other than the lawyer,” which includes GAI output. Furthermore, the duty of technology competence requires lawyers to learn bout GAI so that they can responsibly “exercise independent professional judgment in determining how (or if)” using GAI is appropriate.

The Council opined that lawyers must carefully vet GAI providers to ensure confidential client information is protected, just as they are required to do when “providing confidential information to a third-party software program (practice management, cloud storage, etc.)” The Committee cautioned that when lawyers use consumer-grade GAI software, they should avoid “inputting client-specific information into publicly available AI resources” to prevent confidential data from being used to train the AI system.”

Importantly, the Committee clarified that when lawyers use GAI to help draft pleadings and adopt the output as their own, signing the pleading certifies their “good faith belief as to the factual and legal assertions therein,” a practice that necessarily applies to all pleadings submitted to the court, regardless of their origination source.

Client consent was also addressed. The Committee determined that when GAI is used for ordinary tasks like “conducting legal research or generic case/practice management,” client consent is unnecessary, whereas it would be required in advance for any substantive tasks that are “akin to outsourcing legal work to a nonlawyer.”

Finally, the Committee addressed legal billing issues and clarified that for hourly billing, lawyers may only bill clients for time actually spent using GAI and may not bill for the time saved through the use of this tool. However, the Committee suggested that due to the arguable reduction in billable hours that can be achieved through the use of GAI, lawyers might want to consider transitioning to flat fee billing “for the drafting of documents—even when using AI to assist in drafting—provided the flat fee charged is not clearly excessive and the client consents to the billing structure.”

As for expensing the cost of using a GAI tool, doing so is only permissible when the fee charged is “for actual expenses incurred when employing AI in the furtherance of a client’s legal services, provided the expenses charged are accurate, not clearly excessive, and the client consents to the charge, preferably in writing.” In comparison, charging a general administrative fee to clients to cover the cost of AI tools embedded in software generally used by the firm is unacceptable.

North Carolina's addition to the growing body of AI ethics guidance for lawyers highlights the important balance required to leverage AI's benefits while adhering to ethical standards. The conclusions in the opinion align with those of other jurisdictions, and emphasize the core principles of legal ethics remain unchanged even as technology advances at a rapid pace. As we continue to witness the integration of AI into various aspects of legal work, guidance like North Carolina's becomes invaluable for lawyers striving to maintain the highest standards of professionalism in the digital age.

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].