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The Singapore Law Gazette

AI – Will It Help or Hinder Our Work Life Balance?

This article explores the benefits and drawbacks of how AI has the potential to both ease and burden lawyers’ work life balance. On one hand it can bring efficiency to your day and remove the admin tasks which take up so much time. On the other it may create expectations to do more to keep up with technology – linking to issues around presenteeism. This piece examines how legal teams can manage innovations, and the expectations they bring to ensure they achieve the maximum efficiencies for them.

Singapore has been at the vanguard when it comes to embracing artificial intelligence, and putting in place detailed plans and strategies for its use in the future. At the end of last year, the government introduced its National AI Strategy 2.0 (NAIS 2.0), which details plans to develop the use of AI to transform the economy and “set the pace” and “to propel ourselves further as leaders in the field AI”. Doubtless, it is a very exciting time and seeing some of the potential applications of AI is truly remarkable – for instance, the Singapore government points to Project Pensieve – a technology which helps to spot the early signs of dementia by simply analysing a user’s drawings.

Turning our attention to the legal sector, much has been written about the potential applications of AI in the profession, and this conversation has veered from the cynical to the celebratory. There has also been a healthy dose of fear and unease, as some horizon scanners predict AI could take jobs away and make some lawyers redundant. According to a report from analyst firm Forrester in the US, generative AI could replace 2.4 million jobs in the US alone by 2030, and influence another eleven million. The report predicts the law will be the most heavily impacted by this form of technology – 78% of the profession could see a change.

How AI Can be Used in the Profession

Nevertheless, many in the legal sector have already begun to embrace the efficiencies AI provides, and explore all the potential uses to make firms more effective. Again, Singapore is leading the way in this regard, embracing AI and using it to its full potential. For example, a trial in the small claims court is underway, using Harvey AI, an innovative platform to offer individuals guidance on their legal rights and streamlining legal tasks. There are also plans afoot to utilise AI in Singapore’s divorce maintenance and civil claims, helping ease court backlogs and ensuring access to justice for all.

For law firms and legal teams, the potential uses of AI are varied. We are already seeing firms embrace AI to reduce the time spent on time-intensive and repetitive tasks, such as legal research and disclosure, and the automation of documents, including contracts and agreements. The automation of certain tasks with the use of AI has been celebrated by many, as it frees up busy lawyers to concentrate on more strategic, technical and client-focused work.

From a litigation perspective, AI can be used to analyse historical data and be utilised to predict outcomes and trends, which can make decisions related to litigation more nuanced and efficient, reducing the need, in some cases, for lengthy trials.

This just touches on a few of the potential applications AI can have in legal teams, and in an area where we are seeing changes seemingly every day; it’s likely the picture will look very different in even a year’s time. However, what is clear is that a failure to consider how AI can be applied to your legal team and workflow does run the risk of you being left behind.

AI and Work Life Balance

AI has been a hot topic and will continue to be so. However, a topic which has not been as deeply explored is the potential for AI to alter and improve lawyers’ work life balance. The pandemic, coupled with the stresses and strains of everyday life has created significant mental health issues, particularly in the high-stress profession of law. “Burnout” became one of the pandemic’s buzz words, with research from Mercer revealing that 85% of Singapore-based employees admitted they feel at risk of burnout. An improved work life balance seems to be the answer to ease stress and burnout – particularly amongst lawyers at the beginning of their careers. For example, a survey conducted by ALB revealed that, among lawyers with less than 10 years of PQE across Asia, nearly 73% of respondents cited “work life balance” as an important factor when choosing their current position. Commenting on this survey, Lyndon Choo, a counsel at Singapore-based Providence Law Asia, said “Work life balance is critical to allow lawyers to achieve their non-work-related priorities (be it to build a family or for further studies). Remote working has the potential for law firms to work with the lawyers to accommodate the lawyers’ other priorities without the lawyers having to leave the firm“. At Vario, we have seen more lawyers consider freelance consulting as a result of a need for an improved work life balance, and autonomy in their day-to-day lives.

On paper, and considering the efficiencies already described, AI should be the perfect panacea to create more space in lawyers’ lives to improve work life balance. But is that a fair assumption?

To tackle this question, it is helpful to look back on other technological innovations, the expectations and reality, and the lessons that can be learnt.

It was predicted in the 1960s by IBM Economist Joseph Froomkin that:automation will eventually bring about a 20-hour work week, perhaps within a century, thus creating a mass leisure class. …. Even the most moderate estimates of automation’s progress show that millions of people will have to adjust to leisurely, “nonfunctional” lives, a switch that will entail both an economic wrench and a severe test of the deeply ingrained ethic that work is the good and necessary calling of man.” Obviously, that has not come to pass – is AI going to be the same? Interestingly, Elon Musk made very similar predictions when speaking to the British Prime Minister in November last year, predicting that: “There will come a point where no job is needed – you can have a job if you want one for personal satisfaction but AI will do everything.”

What is clear is that, whilst AI has the potential to create huge efficiencies, if mismanaged, or introduced to an already toxic workplace, it could actually further compound issues with stress and burnout. Like the introduction of the internet, AI has the potential to further blur the boundaries between work and home, and increase connectivity so that lawyers feel the need to be always “on”. Presenteeism has long been a problem for law firms. This concept can be described in several slightly different ways. Some interpret it as the act of working while not feeling well, either physically or mentally. Others adopt a broader perspective, defining it as individuals being at work but lacking productivity. This is often attributed to a pervasive culture of long working hours and an expectation to be constantly checking and responding to emails.

Given the pressures of the legal, characterised by tight deadlines and clients with around-the-clock demands, it is not surprising that presenteeism has been a persistent challenge for lawyers. It’s easy to see how AI could exacerbate this issue, with the added pressure for lawyers that there is a perception their jobs are potentially under threat from AI – they will want to be seen to be busy and ultimately, important additions to the team. There is also a potential issue when you consider law firms’ typical billable hours model and how this might interact with AI and the efficiencies this provides.

So how do you manage the introduction of AI to ensure it actually eases work life balance for lawyers?

Firstly, it’s about right-sourcing to check that AI is being deployed in the right way and will create efficiencies. Right-sourcing entails ensuring that the work is carried out by the appropriate resource, at the right time, and at a cost that is reasonable. This becomes a crucial consideration when contemplating enhancements in efficiency or initiating a change management programme. Within a legal team that incorporates individuals, processes, and usually some technology, the key issue should be determining the tasks suitable for people, aligning them with the available skills, and assessing the utilisation of technology – are we maximising the use of our existing technological resources?

Next, it’s about an honest and careful assessment of your workplace culture and how the use, or increased use of AI, will impact your people, for example, identification that some workplace traits such as presenteeism are likely to be made worse by the introduction of AI. It is important to set clear expectations and guidance on how lawyers should be using AI – and this is important not just from a people point of view, but also an ethical and regulatory perspective. Many legal tasks are not appropriate to be passed to AI.

However, setting clear boundaries to ensure lawyers feel comfortable and confident in knowing where their job ends, and AI’s begins, and how the two interact and overlap is important. Introducing training and guidance is also important – generative and large language model types of AI are only as good as the instructions it is given, for example. The benefits of AI will not be achieved if the prompts it is given are vague or without boundaries. With any change, it is also important to lead from the top – showcasing how you are using AI in a senior position, for instance, is the best way to encourage lawyers to embrace it. Clear communication and actively talking about expectations is crucial in ensuring that AI is viewed positively and is not simply another tool which blurs the boundaries of home and work life. This approach should also set law firms and legal teams on a positive path to attract new talent, now and in the future, as work life balance continues to be an important draw.

Partner and Managing Director
Pinsent Masons Vario

Matthew is responsible for the strategic direction, management and growth of Pinsent Masons’ Vario which provides a range of professional services. These include flexible legal provision, legal project management, legal technology consultancy and managed legal services.