Jim Doppke on the Ethics of Legal Tech and the Duty to Supervise Robots (2019)

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Legal ethics attorney Jim Doppke returns for an encore appearance to discuss the impact that legal tech and legal innovation have on the Rules of Professional Conduct and other rules that govern how lawyers practice law.

Jim explains how Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 (Lawyer’s Duty of Competence) and 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance) are implicated by advances in legal technology and legal innovation.

A comment to Rule 1.1 (and adopted by most states) says that as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence, lawyers must stay abreast of changes in technology. MRPC 5.3 states that lawyers must actively supervise “non-lawyer” assistance they engage to help out on legal matters. Historically, this meant that lawyers needed to supervise others lending them a hand–like a paralegal.

However, Jim points out that the rule specifically relates to “assistance” and not just “assistants”. This is significant, because certain legal tech, like artificial intelligence (AI), is really non-lawyer “assistance.” So, as Jim points out, if lawyers are going to use AI, they must supervise the training of the algorithms to ensure accuracy, just like they are obligated to supervise the work of their paralegals and other assistants to make sure their work is accurate.

In a similar vein, Jim points out that as the use of ALSPs (alternative legal service providers) increases, there too is another situation in which lawyers must supervise work done by those who may not be attorneys.

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