April 2024 Cover Story - AI in the Legal Realm: What’s the Verdict?

by Dave Savoy

At Martindale-Avvo, we’ve been closely following the developments in AI, even adding it to our recent survey in order to gauge attorneys’ opinions on the emerging technology. Their attitudes towards AI ranged from extremely optimistic to highly pessimistic. One attorney felt that AI represented a true opportunity to “provide access to justice for underserved populations”; another worried that AI-assisted legal work would “appear competent” even if it actually contained errors.1

Case in point: In Mata v. Avianca, Inc., 22-cv-1461 (PKC) (S.D.N.Y. Jun. 22, 2023), bogus precedents, fake cases, and gibberish citations crafted by ChatGPT were submitted in court in a legal brief by a pair of New York lawyers. The attorneys were subsequently sanctioned by Judge P. Kevin Castel for what he called “an unprecedented circumstance”: submitting AI-generated forgeries in their suit against the airline Avianca. The lawyers first doubled down before eventually coming clean about their use of the chatbot, claiming they didn’t know a tool like ChatGPT could “hallucinate” (that’s tech slang for “make stuff up”).

In his filed sanction order, Judge Castel wrote that while “there is nothing inherently improper about using a reliable artificial intelligence tool for assistance . . . existing rules impose a gatekeeping role on attorneys to ensure the accuracy of their findings.” The judge even noted that harm caused by the ordeal “promotes cynicism about the legal profession and the American judicial system.”2

The lawyers’ ChatGPT snafu encapsulated mounting tensions around AI’s role in the legal profession—and in our world at large. AI has proven that, regardless of whether it’s here to stay, it’s definitely dominating the legal tech space. TIME magazine wrote that “2023 was the year that people began to understand what AI really is—and what it can do.”3 The AP wrote that 2023 was the year “artificial intelligence went mainstream.”4 And recently, The New York Times led with the headline: “Robots Learn, Chatbots Visualize: How 2024 Will Be A.I.’s ‘Leap Forward.’”5

AI’s tentacles have even reached the boardrooms of the largest U.S. public companies, according to new figures from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2024 report that analyzed more than 70,000 S&P Global earnings transcripts across 10,452 companies from January 2022 to September 2023. The numbers showed that mentions of “AI” in earnings call transcripts steadily increased by six times since the release of ChatGPT in November 2022: Q1 2022 included approximately 500 mentions. Q3 2023? More than 30,000 mentions.

“Where AI once focused on automation and routine tasks,” the report states, “it’s now shifting towards augmentation, changing how people approach work, and is rapidly democratizing the technologies and specialized knowledge work that were once reserved for the highly-trained or deep-pocketed.”6

If we take Judge Castel’s response in the Avianca case as advice for the way forward, a smooth entrance into the AI arena would take the form of a gradual, conscientious adoption guided by diligent human oversight. The allure of “efficiency gains” from AI should be balanced with wariness.

Attorneys generally share this wariness around AI in law, according to the aforementioned “Business of Your Practice” report that probed attorneys about how technology intersects with their practices. More than 85% of surveyed attorneys said they felt that the continued development of AI would have a moderate to significant impact on the legal field, with 40% believing the impact would be “very significant.”

Many legal practices thrive on personal rapport and trust built through direct interactions. Will handing tasks to algorithms undermine client confidence and the quality of legal work? Or, can AI be utilized efficiently and safely by solos and small firms to strike a more ideal work-life balance?

The majority (75%) of attorneys reported that business skills are “very important” to running their firm, but balancing life, business acumen, and their original intent (to actually practice law) was challenging. In our report, we found that while attorneys are driven and passionate about helping others, they often find themselves dealing with non-legal matters that can consume much of their day, sometimes even a quarter of their workweek. However, they also acknowledged that these administrative or marketing-related tasks were critical to the success of their practice. If they could automate these duties with AI, it might free up more time to do what they’ve studied and trained for—practicing law.

Overall, the report reflected a measured view of AI. While its impact on the legal field might, as one attorney said, “not be the world-changer that many are describing,” it could help speed up repetitive administrative tasks, like lead searching and generation.

Martindale-Avvo strives to use AI in a strategic way that mutually benefits our client attorneys and legal consumers. Our latest focus is on AI-driven lead generation tools that help streamline the attorney search process for consumers, while improving targeting for attorneys and firms. AI technology is used to interact with prospective clients through detailed prompts that extract richer case details, improving lead quality and targeting. It’s exciting stuff, and we’re still in the early days.

In the New York courtroom during the Avianca case, AI took center stage for all the wrong reasons. But the case—and AI’s meteoric rise in 2023—catalyzed crucial debates on its ethical integration in the legal profession. If the hype is to be believed, the path forward is finding a way to harness the promised efficiencies of AI while upholding the service quality that keeps law practices thriving. If there is a way to successfully integrate this technology in the legal field, AI’s promises could very well change how the next generation of attorneys practices law—not by replacing them, but by liberating them to focus on what matters most.


  1. The Business of Your Legal Practice Report: Martindale-Avvo, Martindale-Avvo (2023), https://www.martindale-avvo.com/resources/research/business-of-your-practice-2023/.
  2. Mata v. Avianca, Inc., 22-cv-1461 (PKC) (S.D.N.Y. June 22, 2023).
  3. Billy Perrigo, The 3 most important AI innovations of 2023, Time (Dec. 21, 2023), https://time.com/6547982/3-big-ai-innovations-from-2023/.
  4. Matt O’brien, 2023: The year we played with Artificial Intelligence—and weren’t sure what to do about it, AP News (Dec. 14, 2023), https://apnews.com/article/ai-2023-artificial-intelligence-chatgpt-dangers-565ff5b817b5db0d4e74829ae3d68611.
  5. Cade Metz, Robots learn, chatbots visualize: How 2024 will be A.I.’s “Leap forward”, The New York Times (Jan. 8, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/08/technology/ai-robots-chatbots-2024.html.
  6. Technology Vision 2024: Human By Design, Accenture (Jan. 9, 2024), https://www.accenture.com/content/dam/accenture/final/accenture-com/document-2/Accenture-Tech-Vision-2024.pdf#zoom=40.

Dave Savoy is Head of Marketing for Internet Brands Legal Division of Martindale-Avvo, and can be reached at dave.savoy@internetbrands.com.