My AI story

My report initially published in the “Presse” on July 17, 2023, has caused an enormous response. I was completely overwhelmed by the extent of the feedback. Countless colleagues, former classmates, friends, and journalists have approached me about the article and offered their congratulations.

I run my own law office in Vienna for over 10 years now.

It was clear that the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and Chat GPT is a “hot topic” not only among my attorney colleagues. After the recent event of AI successfully passing the bar exam in the USA, the events surrounding the takeover of my mandate were just another logical step into the future that awaits us.

You can read the article about the “hostile” takeover of my mandate by Artificial Intelligence (ChatGPT) in my law firm here (German language). Prof. Wolfgang Zankl has shared a post on LinkedIn, which I also don’t want to withhold from interested readers. This post has also reached many people. You can read it here.

I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone for the feedback!

ChatGPT snatched lawyer mandate away

(or A.I. take over [original title] by Heinz Templ

Artificial Intelligence flawlessly translates and adapts English contract work. Report of a disillusioned lawyer.

I had already agreed on a reasonable fee with my client. It was Friday, July 7, 2023. The task at hand was the translation of an existing bundle of contracts from English to German, with slight legal adjustments for Austrian jurisdiction. Almost 8,000 words, a little over 10 pages. A complex service in the Enterprise Services domain. Numerous interconnected and cross-referencing components. A case tailor-made for me. Law degree, postgraduate program, bar exam with “Very Good,” studied English until the first diploma exam, countless “legal English” courses, C1-level speaker, 20 years of professional experience, and IT law, one of my strong suits – the whole package.

I estimated it would take me about 5-6 hours. Full of enthusiasm, I started on Friday afternoon, delving into the first page. My focus on the task nearly made me miss the email notification sound for a new message. But what I read in the email left me astounded; my client informed me that he just had ChatGPT translate the legal text and asked if we could use it.

I sighed, ready to write back that it always takes more effort to review and adapt the work of these artificial helpers than to create a new text. That definitely doesn’t save me any time. Before typing the word “definitely” in the email, I decided to check the link to the shared document with the AI’s output. Reluctantly, I anticipated a rough draft in German. But I was mistaken.

Instead, I found a flawless translation of the bundle, coherent and referencing perfectly. The AI doesn’t just translate – it analyzes, it comprehends. Client, service provider, contractor, customer – who has which rights, who has which obligations. Integrated. Impressive.

I immediately recalled the recent seminar “What AI Can Do – What AI May Do” by the esteemed Prof. Zankl. According to Zankl, the AI writes homework assignments where it analyzes decisions of the Austrian Supreme Court (OGH), to the point where one of the brightest minds in Austrian civil law can’t distinguish its work from that of students – all this without accessing a legal database. I wondered if that applied to me as well, while a Microsoft representative in the seminar pointed out that in the future, the key would be to prompt the AI properly, that is, asking questions in a way that yields the best results from the AI. Now, one week later, this thing snatched my mandate away. I am flabbergasted.

So, I informed the client that the text is a flawless translation, and we can refine it on Monday. Deep down, I know he won’t get back to me – contract-autonomy and the astonishing quality of the German text from the AI give him enough leeway to wrap up the deal with his client quickly, even before I can charge a single EURO. He will ignore the machine’s disclaimer about the need for professional advice.

In the meantime, I decide to confront the AI with the newfound free time. It comes at the cost of my identity.

Instinctively, I inquire about its ability to translate legal texts in English. Yes, it can help with that, it replies. I ask if it understands the Austrian Civil Code (ABGB). Yes, it does, and as I contemplate whether the thing is aware of the gravity of its statement, I find myself engaged in a question-answer game about Austrian inheritance law and the formal requirements for the testamentary capacity of blind individuals. I then inquire if it also understands the Civil Procedure Code (ZPO). Yes, it does, it courteously responds. As a test, I inquire whether a party to the proceedings who does not possess evidence (such as documents, etc.) can demand the disclosure of such documents from the opposing party, and I receive more or less a short lecture about the often underestimated § 303 ZPO. Yes, it understands!

Do you still think that AI does not affect you or that it will not replace you? My thoughts race. Teacher shortage, doctor shortage. Will future generations still have the choice to be taught by a human teacher, examined and treated by a real doctor, or represented by an expensive lawyer? Today, this is a concrete question for me, and do they even want it given the perfection of the machine?

Friday, July 7, 2023, is prominently marked in my calendar: “First mandate given to AI.”

The €3,000 MacBook Pro of the latest generation on which I’m writing these lines today feels like my grandfather’s old Remington typewriter. A turning point. Will the law firm still be able to sustain itself in 5 years when the consulting business has completely collapsed?

I need to rethink, I need to act.

Heinz Templ is (still) a lawyer in Vienna.