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Law firm Gilbert + Tobin has created an ‘AI bounty’ encouraging staff to submit their ideas for using artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. The initiative will run until 31 May 2023 and offers staff the chance to win $20,000 for sharing how they’ve been using AI to enhance their work or suggest ways in which AI could be utilised in the firm.

Sam Nickless, Chief Operating Officer at Gilbert + Tobin, told LSJ that the initiative is an attempt to get the firm’s 900 staff members to think about AI and its potential uses.

“We don’t want to make it all about money but we’re showing our staff that we value their ideas,” said Nickless.

“We’re not quite sure how we’ll divide the winnings yet, it’ll depend on the value of the ideas and how many we get.

“It may be a case of splitting it between five brilliant ideas or one person might win it all.”

Nickless explained that the best ideas for using AI will likely come from individual use through a process of trial and error.

“The new way with this generative AI and the way it’s working is actually individual users finding uses that nobody else would think of until they start playing with it,” said Nickless.

“It’s very iterative, it’s less top down innovation and more organic.”

One of the challenges for law firms in adopting AI is the risk of breaching client confidentiality. Nickless assured LSJ that their firm has instructed staff not to put confidential or client data into any AI platform. Instead, they are encouraged to use more generic prompts to explore the capabilities of AI.

So far, the ideas that have emerged from the initiative have been focused on automating time-consuming and low-value tasks. Staff members have found ways to extract the names of companies and their ASX codes from large pieces of text – a process that used to take 20 minutes now only takes seconds.

Other staff members have used ChatGPT to write Excel formulas to manage data more efficiently. The AI platform has also been used to gain an overview of current business issues and major trends affecting different industries.

Observing the willingness of his staff to engage with ChatGPT, Nickless said that AI has the potential to be a game-changer for the legal industry.

“It’s really interesting and exciting technology. The way this could play out and the speed of change, it could be quite profound,” he said.

It’s really interesting and exciting technology. The way this could play out and the speed of change, it could be quite profound.

Sam Nickless, Chief Operating Officer at Gilbert + Tobin

Nickless acknowledged that there are some scenarios where aspects of the legal profession could be disrupted in a negative way, but that it’s better to embrace AI than resist it.

“There will be less time to charge clients for and so the old fashioned point of view would be, let’s resist this, but you have to believe that clients as customers and competitors will embrace this technology and so to be competitive and to be in the market you need to do it too,” said Nickless.

In addition to running the initiative, Gilbert + Tobin have offered courses for their staff on ChatGPT and encouraged a culture of sharing best practices around the firm.

“It’s a whole new area of learning, a whole CPD area that did not exist three months ago and now feels like it’s compulsory for our lawyers to do a course on prompt engineering for ChatGPT,” said Nickless.

“Who would have thought?”