Knowledge Sharing and Generative AI for Next Gen Lawyers

During the recent Legal Innovation and Tech Festival held in Sydney, I held a fireside chat with Sarah Jacobson, MinterEllison’s Director of Knowledge Management. Sarah spoke candidly about the generational nuances of the experienced vs next gen lawyers in their approach to knowledge sharing and transfer, amid the growing interest of generative artificial intelligence (AI) in law firms.

There are multiple generations of legal professionals in practice along with varied anecdotal commentary about the generational differences at play. The perception is that knowledge sharing is a one-way flow from older to younger generations however actual studies show that knowledge transfer is bi-directional.

In designing the knowledge management plan for MinterEllison, Sarah Jacobson is focused on delivering a strategy to suit the firm not only today but in years to come. With technology moving so fast, it is important to think ahead and for Sarah, that focus is not just on the tech, but also on the people the new ecosystem is being designed for, and how the sharing of knowledge might work best.

Q&A with MinterEllison’s Director of Knowledge Management

Q: What brought you to thinking about the generational differences in relation to knowledge sharing and transfer?

A: It was through observation of how much has changed since I was a junior lawyer. If you look back in time, junior lawyers shadowed partners around everywhere – to court, in meetings, or sitting outside their office listening to every phone call. It was a world where experience was the best teacher, and the transfer of knowledge was osmotic.

Fast forward to today, with the increasing speed and advancement of technology, and client’s ongoing push to pay less for more, our juniors are expected to get up to speed faster and with much less exposure to senior practitioners. This has been further exacerbated since the global pandemic, where people are working from home at unprecedented rates so many of the organic upskilling opportunities no longer exist.

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Pictured: Sarah Jacobson, Director of Knowledge Management, MinterEllison 

Q: You have talked about the need to engage and upskill our younger generation at the right pace to future-proof organisations. Can you identify ‘Next Gen’ and explain the key challenges of upskilling this generation?

A: Next Gen are made up of millennials and gen Y, so those born from around 1979 – 2000. This generation, who continue to dominate the demographics within organisations, are known as digital natives and have superior technological skills.

The challenge of upskilling the Next Gen is exacerbated not only by the exodus of the retiring baby boomers, who take a vast repository of organisational knowledge with them, but also by the younger population racing to grow fast.

Multiple knowledge platforms create the complexity of findability, and while we know content is king, we are all suffering from information overload.

Knowledge sharing is not about having ‘more’ content, it is about trustworthy, distilled content and answers that can be delivered to a lawyer during their workflow.

Q: How does the Next Gen approach knowledge sharing and transfer?

A: The digital natives are engrossed in the technology so interactive learning works best, as it allows them to be in a creative environment and involves them in reciprocal learning. There are two key learning motivations for the next gen lawyers:

  • Development striving – the motivation to grow, increase competence and master something new;
  • Generativity striving – the motivation to teach, train and guide others.

Finding opportunities within your organisation to leverage these motivations is key when designing systems, processes and approaches to knowledge sharing and transfer.

Q: What have you observed in relation to the general attitudes towards generative AI amongst legal professionals?

We are seeing a huge amount of optimism for generative AI, however, there is a still a healthy level of scepticism or well-placed fear. It is difficult for many lawyers to work out exactly how these tools will change our jobs.

I have seen some fear across some of our groups that their jobs will be replaced, for example, paralegals and our teams who undertake research. However, in my view their roles now have added value as they are able to independently verify information which has been created by using these large language models.

Q: Where do you think the profession will be in 12-24 months’ time once the dust has settled on the launch of generative AI such as ChatGPT?

A: I think that tools such as ChatGPT; which have been customised to suit a particular organisation’s needs, have been set up in a closed environment to preserve organisation and client data, will become mainstream in firms. Low value work will be done more quickly by junior lawyers. We will see huge efficiencies across the operations side of our businesses.

Microsoft Copilot will also have a significant impact on the way that we do our work, and importantly, depending on the quality of the tool will impact the perception of generative AI in the way we do our work every day.

Do I think some jobs will disappear? Yes, and other roles will change, but I think it will be similar to the introduction of emails and computers, where it will speed up what we already do and increase our expectations of what we are capable of achieving in the same amount of time.

Related resources

This Q&A has been adapted from a fireside chat conducted at the 2023 Legal Innovation and Tech Festival.

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