Stephen Hawking once said, “[t]he development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”  An ominous warning, but it seems far into the future. The more immediate effects of artificial intelligence are real and measurable. A study published in the March 2023 edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that use of artificial intelligence is associated with an increased need for affiliation, increased use of alcohol consumption, feelings of loneliness and insomnia.   

Artificial intelligence does and will continue to play an important part of our lives.  Its future impact on the practice of law is assured. And while the press is abuzz with this new and exciting tool to enhance worker productivity, some business leaders are worried about the mental health of their employees. Out of 225 executives questioned in a KPMG AI study, 39% believe AI will have a negative social impact on their workers and 32% believe AI will create additional stress for their workers.

It is well documented that lawyers are three times more likely to suffer from depression than other professions. Dan Lukasik, Depression and Hope in the Legal Profession, Lawyers with Depression (Nov. 2, 2016). And according to a study conducted by the ABA, 28% of lawyers struggle with depression while 19% struggle with anxiety. Id.  Incorporating AI in the workplace alone, can generate stress and worry of losing one’s job.  Law firms incorporating AI into the practice of law should be aware of the stress generated by the fear of change and possible loss of human contact.  

Other studies show that AI can be used as a tool to reduce workplace stress. Chatbots are an inexpensive way for employers to provide stress relieving conversations for a stressed-out workforce.  AI will also allow employees to automate some of their menial tasks, that are necessary, but mentally draining and AI can offer suggestions for tough problems. Instead of AI being perceived as a job stealer that creates stress and loneliness, AI can actually benefit employees and help their mental well-being. Indeed, a 2019 study that surveyed 34,000 workers in 18 separate countries found that technology may actually reduce stress. Automation And AI Actually Relieve Workplace Stress, And Customers Will Notice, Joe McKendrick, Forbes (July 29, 2019). The survey also found that 82% of employees who identified themselves as stressed welcome technology that would help with their tasks. Id. Fifty eight percent want their employers to use more technology such as AI, and 55% have asked their employers for better technology to work smarter not harder. Id. 

There are positives and negatives to AI. Rest assured there will be additional studies.  Like with any new technology, there is a learning curve.  AI will have less impact on the legal profession than other professions because of the requirement of cognitive skills and human contact with our clients. Changes are coming, which may cause stress in an already overly stressed legal profession. Yet, I’m betting the legal profession will come out on the other side of this AI technological breakthrough stronger and better as AI will help with discovery, sifting through large amounts of information, drafting contracts, research and so much more!