In a recent interview, PJ Veldhuizen, a commercial attorney, litigator, and mediator at Gillan & Veldhuizen Inc., delved into the potential pitfalls of utilizing AI in legal contract drafting, shedding light on the complexities of the South African judicial system and the indispensable role of human expertise. “The legal profession is a complex one,” Veldhuizen stated. “AI, with its limitations, cannot grasp the intricacies involved in drafting a comprehensive and robust legal agreement. It’s like the Dunning-Kruger effect in action—AI doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.”

Veldhuizen underlined that while AI can serve as a valuable research tool, it should not be relied upon as a definitive source of verified information; “AI large language models, including those similar to Chat GBT, can be likened to vast collections of information available on the Internet,” he explained. “However, it is important to approach with caution, as they should not be considered a substitute for verified information. Consulting authoritative sources and subject matter experts remains crucial.”

Regarding the risks associated with AI in contract drafting, Veldhuizen drew a parallel to using cut-and-paste templates or a smorgasbord of digitally sourced clauses. “Relying on these automated solutions can result in contracts lacking coherence and tailored accuracy. Human expertise and legal scenario planning are necessary to establish the appropriate provisions and ensure inclusion of specific needs and legal requirements.”

The discussion delved into the complexities of the South African judicial system, which encompasses common law, precedent case law, and customary law. Veldhuizen emphasized the role of precedent law and the need for deep contextual understanding, historical knowledge, and judicial reasoning. “In South Africa, where precedent law is followed, relying on AI to interpret and apply case law can be a slippery slope,” Veldhuizen cautioned. “Misinterpretation of these legal precedents can have far-reaching consequences, making human expertise indispensable in navigating this landscape.”

The conversation highlighted the importance of striking a balance between leveraging AI as a research and support tool while recognizing its limitations. While AI can aid legal professionals in retrieving information and analysing data, it cannot replace human critical thinking, contextual understanding, and judgment necessary for watertight, comprehensive contract drafting.