Analysis

Firms Taking Cautious Approach To AI-Assisted Lobbying

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BigLaw lobbyists say artificial intelligence could be a game-changer in their daily work lives, but government affairs attorneys at some of Washington, D.C.'s biggest firms told Law360 Pulse that many in the industry are proceeding with caution, citing concerns about the accuracy of information and protecting client confidentiality.

Lobbyists point to many potential uses for the technology, from analyzing massive last-minute bills to producing reports on congressional hearings and seamlessly arranging meetings with busy Capitol Hill staffers.

For now, however, "large firms are taking a very, very slow and cautious approach," said K&L Gates LLP partner Guillermo Christensen.

While firms are weighing the risks of AI-assisted lobbying, Christensen said the technology presents many opportunities for the profession — and those who don't explore it could get left behind. When it comes to AI, "the rest of the world has got their foot to the floor," he said.

With large tech companies such as Google and Microsoft integrating AI into widely used products, it's hard to imagine that it won't "transform the way we work in some way," said Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP senior counsel Reggie Babin.

"I think the bigger question is how significant those changes will be and how quickly we will experience them," he said. 

Many law firms are already using AI to varying degrees for more general applications. Some have even gone as far as creating their own generative AI platforms to improve research, produce content and help lawyers find information more easily within the firm.

Legal tech companies have launched AI-powered tools that can help draft contracts, answer legal questions and perform other tasks. And some attorneys have been experimenting with ChatGPT on their own as part of the creative process, using it for things like brainstorming opening statements for trial.

For lobbyists, meanwhile, Babin said AI could be used to help comb through long bills and quickly analyze the implications for clients. It could also help generate infographics and "one-pager" summaries, and analyze transcripts from hearings.

Certain administrative tasks may also be handled by AI, he said. AI-powered scheduling assistants, for example, could arrange meetings with congressional staffers without the back-and-forth it usually takes. That could "save a surprisingly large amount of time, because so much of what we do is about scheduling meetings and having person-to-person conversations," Babin said.

Among the companies marketing their AI technologies to the government relations industry is D.C.-based policy tracking software company FiscalNote. A company blog post touts benefits such as the ability to "quickly analyze and summarize large chunks of text," "track legislators' behavior over time so you can find more people who may be receptive to your issues," and help write and edit advocacy content.

The company announced in April that it had embedded proprietary AI and ChatGPT into its VoterVoice platform, which helps its customers "mobilize their members and craft messages and advocacy campaigns targeted at elected officials in support or in opposition to proposed legislation and policy changes."

FiscalNote didn't respond to questions from Law360 Pulse.

Brainstorming is another area where AI could be used, noted Karishma Shah Page, a leader of K&L Gates' public policy and law practice, saying it could help generate ideas about policy arguments and different ways to convey messages.

However, Page emphasized that lobbying is "a very in-person profession."

"Being able to understand the people that are involved, the issues that are compelling to them, the way they think about issues, is something that I don't think can be replaced," she said.

For now, AI is not being widely used in the influence industry, though some people are starting to "dabble" in it, said Paul Miller, chairman of the board of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics, a trade association that recently held a webinar for members about using AI in advocacy campaigns.

The institute is creating an AI task force to examine how to ethically use AI in lobbying, he said.

"I'm one who was very leery about AI" initially, said Miller, a founding partner of Miller Wenhold Capitol Strategies. But since learning more about it, "I think there are tremendous benefits to our profession," such as researching topics more efficiently or even quickly identifying potential witnesses for a hearing.

"I think we still have to be careful about it," he added, pointing to the importance of proofreading work.

"The last thing you want to do in this job is provide some information that's not accurate to a member of Congress who may use it in a floor speech ... or a letter," Miller said. "And then it comes back to bite them, and it's going to come back and hurt you."

Miller said he doesn't think AI can replace lobbyists, but he is concerned the technology could eliminate jobs for people in certain roles at lobbying firms, such as those who do a lot of research and background work.

"Will they let those people go and just turn and use AI?" he said. "I do have a concern about what it will do for jobs."

Christensen of K&L Gates noted that for large firms, another concern is the risk of disclosing privileged legal information to a third-party platform that's not secure.

The use of AI in lobbying also has drawn questions from good-government advocates.

One concern is that the technology could be used to generate large volumes of comments during the legislative and rulemaking process, which could mislead public officials, said Ishan Mehta, director of the Media and Democracy Program at the nonpartisan group Common Cause.

"It will become a harder job for staffers to go through these and figure out what is genuine and what is not," Mehta said. "I think right now, offices aren't really built to handle that. ... What purpose is a comment period serving if you don't know [if a comment] is coming from a genuine person versus something that is computer-generated?"

Holland & Knight LLP public policy and regulation group leader Rich Gold said AI tools that involve direct communication with lawmakers are likely to be more controversial than uses such as monitoring a hearing.

Gold predicts that many technology offerings will hit the market in the next three to five years "that will cover all elements of our business and focus on more efficient use of resources," he said.

Many elements of lobbying, though, are "inherently human," Gold added.

"I don't think ... anything is going to change the need to be able to walk into a congressional office, read the member you're talking to for 30 seconds and figure out how to influence them," Gold said.

--Additional reporting by Sarah Martinson and Steven Lerner. Editing by Alanna Weissman and Jill Coffey.


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