Senior lawyer says it is unethical not to use AI

The second most senior judge in England and Wales has said that lawyers may soon have to use artificial intelligence as it is potentially unethical not to. His argument could equally apply to public relations professionals where it offers a new way to think about the ethics of AI in PR.

In a recent speech Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls and the head of civil justice in England and Wales, argued that using AI is unlikely to be optional.

First, clients will not want to pay for what they can get more cheaply elsewhere. If generative AI can draft a perfectly serviceable contract that can be quickly amended, checked and used, clients will not want to pay a lawyer to draft one instead.

Secondly, in a similar vein, if AI can summarise the salient points contained in thousands of pages of documents in seconds, clients will not want to pay for lawyers to do so manually…

Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, AI is not only quicker, but may do some tasks more comprehensively than a human adviser or operator can do. The consequence of this reality is that we may need to reconsider the way in which the common law applies to a vast range of activities.”

Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls

His arguments were the usual ones of lower cost and improved quality leading to better, more efficient work.

However, his conclusion is what was most interesting. He argued that it was potentially unethical not to use AI.

“One may ask rhetorically whether lawyers and others in a range of professional services will be able to show that they have used reasonable skill, care and diligence to protect their clients’ interests if they fail to use available AI programmes that would be better, quicker and cheaper.”

Unethical for PR professionals not to us AI

My immediate thought was that could it be public relations was one of those other professional services where it would be unethical not to use artificial intelligence? It’s an alternative way at looking at the ethics of AI in PR.

All professional codes of conduct need to be interpreted for specific situations, but the Charted Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) professional code of conduct is explicit and says members must deliver work:

“competently: that is, in a timely, cost-effective, appropriate and thoughtful manner…”

CIPR Professional Code of Conduct

If AI is faster and more cost effective then the clear interpretation would be that it is indeed unethical not to use artificial intelligence.

The Public Relations and Communications Association professional charter and code of conduct isn’t as explicit about “timely” and “cost-effective” but does state members:

“Have a positive duty to observe the highest standards in the practice of public relations and communications.”

PRCA Professional Charter and Code of Conduct

The “highest standards” should mean providing the professional public relations service using “reasonable skill, care and diligence” which Judge Vos argues isn’t possible if professionals are failing to use available AI tools.

Clearly there are other considerations to decide if public relations professionals not using AI is unethical. This would be where there are valid reasons for not using AI. However, many of the reasons I’ve heard cited are based on a misunderstanding of AI or an inability to use it effectively.

There are ways to tackle issues such as bias, inaccuracy, privacy and confidentiality. They won’t always solve the problem, but often they will. It’s too easy to simply use those issues as an excuse for not using AI, if there is a way to solve the problem. In many use cases there will also be pros and cons. If the pros for the use of AI are stronger than the cons then it’s likely the professional, ethical approach is to use it while mitigating the cons as much as possible.

Both misunderstanding and inability can and should be corrected by professionals by doing the appropriate continuous professional development.

If you want to read more about Sir Geoffrey Vos’s remarks then BBC Law in Action presenter Joshua Rozenberg’s “A Lawyer Writes” newsletter has a full write up.

If you want to know about how you can improve the AI skills of your PR or comms team then let’s have a chat.