As the curtain closed on 2023, John G. Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, dedicated a large section of the 2023 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the legal sphere. The report outlined the potential for AI to act as a tool wielded by solicitors across the profession while equally alluding to dangers posed by the technologies ability to potentially 'dehumanise' the legal field.
In his appraisal, Chief Justice Roberts detailed how AI advocates point to the technologies ability to potentially increase access to justice for litigants who lack the necessary resources. With 64% of surveyed solicitors in the UK highlighting that overall access to justice has declined over the last decade, owing to a reduction in legal-aid accessibility, increases in fast-responding AI driven chat bots and task automating systems pertaining to individual cases may open new avenues of accessibility. In situations where language barriers limit access to justice AI technology, according to some, could be implemented further. Lady Chief Justice Dame Sue Carr noted that a linguistical form of AI, known as Neural Machine Translation, presents the, 'possibility of low-cost, speedy and accurate translation within the reach of courts across the world' with linguistic access to justice being 'inherent in the right to a fair trial.'
Chief Justice Roberts also highlights AI’s potential to 'dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers.' Such access to 'key information' may enable lawyers to streamline their workload. Fletchers, a specialist personal injury firm, actively use Structured Information Decision Support Systems (SIDSS), which has saved 'tens of thousands of hours.'. By harnessing machine learning and neural networks, the innovative technology compares new cases with tens of thousands of previously settled cases to create a 'confidence score' that outlines the viability of each case. This 'confidence score' then acts as a marker as to whether the firm should continue to investigate the particular case.
In a warning against the mass adoption of AI technology, Chief Justice Roberts spoke of the 'hallucinations' created by AI. These 'hallucinations' have resulted in a $5,000 fine for two New York lawyers after they used ChatGPT to assist with an aviation injury claim. The two lawyers submitted fake citations and six fabricated cases produced by the popular AI tool. District Judge P. Kevin Castel wrote that the two lawyers had 'abandoned their responsibilities' while also reminding them of the 'gatekeeping role of attorneys to ensure the accuracy of their findings.' Perhaps the two attorneys should have taken a leaf out of Lord Justice Birss’ book when he used the same technology to write part of a judgement. While this deployment of ChatGPT marked the first-known use by a British Judge, the Lord Justice stressed that he had employed the technology to summarise an area of law that he already knew, one that he described as 'jolly useful.'
As a further cautionary note, the Chief Justice spoke about legal determinations involving 'grey areas' that require the application of human judgement. He commented on how Judges will often measure nuances of a defendants statement, taking into account their tone, general demeanour and even a 'fleeting break of eye contact', alluding to the 'dehumanising' issue of sole reliance on artificial decision-making.
In addressing this new-age elephant in the room, the Chief Justice points to the legal fields notorious aversion to transformative technologies and highlights the professions almost romantic approach to historical practices and traditions. He explains how the Supreme Court resisted photocopy machines until 1969, more than 30 years after its creation. In a nod to the professions sentimentality, he remarked how still, to this day, the Clerk of the Supreme Court customarily places white goose quillpens at counsel tables prior to oral hearings, an enduring tradition that has persisted for over two centuries. While the sections dedicated to AI cannot be considered novel, they illustrate how this burgeoning technology has created astir around the halls of the highest court in the United States. With the exponential growth and adoption of AI across all spheres of life, the legal profession may have (finally) encountered one technology that it can ill-afford to resist.