AI: Addressing the challenge of Access to Justice.
Savannah Seymour looks at the potential of AI beyond the law firm lens.
Date : 13/10/23
Inaccessibility of legal services is a deepening societal challenge due to escalating costs and growingly complex legal issues. This means that access to justice for the majority is, if not becoming, unattainable. This issue becomes far more prevalent for the most vulnerable individuals in society. In this sense, those who deserve and require the highest protections for accessibility to justice are at the greatest risk of being excluded.
What can technology, and specifically AI, do about this? Traditionally the legal industry is understood as a high cost service industry. This is due to legal knowledge, contextual analysis and the application of principles are the key elements for delivering bespoke solutions to complicated, nuanced issues. In this sense, you would expect (and hope) that innovative technology would drive down the costs of such services. However, in some cases, we have seen the opposite effect: the introduction of new technologies has been seen to drive up legal costs due to the specialised labour required to leverage these cutting edge solutions effectively.
To understand whether AI will help or hinder access to justice, it’s important to explore whether we can reasonably expect these costs to come down. AI is quickly becoming widely used across various industries and societal functions. Developments in machine learning and natural language processing are already showing promise in solving complex issues using context-based reasoning. To this effect, these solutions are entering the sphere of completing complex tasks previously only capable of being tackled and solved by humans. That is not to say this technology is replacing human work product, but perhaps rivalling certain human skill sets to better the overall service offering, as well as deliver solutions faster.
The idea of AI replacing the intellectual activities performed by a qualified lawyer are, at best, controversial (and already a heated topic of debate). There are still many instances where AI may struggle to reach sensible outcomes, particularly in areas of the law which lack clear statute and straightforward legal principle application – you only have to consider the concepts of unconscionability or foreseeability to illustrate the spectrum of grey in this area.
However, there are capabilities of AI which we know are already chipping away at the legal process, and are becoming quickly adopted and accepted by both lawyers and the courts. For example, here at TrialView, we are offering intelligent learning to build timelines and spot patterns in large datasets, as well as leveraging GPT technology to ask questions or prompts about your datasets to quickly find relevant insights.
The hope with these technologies is that they become increasingly self-serving and user-friendly. Whilst these tools still require a platform-certified legal technologist to use and benefit from these solutions, the costs will remain out of reach for the ordinary person. How intuitive a platform is (and who it is built to serve) can help with reducing labour costs associated with these solutions, at least. However, there are more accessibility factors: (i) the cost of the product itself, (ii) how well marketed it is; even if an AI product is intuitive to use and affordable, how does a layperson come to know this is an option for their legal matter?
It’s clear that access to justice is still a crucial aim and we still have far to go to achieving true accessibility. The means to do so are multifaceted, and there are multiple factors which contribute to the inaccessibility of justice currently as explored. Technology providers should consider not only ease of use of their solutions (in an attempt to solve the information asymmetry between technologists, lawyers and clients), but also explore how they can competitively price and market their products in a way which expands the accessibility of their offerings to the wider market.
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