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Technology: Lawyers on notice

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Cite as: December 2015 89 (12) LIJ, p.23

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to make complex decisions better and faster than legal professionals.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to replace some lawyers and judges in the future, an Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI) event has been told.

Director of the ACJI Professor Tania Sourdin told the technology innovation panel discussion in November that developing AI has the potential not only to replace but to undertake complex decision-making processes better and faster than humans.

Legal professionals will still have a role to play – for example, overseeing AI decisions – but many processes will be done by computer technology.

“For those who think this is science fiction, think again,” Professor Sourdin said, adding the use of AI is happening at an increasing, and for those who are uninformed, alarming rate:

  • in Europe it is mandatory to have online platforms for consumer dispute resolution services
  • the UK is considering establishing Her Majesty’s Online Dispute Court to resolve civil disputes of less than £25 million to free up courts for more complicated matters
  • British Columbia has an online tribunal
  • major technology companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft) have doubled or tripled their AI budgets since 2013, with the bulk of their research and development investments in AI.
  • Professor Sourdin gave examples of Australian software options which help resolve legal disputes. Professor John Zeleznikow at Victoria University (https://www.vu.edu.au/contact-us/john-zeleznikow) in 2005 won a heat of ABC television’s New Inventors program for software that helps divorcing couples negotiate their disputes.

    Panellist Ross Paull from Guided Resolution has developed software that guides parties to a civil dispute through steps to identify the issues in dispute and settlement options, obviating the need for a human lawyer.

    Mr Paull said increasingly people are using email and text to communicate and this is mirrored in conflicts. His company sells the customised software which provides a guided pathway for each party to log on to and answer questions as prompted by the program.

    The program caters to basic knowledge of technology and only short answers can be given to encourage people to get to the key points rather than facilitating attacks on each other which they may be doing through other electronic or personal means. This program can potentially be tied in with the existing family law pathway process and has the potential to be monitored by an independent observer who can ensure parties are on track and genuinely engaged in the ADR process, and can screen for any issues of family violence or risk factors.

    This type of software can potentially be established at Community Legal Centres where support staff can be on hand for users who require assistance through the program, similar to the Neighborhood Justice Centre’s online IVO application form process.

    Mr Paull said the program potentially levels out the playing field in terms of power imbalance. “It could increase access to justice for victims of family violence by giving them a voice and an opportunity to engage where they feel safe.”

    It could also become part of a mandatory pre-action step. It usefully highlights exactly where the dispute stalled or failed in terms of reaching an agreement which helps narrow the dispute. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal is trialling 200 live cases using this online form of ADR.

    Professor Sourdin said that in the future online dispute resolution may be a compulsory step parties need to exhaust before they access traditional alternative dispute resolution. This could mean that going to court will be a last resort.

    In this rapidly evolving technological environment, the event was told courts run the risk of being seen as outdated, unresponsive and unable to deliver justice if they are unable to keep up with technology. Professor Sourdin said parties are unlikely to tolerate waiting years for a decision from a court as they become accustomed to faster online dispute resolution through social media providers (for example, a tweet within 24 hours).

    Panellist Paul Faulkner of McGirr Technologies, a provider of digital court solutions, talked about the County Court of Victoria going paperless. He said the Court’s leaders were committed to the process and quick decision-making helped the staged transition, beginning with electronic document lodgment and case file systems. Champions, including tech-savvy judges, were identified to promote the idea to others and everybody was educated at each stage of the project. Onsite IT support was vital to court staff embracing a paperless way of working.

    Technology in the law
  • Professor Sourdin categorised technology in the law at three levels:
  • Supportive technology – used to inform, advise, support people (clients and legal services providers) in the justice system. There are 47 apps that assist people to connect and be informed about accessing justice.
  • Replacement technology – used to replace human functions within the justice system, for example, case management functions, drafting letters, listing court hearings, sharing of files, telephone, and online dispute resolution services such as modria.com which has dealt with more than 400 million disputes globally.
  • Disruptive technology – can change the way justice works and what it means in a practice sense (for example, different forms of justice).
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