Is the U.S. headed towards an AI-driven “smart court,” as the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls China’s frequent use of automated, digitized court proceedings? Not quite, experts say. However, these predictions aren’t entirely off the mark.
“AI is really reaching all aspects of the law,” said Wayne Cohen, managing partner at Cohen & Cohen and a law professor at the George Washington University School of Law.
While the current use of AI in the U.S. legal industry operates intensely behind the scenes, it’s inching further into the front lines of the courtroom.
Cohen said AI plays a role in most of the research, writing and jury exhibit creation that goes into trial preparation, as well as office administration, trial summaries and translations.
It also helps kick the can down the road when processing lawsuits. “The movement of the cases from when a party files a lawsuit until the case is resolved is going to get much shorter,” Cohen said.
From the bench, judges can generate searchable PDF transcriptions from audio recordings and make informed judgments that day. And with AI’s ability to flag contradictions, it can bolster or hinder the credibility of the prosecution or defense. When judges make rulings, “they can do it with a lot of accuracy, and it’s supported by the evidence that they heard in their courtroom,” said Jackie Schafer, a former assistant attorney general for the state of Washington.
Schafer founded Clearbrief in 2020, which runs on AI that’s designed to scan documents and identify citations, in addition to creating hyperlinked chronological timelines of all of the dates mentioned in documents for swift reference.
Jason Boehmig, CEO and co-founder of digital contract company Ironclad and who has experience as a corporate attorney, said AI can review a company’s legal contracts, learning its preferred language and drafting and negotiating contracts in the organization’s historic legal voice.
Business contracts are at the forefront of legal innovation, Boehmig said. “It’s an area where we can afford to experiment,” he said. On the spectrum of the legal system, the businesses on either end of the contract arguably have less to lose than, say, an individual whose basic freedoms are at stake.
In all of these applications, experts say the ideal situation is for humans to review AI’s work. The notion of keeping the human in the loop is far from unique to the legal industry, but the significant ramifications coming out of the justice system make human oversight all the more critical.
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