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AI in law: Debates on ethical considerations

Despite the growing adoption of technology in the legal industry, there are still ongoing debates over ethical considerations about the use of AI in law. Photo: Mike MacKenzie for Flickr

Artificial intelligence (AI) is speedily transforming the legal community; however, its integration is not without controversy. While AI offers propitious applications for improving efficiency, access to justice, legal research, and predicting legal outcomes, several ethical considerations involve circumspect attention.

With time, like any other profession, the legal profession has progressed boundlessly. There are cases when AI has enhanced the working capacity of professionals. Despite the growing adoption of technology in the legal industry, there are still ongoing debates over ethical considerations about the use of AI in law.

The ethics of AI in law

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Photo by Mohamed Hassan for Pixabay

The first and foremost debate encircling the ethics of AI in law is the question of bias. AI systems have a huge dependence on algorithms and machine learning to analyze data and make predictions. However, if the data used to train these systems is biased, the AI can perpetuate that bias, resulting in one-sided outcomes. As a consequence, it is particularly concerning in the legal profession, where decisions made by judges and lawyers can have a significant impact on people’s lives.

Moreover, another key debate is the question of accountability. If an AI system makes a mistake that results in an unfair outcome, who is held responsible? Is it the designer of the system, the programmer, or the user?

This question is particularly relevant when AI systems are used to make decisions that can have legal or ethical consequences, such as in criminal sentencing or hiring decisions. Likewise, the questions of accuracy and privacy are also debatable.

Bias and Fairness

AI uses trained algorithms to analyze ample amounts of data, which can accumulate biased historical information, which means that the AI system may also inadvertently produce biased results. When this information is used in the practice of law, it can lead to unfair outcomes and perpetuate discrimination.

One potential use case for AI within the law is large statistical models to provide decision-making guidance in recidivism. For example, a judge using these models can receive an algorithmically generated risk score that tells them how likely a criminal is to re-offend.

These models pull data from historical statistical information and juxtapose it against the idea of the factual pattern in front of them. The problem is that predictive analytics can be discriminatory. If said algorithm pulls data from a district with a higher level of racial discrimination, it could perpetuate systemic biases and further racial injustice.

Before using AI, lawyers must understand that this bias may exist and how it can impact outcomes in the legal profession and society as a whole. Beyond recognising the limitations, lawyers using AI in their work must critically examine the work products created by AI and identify any potential biases.

Accuracy

Accuracy is another significant issue when it comes to AI. The 2022 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report found that accuracy is the top barrier preventing many lawyers from adopting AI. The algorithms can be onerous to interpret, and it can be challenging to understand how they arrive at their decisions or source information.

As a result, many users are sceptical of it. If more technology firms are open about their AI technology, businesses will be able to use this information to inform decisions and strategies. This is especially important in the legal field, where decisions can have consequential consequences for people’s lives.

Until this transparency is gained, this will likely be one area that will hold back the legal industry’s adoption of AI. Another area of ethical concern surrounding accuracy is translation. Accuracy is exceedingly exponential in translation, especially in legal matters. If courtrooms are leveraging AI to help instantly translate during a testimony, quality standards would need to be established to ensure that the language models are interpreting admissibly and accurately to corroborate the integrity of the testimony.

Privacy

AI systems often cling to significant amounts of data, including highly sensitive and confidential information, and may store personal and conversational data. When using the technology, lawyers need to verify that AI systems adhere to strict data privacy regulations.

For example, lawyers using ChatGPT must familiarise themselves with its privacy policy and terms of use before using the service. Additionally, they must make sure that the data is only used for the specific purposes it was collected.

Lawyers must also consider professional obligations relating to privacy and information sharing.
When sharing any information with AI systems, it must be sure that they are not running afoul of confidentiality obligations (to clients or other parties) or otherwise disclosing information improperly.

Responsibility and accountability

When technology is used in the legal landscape, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible for errors that materialise. As a result, lawyers must be proactive in instilling clear lines of responsibility and accountability when implementing AI in their firms. As a rule of thumb, this technology should be used as a complement to their work and not a replacement. While AI can streamline time-consuming and tedious tasks, strategic decision-making, complex legal analysis, and legal counsel are all examples of responsibilities that it simply can not take over.

At the end of the day, lawyers are responsible for their work and maintaining their clients’ interests. While AI can help law firms streamline routine tasks, it is not a substitute for a lawyer’s training and wisdom.

AI-human collaboration

AI is not a surrogate for lawyers but rather a promising partner in the pursuit of justice to solidify the legal fabric. By accommodating AI as a potent tool, the legal profession can diversify to better serve the exigent needs of clients in an evolving world. For instance, AI can augment lawyers’ capabilities, freeing them from uninspiring tasks and allowing them to focus on higher-value expertise, such as client-facing work and strategic decision-making.

The collective commitment of law and AI lies in fostering vigorous collaboration to help each other substantially. By doing so, lawyers will be able to enjoy the transformative benefits of AI while maintaining an ethical practice at the same time. As the legal profession continues to adopt forward-looking AI, it is paramount to ensure that the aforementioned pressing questions are addressed in a fair and just manner and that the technology is being used responsibly.

In conclusion, the immoderately increasing use of AI in the legal profession promises to leverage legal services faster, more accurately, and more accessible for all.

The above debates foreground the complex ethical considerations surrounding AI in law. While the technology holds immense potential for improving access to justice, efficiency, and legal research, addressing these ethical concerns is crucial to ensuring that AI serves the cause of justice and does not exacerbate existing inequalities.

By prioritising fairness, transparency, privacy, and accountability, we can harness the power of AI to build a more just and equitable legal system for the future.

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