How artificial intelligence could improve access to justice in family law

It will change delivery of legal services, education, and marketing, says Russell Alexander

How artificial intelligence could improve access to justice in family law
Russell Alexander, Russell Alexander Collaborative Lawyers

Law Times spoke with family lawyer Russell Alexander at Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers about artificial intelligence’s potential to make lawyers more efficient and enhance access to justice for clients.

How can AI be used in the divorce process?

We’re seeing three themes develop: improving the divorce process for clients, changes to how lawyers deliver legal services, and possible changes at law schools and other educational institutions.

I think we’re seeing a fundamental change in how AI will affect the legal profession.

The public can get relatively accurate information about the law using AI. It will guide them to legislation, help them draft documents like separation agreements and potentially resolve disputes.

It will improve access to justice for the public.

What are AI’s limits, where lawyers need to step in?

If you ask the right question, AI will give you a good answer.

However, the public may not know what the right questions are without legal training.

There’s going to be a bit of a disconnect. If you think about the traditional role of a lawyer, we give legal advice and talk about the law and legislation. AI can probably easily do that if you ask the right question.

If Joe Public says, “What’s the law on child support in Ontario?” You’re probably going to get a fairly accurate summary from AI.

But lawyers also form legal opinions. They apply the facts of a family to the law. That area of AI is still growing, and I think it will probably fall short.

For example, if I may have a child with Down Syndrome and special needs. What are the s. 7 expenses I should be asking for when I go to court under child support guidelines?

AI might produce a good result if the public correctly asks that question. But if they don’t, we can distinguish between the lawyer’s and AI’s role.

The AI will get the basic facts and the basic law correct. But when you want to apply it to any particular family, you’ll still need a lawyer to go through the facts and discern relevant information to ensure clients get proper legal advice.

How would this benefit clients?

Well, it’s going to benefit clients hugely.

First, the nature of the search will change. Instead of just doing a Google search, AI can give you a much more sophisticated and robust answer. The public will probably be able to access better, more reliable legal information using AI than with a Google search.

In terms of improving access to justice, lawyers can use AI for document preparation, to help them with their intake processes, and to help them do research. That’s going to free up the lawyer’s time to be able to service more clients.

Initially, you will see an improvement in access to justice for clients. It’s going to enable clients to access lawyers who currently might be too busy, or their workload is too high, and they can’t take on any additional clients. As lawyers become more efficient and can take on more matters, you will see improved access to justice.

How else will this benefit lawyers and law firms?

It’s going to make our practices much more streamlined and efficient. Where it may have taken us, initially, three hours to draft the pleading, we can use AI to do the initial draft and then review it, edit it, and clean it up a bit, in 20 minutes.

The other benefit we’ll see with lawyers is it will change marketing. Lawyers will use AI to generate content to answer their clients’ questions. It will make lawyers more competitive, where you traditionally need to either produce quality content or pay for pay-per-click advertising to get clients through Google.

Google is trying to get AI services out to their clients and has completely focused on it, but it may end up like the Yellow Pages. Microsoft is going to be putting AI into their Bing search boxes.

What it means for lawyers is there’s going to be a different marketplace for legal services, and it’s going to completely change the game that we’re in right now.

What are some of AI’s drawbacks to legal processes?

The algorithm may have biases built into it, people can use it for improper purposes, and people may rely on it when it does not provide correct legal information. So, many safeguards would need to be put in place to address all those concerns.

We’re in the very early stages. I’m sure there are going to be other drawbacks as well. But those are some initial ones that people are starting to consider.

Where is AI already being used in the law?

We’re starting to see it being used more for dispute resolution in traffic disputes.

You’ll probably start seeing law schools incorporate it soon. Back in my day, we used a program called Quicklaw, and students today are using Westlaw. Professors may now ask, “What’s the AI tell you about this?”

You will also have concerns about who’s producing the content. Is this a document produced by a lawyer, or did AI produce it? You may be seeing some of the tech companies developing watermarks for AI-generated content.

A student at Yale University has developed an app to tell you if the content you’re reading is AI-generated or not. There is a question of reliability. And if the lawyers are charging time to generate this content but not producing it, that’s another consideration.

It will make access to justice more efficient and lower client costs if lawyers and law firms use it appropriately. Only three-or-four years ago, we were an entirely paper-based justice system that had been that way 200 years. Now, we have digital filing and Zoom court hearings. 

I think AI can have a similar impact in improving access to justice and how we deliver legal services.

*Answers have been shortened for length and clarity.

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