Lord Justice Birss, a well-known figure in British intellectual property law, made headlines by using the ChatGPT AI chatbot to assist with drafting part of a legal ruling. Speaking at a conference organized by The Law Society, Lord Justice Birss stated, “I asked ChatGPT ‘can you give me a summary of this area of law?’ It did just that, and I included it in my ruling.”
This is New for the British Legal System
This action is the first known instance of a member of the British judiciary using AI assistance for such a purpose. Despite the increasing attention that this development is garnering, the Judicial Office has remained silent, offering no official guidelines or comment on the use of AI chatbots like ChatGPT in judicial decisions.
International Attention on AI and Law
Lord Justice Birss’s reliance on AI chatbot technology is not an isolated incident. In Colombia, a judge used ChatGPT to advise on whether a disabled child’s medical insurance should cover certain therapies. While the chatbot advised in favour, the decision set off international debates on how AI should intersect with legal proceedings.
Legal Pitfalls in the US
While some have celebrated the use of AI in legal research, cautionary tales exist. In the United States, a New York lawyer used ChatGPT for legal research and ended up citing nonexistent court cases in a legal brief, causing professional and ethical concerns. These incidents serve as a warning about the limitations and ethical considerations of using AI in legal contexts.
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Different Opinions Among London Law Firms
Law firms in London display a range of opinions about using AI tools like ChatGPT. Mishcon de Reya has prohibited the use of this chatbot, stressing that they cannot risk exposing client or confidential information to AI models. In contrast, Allen & Overy, a leading law firm, partnered with OpenAI to develop Harvey, a chatbot designed to assist in tasks such as contract drafting. Although Harvey helps automate some tasks, human lawyers review its work to ensure accuracy and reliability.
AI Tools Don’t Eliminate Human Responsibility
Lord Justice Birss was clear in saying that the ultimate responsibility for any information used in his rulings remains with him. “I am taking full personal responsibility for what I include in my ruling. I am not passing the buck,” he made clear during his speech at The Law Society’s Dispute Resolution Conference.
British Judiciary Shows Openness to New Tools
Earlier this year, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, questioned if AI might someday be responsible for minor judicial decisions. Although Lord Justice Birss was not suggesting AI should replace human judges, his actions suggest that senior members of the judiciary are open to incorporating AI tools into their workflow to some degree.
More Conversations Are Coming
The use of AI in the legal field is still in its earlier days, the trend seems to be gaining momentum, especially as AI becomes more advanced and reliable. Both critics and proponents of AI in law will be watching carefully as more legal professionals experiment with these tools. Although AI can assist in legal work, it remains clear that humans will maintain the primary oversight, ensuring ethical considerations and professional standards are met.