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Can Generative AI Help to Narrow the Access to Justice Gap?
My thoughts on whether Gen AI can help access to justice
Access to justice includes the "ability of individuals to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice."1 This process usually requires individuals to obtain legal representation—or at a minimum legal advice.
If someone can’t afford a lawyer and hence can’t get immediate, personal answers to their legal concerns, the current state of the art puts the burden on the shoulders of members of the public to find answers to their legal questions by searching through web pages, brochures, videos, PDFs, slides and handouts of legal information.
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Generative AI has the potential to narrow the access to justice gap by automating answers to legal questions. This automation occurs by allowing a citizen to simply ask their question, then get an immediate answer to that question by synthesizing an answer from reliable sources.
This new Gen AI approach to question answering has several advantages over the legacy approach:
Increased availability: By automating answers to legal questions, generative AI can provide immediate access to legal information and guidance. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who may not have easy access to legal professionals, disabilities or cannot afford legal representation. It ensures that legal information is readily available to a wider audience, thereby increasing access to justice.
Cost-effective solution: Legal services can be expensive, making them inaccessible to many individuals. Generative AI can provide a cost-effective alternative by offering free or affordable legal information and advice. This reduces the financial burden on individuals seeking legal guidance and makes justice more accessible to those who cannot afford traditional legal services.
Time-saving: Traditional legal processes can be time-consuming, with individuals often waiting for appointments or consultations. Generative AI can provide instant responses to legal questions, saving time for both individuals and legal professionals. This efficiency allows individuals to quickly obtain the information they need to make informed decisions and take appropriate legal action.
Empowerment and education: Generative AI can empower individuals by providing them with knowledge about their legal rights and options. By automating answers to legal questions, individuals can gain a better understanding of the legal system, enabling them to navigate it more effectively. This education and empowerment contribute to a more informed and engaged citizenry, fostering a fairer and more equitable justice system.
Scalability and reach: Generative AI has the potential to scale its services to reach a large number of people simultaneously. This scalability ensures that legal information and guidance can be provided to a broader audience, regardless of geographical location or time constraints. It breaks down barriers and extends access to justice beyond physical limitations.
While generative AI cannot replace the expertise and personalized advice of legal professionals or act as a panacea to cure structural issues with the distribution of education and wealth, it can play a crucial role in narrowing the access to justice gap.
By automating answers to legal questions, it increases availability, reduces costs, saves time, empowers individuals, and extends the reach of legal information. It complements traditional legal services and contributes to a more inclusive and accessible justice system.
To be clear, I am not arguing that generative AI solves the access to justice gap. I concede that it doesn’t. I also concede that access to justice, writ large, is much broader than just legal issues or legal problems and implicates deep structural, societal inequalities. Finally, generative AI’s application to question answering is but one use case it is capable of improving; there are many others.
What do you think?
United States Institute of Peace, 7.8.1 What is access to justice?, https://www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/rule-law/access-justice