Master of the Rolls: AI tools such as ChatGPT will likely transform the work of lawyers and judges

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By Aishah Hussain on


‘We will all have to get with the programme’, says Sir Geoffrey Vos

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT and its successor GPT-4 are likely to transform the work of lawyers and judges, the Master of the Rolls has said, and “we will all have to get with the programme”.

In a speech delivered last week at Lincoln’s Inn Sir Geoffrey Vos said: “GPT-4 and other advanced machine learning is likely to transform the work that lawyers need to do and possibly even, in the slightly longer term, the business of judging.”

He noted how a previous version of GPT-4 scored in the bottom 10% when it took the US bar exam, but the most recent version came in the top 10%.

“This demonstrates the speed at which generative AI is developing. It perhaps makes the point that there is a real possibility that AI may become more intelligent and capable than humans,” said Sir Geoffrey. “It is obvious that these advances will affect the legal world as much as any other part of our society.”

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He also mentioned how judicial decisions could soon be delivered by machines:

“I think that AI will be used within digital justice systems and may, at some stage, be used to take some (at first, very minor) decisions.”

The controls that will be required, according to Sir Geoffrey, are “(a) for the parties to know what decisions are taken by judges and what by machines, and (b) for there always to be the option of an appeal to a human judge”.

The “limiting feature” is likely to be the need that citizens and businesses have confidence in the judicial system. “There are some decisions — like for example intensely personal decisions relating to the welfare of children, that humans are unlikely ever to accept being decided by machines,” he added. “But in the commercial field, the controls that will be necessary on automated decision-making will rapidly become very complex indeed because of […] the speed with which AI is being developed.”

Sir Geoffrey’s comments mark one of the first instances where a senior legal figure has acknowledged the impact of new disruptive AI tools. Last week it was reported the Solicitors Regulation Authority chief executive used ChatGPT to ask whether advances in technology would change the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, with the chatbot deferring Paul Philip back to the regulator.

ChatGPT has already been used in foreign courts, as a judge claimed to have used it to aid a decision in Columbia.

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