Visa Embedded Lending June 2024 Banner

Justice Roberts: AI in Legal System Requires ‘Caution and Humility’

America’s top jurist says artificial intelligence (AI) will significantly impact the legal system.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts devoted a large portion of his year-end message to AI’s use in court, arguing that it requires “caution and humility.”

“One of AI’s prominent applications made headlines this year for a shortcoming known as ‘hallucination, which caused the lawyers using the application to submit briefs with citations to nonexistent cases, wrote Roberts in a message published Sunday (Dec. 31). 

“Always a bad idea,” he added.

At the same time, Roberts argues that people who can’t afford an attorney could use AI-driven tools that can answer basic questions: where to find court forms, how to fill them out and where to bring them to be presented to a judge. 

Still, the chief justice added that machines can’t entirely replace crucial players in court, using the example of judges’ ability to measure a defendant’s sincerity during their sentencing.

“Nuance matters: Much can turn on a shaking hand, a quivering voice, a change of inflection, a bead of sweat, a moment’s hesitation, a fleeting break in eye contact,” Roberts wrote. “And most people still trust humans more than machines to perceive and draw the right inferences from these clues.”

Roberts’ caution about the use of AI among attorneys lines up with recent research showing that a majority of lawyers do not believe their field is ready for generative AI.

As covered here in November, surveys show that 62% of legal professionals believe that effective use of generative AI will separate successful firms from unsuccessful firms in as little as five years. 

“An even higher share, 80%, agree that generative AI will introduce ‘transformative efficiencies’ — a sentiment echoed by law firms and corporate legal departments,” PYMNTS wrote.

Still, 72% of lawyers said they doubted their industry is properly prepared to integrate AI, with just 20% saying the advantages will outweigh the drawbacks.

In an interview with PYMNTS, AI-ID CEO Shaunt Sarkissian pointed out the divide between lawyers and firms, stressing that individual practitioners might feel threatened initially by technologies they worry could replace them.

“Once they start using the technology, that feeling goes away,” he said. “They see how AI makes their job more efficient … and, if anything, new technologies create new frontiers of law.”