Legal development

Dispute Resolution in need of a "digital makeover?"

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    Commercial litigators have to embrace digital innovation and generative AI if London is to remain a litigation and arbitration destination of choice. This was the warning from the Master of the Rolls (Sir Geoffrey Vos) at a lecture last month where he addressed the opportunities and challenges for London as a leading centre of dispute resolution.

    A lot has been made of the potentially transformative effect and wide ranging impact of generative AI tools such as Chat GPT. This sort of advanced machine learning is also likely to transform the legal industry, with Sir Geoffrey identifying the "real possibility that AI may become more intelligent and capable than humans." When and if that happens is open to debate but the previous iteration of ChatGPT when it took the US Bar exam scored in the bottom 10%, while the most recent version scored in the top 10%.

    The adoption of "digital currencies, specifically CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies) and Stablecoins, smart contracts and distributed ledger technology," as well as electronic transferable trade documents has the potential to transform transactions across all sectors. This is another factor which is likely to contribute to a requirement for faster dispute resolution. As Sir Geoffrey noted, it seems unlikely that parties transacting instantaneously on-chain are going to want to wait years to resolve their disputes in the traditional manner.

    Sir Geoffrey acknowledged that he was "not offering any kind of blueprint for reform" in his lecture, but he identified a number of ways in which AI and digitisation could be used in the dispute resolution process:

    • AI could be used to quickly sift through the mass of complex facts to identify the key issues at the heart of each dispute.
    • Technology could be used to ensure that every case has a single data set that can be used at every stage of the dispute resolution process in order to avoid the repetition of the same facts and issues in pleadings, witness statements, expert reports, skeleton arguments and opening and closing written submissions.

    There are undoubtedly ways in which AI and digitisation could contribute to making dispute resolution more efficient. However, we are unlikely to see radical changes overnight, and Chat GPT is unlikely to completely replace disputes lawyers any time soon. Delegating judicial decision-making to AI is likely to be even further away, although Sir Geoffrey did not rule it out completely.

    Although steeped in centuries of tradition, the English Court system has shown itself to be adept in many ways at reacting to changes. Our Courts switched to virtual hearings almost overnight when Covid-19 hit, when Courts in many other countries simply closed their doors. And HM Courts and Tribunal Service is investing      £1 billion in a seven-year reform programme to modernise the courts and tribunals system, including a digital justice system which will provide expedited and low-cost dispute resolution for many civil claims.

    However, such changes will require the legal profession to think outside the "familiar comforting procedures encapsulated in the CPR". Established ways of doing things may need to be challenged and difficult decisions will need to be made. In one particularly noteworthy and thought provoking comment, Sir Geoffrey noted that: "the utility and necessity of pleadings, expert reports and witness statements all need to be considered afresh. They are analogue concepts rooted in an analogue age, which may be in need of a digital makeover."

    Sir Geoffrey concluded that we can take advantage of the opportunities, and face up to the challenges, then the UK can remain an attractive centre for dispute resolution. However, given the increasing competition from other jurisdictions for London's disputes "crown", we must be willing to adapt and accept change. In short, players in the dispute resolution field must, in the words of Sir Geoffrey, "get with the programme!"

    The full speech can be accessed here.

    A summary of Sir Geoffrey's lecture produced by ChatGPT

    To put some of Sir Geoffrey's conclusions to the test, we asked Chat GPT to summarise some of the key sections of his speech, into 1 paragraph. Approximately 30 seconds later, the below summary was produced confirming, we think, Sir Geoffrey's conclusion that AI absolutely has the potential to transform the work of lawyers and the whole dispute resolution field.

    "The speech given at the McNair Lecture discusses the opportunities and challenges for London as a pre-eminent dispute resolution center. The speaker notes the changes in the global backdrop to international commercial dispute resolution, the Covid-19 pandemic, digitization, generative artificial intelligence (AI), and Brexit, all of which have an effect on dispute resolution. The speaker argues that if the UK’s judges and lawyers can adapt to the new situations arising from these changes, the UK can become or remain one of the most attractive dispute resolution centers in the world. In particular, the speaker focuses on the effect of digitization and AI on international dispute resolution, discussing GPT-4, digital currencies, and stablecoins. The speaker believes that AI may become more intelligent and capable than humans and that the legal world, as with all other parts of society, will be affected. The jurisdictions that adapt quickly enough to meet the needs of those trading digitally and to make maximum use of the developments in AI will be the ones that succeed."

    Authors: Sophie Law, Senior Associate and Catrin Southgate, Associate