The Middle Ground: A Meaningful Balance Between the Benefits and Limitations of Artificial Intelligence to Assist with the Justice Gap

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Access to justice continues to be an ongoing battle for those who cannot afford an attorney in civil legal matters. These civil legal matters touch issues that significantly impact daily life, from issues relating to health, such as advance directives, to family, such as custody of children. Lawyers, courts, and scholars have attempted to tackle this ongoing problem in our justice system. Some suggest that providing free counsel for all civil legal matters is the solution, while others suggest that self-help materials provide more immediate access to services and information. Regardless of the position one takes, the need is clear and there is room for additional solutions. Artificial intelligence (“AI”) is a necessary tool for the development of these additional solutions. AI solutions are often met with skepticism from those who believe that utilizing them would constitute the unauthorized practice of law, while proponents believe it can provide lawyer-like services superior to those of actual lawyers. Current technology in the legal field falls on a spectrum from programs that act like a lawyer, for example, litigation strategy programs, to programs that do not act like a lawyer at all, such as online self-help materials. A similar spectrum exists for current pro se solutions, ranging from programs that would provide significant assistance from a lawyer, such as “Civil Gideon,” to those that provide no services from a lawyer, such as printed self-help materials. Additionally, comparable problems exist for the use of AI lawyering solutions and traditional pro se assistance methods, including the unauthorized practice of law, questions of reliability, and whether the offering lacks the complexity and support many individuals need. Between these two ends of the spectrum lies a middle ground where many of the needs of low-income civil litigants can be met. While many pro bono legal services have long been occupying that middle ground to assist those in need, technology, specifically the limited use of AI, can extend and improve available services. We are not yet at a point where AI will provide the panacea of “Civil Gideon,” but that does not mean it cannot help bridge the gap.