Appellate Division symposium in Brooklyn explores the impact of AI on law

November 16, 2023 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Presiding Justice Hector D. LaSalle, speaking at the Appellate Division symposium on artificial intelligence in Brooklyn.Screenshots via the Appellate Division’s website
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The Appellate Division, Second Department, presented a groundbreaking symposium on artificial intelligence on Tuesday titled “Contemplating the Future of Artificial Intelligence” that was co-chaired by Justices Angela Iannacci and Deborah Dowling. 

The event, held at the courthouse in Brooklyn, brought together legal representatives from across the district’s ten counties, including district administrative judges, district attorneys and the president of the New York State Bar Association.

Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle opened the symposium, highlighting the crucial juncture at which the legal community stands regarding AI. He stressed the importance of providing guardrails against AI’s harmful effects and the need for active engagement from all stakeholders in the legal community. 

Justice LaSalle emphasized the widespread impact of artificial intelligence not just in New York but globally, recognizing its influence on both court practices and the broader legal profession. 

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“The AI revolution is already having an impact on court practice and the legal profession in New York, throughout our nation and across the globe,” said LaSalle.

The symposium featured insights from Benjamin Liebman, Matthew Stepka, Dorothy Auth and Luca Melchionna, each bringing a wealth of knowledge in their respective fields of artificial intelligence and law.

Matthew Stepka, Managing Partner at Machina Ventures, discussing the transformative impact of AI across various industries at the Appellate Division symposium on AI.
Matthew Stepka, Managing Partner at Machina Ventures, discussing the transformative impact of AI across various industries at the Appellate Division event.

Liebman, a leading scholar at Columbia Law School and director of the Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies, provided an international perspective on the role of AI in the Chinese legal system, underlining its global impact. His expertise in Chinese law and AI added significant depth to the discussions.

Stepka, managing partner at Machina Ventures and a lecturer at UC Berkeley, combined his engineering background with legal insights to explore AI’s transformative potential across industries, including the legal sector. His experience at Google, focusing on strategic, socially impactful projects, offered a unique viewpoint on AI’s implications in legal practice.

Auth, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft with extensive experience in patent litigation and intellectual property, shared practical applications and limitations of AI in legal practice. Her insights into the evolving judicial response to AI’s integration in legal filings highlighted the need for accuracy and caution in AI-generated content.

Melchionna, a transactional attorney with a focus on regulatory, compliance, and corporate law, and chair of the Technology and Venture Law Committee of the New York State Bar Association, delved into AI’s regulatory landscape. His experience provided a comprehensive overview of AI’s potential liabilities and its evolving role in the legal sector.

During the nearly four-hour symposium, Stepka, an engineer and former art student, demystified AI, explaining its data-driven nature and the emergent behaviors it can exhibit. He addressed the implications of AI in legal research and document generation, cautioning against complacency and advocating for a more active review process of AI-generated outputs. 

The potential risks he identified included lack of transparency, bias in training data, and unequal access to AI tools.

Stepka shed light on AI’s mathematical foundations and its ability to reflect societal trends, both good and bad. He explained, “It is not magic, it is mathematics on a massive scale. Because of the data, it is a mirror to our society which can have some bad outcomes.”

Stepka discussed the inherent unpredictability and bias in AI systems, stressing the need for careful consideration in their legal application. He explained that, “AI has inputs and outputs and there is a black box in the middle, which is where the unpredictability happens. Because it is data-driven, it can mirror societal biases, which is a concern for the law.”

Dorothy Auth, Partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, sharing her insights on AI and legal practice during the Appellate Division symposium on AI.
Dorothy Auth, Partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, sharing her insights on AI and legal practice during the symposium.

Dorothy Auth, a partner and head of Intellectual Property Practice at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, shared insights on the practical applications and limitations of AI in legal practice. She discussed the judicial orders emerging in response to AI’s use in legal filings and the broader implications for privacy and bias. 

Auth also addressed the challenges and responsibilities that come with incorporating AI in legal work, underscoring the need for attorneys to verify the accuracy of AI-generated content.

“Our firm has blocked the use of ChatGPT for work assignments, at least for now,” Auth said. “I think that’s a cautious but wise thing to do until we better understand how this technology can be used.”

In response to a question about billing and time efficiency with AI, Stepka discussed the potential for AI to streamline legal processes, leading to reduced costs. He observed, “If you do use AI and it takes a lot less time, how do you deal with that? The positive is that it will take a lot less time and the costs will go down.”

The symposium delved into AI’s impact on traditional legal roles, including the potential for AI to increase predictability in law, thereby affecting the roles of mediators and arbitrators. 

Luca Melchionna, principal of Melchionna, provided a comprehensive overview of AI from a legal perspective, discussing its regulatory landscape and potential liabilities.

“This technology isn’t going to replace lawyers,” Melchionna said. “It will help them.”

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