The ABA Journal
"Updated: The journey from conviction to exoneration can take decades, and the men and women who have been freed by the California Innocence Project collectively have spent more than 570 years in prison. Time is of the essence, yet the pro bono group has finite resources.
So when the organization’s then-managing attorney Michael Semanchik beta-tested Casetext’s AI legal assistant, CoCounsel, before its March release, he saw the potential to save hours of time. He says he was impressed by how quickly the technology can identify patterns in legal documents for several of the group’s ongoing cases, including inconsistencies in witness statements. As the technology evolves, he hopes he can use it to draw out cases with the strongest evidence of innocence.
“It’s always taken a human eye to read through the case file and go through every single page and figure out what was missed,” says Semanchik, who left the California Innocence Project on July 28 to become executive director of a new group called the Innocence Center where he intends to keep using the software. “We are spending a lot of our resources and time trying to figure out which cases deserve investigation. If AI can just tell me which ones to focus on, we can focus on the investigation and litigation of getting people out of prison.”
Since OpenAI’s generative AI chatbot ChatGPT was released in November, the technology’s dangers and risks have dominated coverage, with tech CEOs and experts, including OpenAI founder Sam Altman and Bill Gates, warning AI poses an existential threat. But for some access-to-justice advocates, it’s clear how legal aid organizations can use the tech to better serve people without easy access to legal services.
“I think that this is a profound opportunity for the legal profession to live up to its ideals,” Pablo Arredondo, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Casetext, says of AI’s potential to close the justice gap. Thomson Reuters announced in June that it would purchase Casetext for a reported $650 million.
Several major law firms are using generative AI chatbots, including CoCounsel and Harvey, for their work. But as more and more lawyers adopt the new technology to maintain a competitive edge, Arredondo sees an opportunity to deliver speedy and affordable legal services to the public. More than 90% of Americans get no or not enough help for legal problems related to basic needs such as housing, education, health care, income and safety, according to a 2022 Justice Gap report by the Legal Services Corporation.”