In his 2023 Year-End Report, Chief Justice John Roberts tells us that he uses the Year-End Report to “speak to a major issue relevant to the whole federal court system”. This year, Justice Roberts chose to speak about legal technology.
The Year-End Report (https://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/year-end/2023year-endreport.pdf) is an interesting read that recounts the long history of legal technology in the federal judiciary. Justice Roberts deftly draws a line from quill pens to AI - observing that while ”The legal profession is, in general, notoriously averse to change....Like the rest of society, if not quite as quickly, the federal judiciary has adapted its practices to meet the opportunities and challenges of new technologies.”
Before articulating his thoughts on the potential applications and pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence, Justice Roberts discusses the changes that have already come—and that he views as permanent—including trial technology and remote hearings. Specifically, “Trial presentation software, real-time court reporting, accommodations for jurors, litigants, and spectators with disabilities, and many other applications have radically changed how lawyers present and jurors receive evidence in court.” and “The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in yet another wave of rapid technological innovation. Courts at all levels of the judiciary immediately shifted from in-person to remote hearings in civil cases....many criminal proceedings also shifted online. Key innovations first adopted as temporary have now become permanent features of the legal landscape, allowing litigants, lawyers, and courts to lock in efficiency gains that do not undercut other important legal or constitutional rights.”
Justice Roberts also mentions the requirement in Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that directs parties and courts to seek “just, speedy, and inexpensive” resolution of cases, and it is easy to see how legal technology like trial presentation technology, and the ability to competently attend and present in person and remotely is key to meeting that requirement.
Artificial Intelligence is the main focus of the Year-End Report, commenting at the beginning on the “breathless predictions about the future of Artificial Intelligence” and his confidence that “technological changes will continue to transform (the Court’s) work.” For legal professionals who follow the tremendous improvements and power of Artificial Intelligence and its application in the legal field, these comments are no surprise.
As you begin your work in 2024, the Year-End Report offers a fascinating perspective on what technology you should already be using, and what technologies you should be learning to meet the requirements of a modern law practice.