The agency is examining how artificial intelligence could help it review misconduct complaints and administer the bar exam.
The State Bar of California has started wading into the artificial intelligence waters.
The agency is exploring ways AI could help bolster the efficiency of its attorney discipline system and assist with administering the bar exam.
The bar recently entered into a contract with the MITRE Corporation to help it develop and evaluate algorithmic processes for identifying whether an attorney misconduct complaint could be closed without investigation.
State Bar Executive Director Leah T. Wilson said if an AI tool can be crafted to help the bar more speedily review whether to close or investigate complaints, it would reduce the administrative burden on staff. That in turn would allow the bar to shift its “human resources to other parts of the case processing continuum,” Wilson said.
Freeing up staff to assist with serious allegations of lawyer misconduct could be beneficial in light of the state auditor’s recent recommendation that the State Bar not hire as many new employees for its discipline unit as desired.
Wilson said an AI tool could also assist in ensuring a level of consistency and standardization in the bar’s review of the roughly 16,000 attorney misconduct complaints it receives annually. The technology could be especially helpful amid a nearly 60 percent increase in complaints made to the bar in recent months, a bump that has come amid the agency starting to accept online complaints.
It was the transition last fall to permitting online complaints that allowed the bar to even contemplate an AI tool for reviewing such filings, according to Wilson.
She stressed that the MITRE project is in the early stages, and the bar will closely examine the effectiveness of the tool developed.
“If it’s not reliable to a very high degree of statistical significance, we couldn’t implement it,” Wilson said.
The bar’s $90,000 contract with MITRE, which was signed last month, calls for the company to complete its work on the project by mid-October.
Meanwhile, the State Bar is planning to use AI to help it administer the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, known as the “Baby Bar.” Law students completing their first year of law study at an unaccredited law school or through the Law Office Study Program are among those who must take the test.
At two of the sites where the Baby Bar will be given next month, the bar will be piloting the use of AI proctors for the essay portion of the exam that is taken on computers, Wilson said.
Live proctors will be there as well to ensure things go smoothly and to respond if the AI software alerts them to any patterns of eye movement or gestures out of the norm for test takers.
“If all goes well, it is our intention to deploy AI proctoring for the July bar exam,” Wilson said.
The bar began exploring AI proctoring because it struggled last year to attract enough proctors to administer the exams it gives to prospective lawyers.
Wilson said there will still need to be some human proctors present at future exams for security purposes and to help with any issues that arise, according to Wilson. But she said a successful pilot of AI proctoring would reduce the overall need for human proctors moving forward.
On both the bar exam and attorney discipline fronts, Wilson said the bar is seeking to strike the right balance between being forward-leaning while protecting against the risks that arise with the deployment of new technologies.
“I think it is the responsibility of good government everywhere to figure out how we can take advantage of technology to improve the services that we provide to the public,” she said.
Separate from the initiatives mentioned above, a bar task force is actively working to identify regulatory changes that would provide members of the public with greater access to legal services through technology, such as AI. The next meeting of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services is Monday, May 13.
*This article first appeared on Evolve the Law.