AI on Trial: Examining its Role in Disputes in Southeast Asia

AI has captivated the world, but it has been slow to enthrall lawyers; especially in Southeast Asia. I would say we are a pretty conservative bunch, reflecting a profession and culture that places a high premium on preparedness, sagacity, and adherence to precedent. No doubt, there are plenty of cautionary headlines globally that nudge us in the same direction.

Globally and in Vietnam, GenAI is still in its nascent stage when it comes to dispute cases. Still, I would hesitate to form a definitive black or white position. I could think of several reasons why it would be helpful and other reasons why it would be damaging.

Firstly, the bad side

It is easy to forget that GenAI platforms such as ChatGPT and Google Bard are essentially predictive text machines that were trained on a gargantuan amount of material from undisclosed sources.

They may seem like fact-churning sophisticated search engines but are more accurately categorized as content creation tools that were designed to create new and original content outside the parameters of their original training materials. Their priority is not to be “right”, no matter how confident and accurate they sound.

We, however, cannot be wrong. Therefore, we do have plenty of good reasons to be wary.

The lack of credibility and transparency of GenAI providers on their training datasets, the glaring bias particularly in areas like race and gender, the real risk of ‘hallucination’, the lack of privacy safeguards and more. In international arbitrations, the stakes are simply too high.

We’ve seen how ChatGPT can seriously sabotage legal professionals. Still, GenAI tools were never meant to be used in this way without the oversight of thinking, breathing and living experts.

Now the good side..

I believe that AI has a place in certain aspects of the disputes resolution process, particularly in handling extensive volumes of documents and data typically handled by a team of document reviewers, translation/transcription services, predictive analysis for more thorough case preparations, and more.

But these are minor roles and we cannot diminish the pivotal role of human input and oversight.

In essence, while we find inspiration in the potential of AI, it has a considerable journey ahead to instill confidence, particularly within the dispute resolution landscape.

The use of AI remains largely unregulated in Vietnam, and it will be increasingly necessary for the government to implement safeguards to ensure that it can be used reliably and fairly.

In the meantime, lawyers will need to be aware of the risks, take a cautious approach to using unknown or new AI tools, make sure that their clients’ data is kept confidential and protected against unauthorized use, and take steps to be ahead of the learning curve.

At the end of the day, AI is not a passing trend nor an impending apocalypse – rather, it stands as a nascent tool with the potential to significantly reshape the landscape of legal work and redefine revenue streams for law firms.

The current state of AI is akin to its infancy, and while it continues to evolve beyond its “teenage” phase into a future state of maturity, it is still wise for us to be cautiously optimistic.