SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Judicial Research and Training Institute (JRTI) held its 4th International Conference in December, bringing together judges, academics, and lawyers from throughout Korea with a diverse set of experts from overseas to explore the challenges facing judiciaries around the world.
The conference was co-hosted by JRTI, the Supreme Court of Korea, and the National Judicial College of the United States, and was attended by more than 450 people, primarily judges, but also including legal academics, government lawyers, and law firm managing partners. Indeed, through the partnerships and institutions represented at this conference, the Korean judiciary shows a clear desire to engage and integrate its work with Western countries, and to engage in reciprocal learning.
Taken as a whole, the conference confirmed that the Korean judiciary and legal system faces some of the same challenges that legal systems all over the world face: maintaining the independence and legitimacy of the judiciary; addressing the challenges that technology, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) are bringing to the practice of law and the administration of justice; examining the role of the judiciary in social transformation around the world; adapting to the changing nature of professional development in the face of new roles and work demands; and building diversity into judicial institutions and eliminating discrimination and harassment in the #MeToo Age.
Kim Sang-hwan, Justice on the Supreme Court of Korea, led the opening panel on “Balancing the Three Powers” with Thomas Hardiman, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Saikrishna Prakash, Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, started off this session. The panelists offered an overview of the historical and theoretical underpinnings of the role of the judiciary, with a focus on the Anglo-American system. Jeremy Fogel, Executive Director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute, broke the discussion into its component parts, with an equation that was referenced several times throughout the day: Transparency + Accountability = Legitimacy. Fogel identified the elements of the legitimacy that drives respect for judicial institutions and acceptance of its decisions, including openness and decisions based on the rule of law.
Many aspects of the rule-driven legal system lend themselves to algorithmic treatment and automation, but the legal system itself interfaces with so many other social systems that technology itself can’t be expected to fill in the gaps between law and those systems without human intervention.
In side discussions throughout the day, it became clear that increasing the perceived legitimacy of its courts is a top concern for Korea, and conference participants raised a number of examples from current events and trends around the world where judicial independence is threatened. Professor Lee Heon Hwan of Ajou University School of Law spoke on the special role of Korea’s Constitutional Court as a guardian of constitutional rights.
This first session of the conference was a good foundation for the rest, because it established an important tone early on — that legal systems and the rule of law are important to everyone in the room, and the rest of the day’s panels echoes that theme.
Wide-ranging discussions about the application of technology to the legal system filled the rest of the opening day as speakers addressed a diverse set of technology issues. Kim Jeong Hee, Vice President of Hyundai’s AI Research Lab, led off with a compelling discussion of Hyundai’s autonomous driving technology (and naturally a room full of lawyers had all kinds of perspective on the legal implications of that work). David Curle, Director of Enterprise Content at the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, offered an overview of the many ways that AI and analytics are becoming mainstream aspects of legal work, in areas as diverse as legal research, eDiscovery, compliance, contract analysis, matter intake, and knowledge management.
His message to the conference was that AI is not a single technology, but rather a diverse set of capabilities. Indeed, there are many applications for AI in all aspects of legal practice, not just judicial decision-making or legal advice, but also on the business side of the profession, Curle observed.
Prof. Randy Goebel, Professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta, then went into detail on some of the potential that AI and specifically Natural Language Processing, holds for better and faster legal reasoning, in areas such as making legal outcome prediction, legislative drafting, and more. Goebel picked up on the theme of legitimacy by emphasizing the importance of transparency and explainability in the application of algorithms to legal decisions. Judge Hardiman followed with a practical view of AI in the courts: AI and other forms of automation will be necessary as courts around the world deal with the burden of higher caseloads.
Christopher Markou, Fellow and Lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge, focused on where the elusive boundary between machine learning and the legal system should lie. Yes, many aspects of the rule-driven legal system lend themselves to algorithmic treatment and automation, but the legal system itself interfaces with so many other social systems that technology itself can’t be expected to fill in the gaps between law and those systems without human intervention.
One of the most talked-about presentations at the conference came from Wang Hao of the Hainan High People’s Court in China. As with many of the other technology discussions at this conference, the problem here was defined in terms of judicial workloads and the need for streamlining court processes. The new Smart Court includes features like self-service case-filing facilities, a mini-app on the WeChat platform, full online litigation, electronic signatures, and the ability to upload evidence. Internal judicial workflows have been integrated with litigant-facing services. The establishment of online courts is a nationwide phenomenon, with specialized and regional courts all over China. Notably, this development is linked back to the topic of the day’s first conference session — the Smart Court model is not just about efficiency and speed in dispute resolution, it’s about the transparency and legitimacy of the court system itself.
Additional topics discussed throughout the conference included the role of the judiciary in addressing social movements, human rights abuses, international crime, and diversity and inclusion in the legal industry. A panel on judicial training went right to the heart of the missions of partner organizations JRTI and the National Judicial College in the US, which was represented in Korea by its President, Benes Aldana. Just as the judiciary needs new technologies to keep up with new demands, judicial personnel need additional tools to deal with their expanding role in enforcing justice, meeting the demands of a diverse workforce, and expanding skill sets to keep up with technological and other changes.
If courts are to continue to enjoy public confidence and legitimacy in a dynamic world, JRTI has provided a good road map of the many aspects of judicial systems that need to be upgraded and maintained. This International conference provided a good catalog of approaches to maintaining the special role of the judiciary in modern legal systems.