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President's Message: Public education outreach, AI, access to justice among major focus of my term

By Stuart Segrest

In the wake of a very successful, and engaging, State Bar Annual Meeting, and with fall in full effect, I write to introduce some of the themes I hope to work on during my year as Bar president. Before I do, a quick note of appreciation to the presenters, staff, and members who made the Annual Meeting a success. Thank you all.

First, in line with the Bar’s long-range plan, we will continue to support and strengthen the rule of law, support our judiciary, and educate the public about the important work lawyers do to support our society. As Dave noted in his last president’s message, there is still much work to do in this area. We will be reaching out to our sections, committees, and individual members to aid us in this important work.

Second, we need to continue addressing Artificial Intelligence, in particular “generative” AI, as it enters our legal practice. AI was addressed in several panels and presentations during the Annual Meeting, and the common theme was that it is a rapidly advancing field that will affect how we practice. We therefore need to educate ourselves and consider the numerous ramifications of the use of AI by lawyers and law firms. This includes not only understanding the potential for AI legal tools to aid our legal research, document handling, and drafting, but also the technological and ethical risks inherent in this new technology. We don’t want lawyers submitting briefs with made up cases, but we also need to think about how to train lawyers to use prompts effectively, which AI products are reputable, how to bill for the use of AI, etc. I will be looking to our sections, committees, and partners in this effort, including the Technology Committee, Ethics Committee, and the Law School. This of course, is not the first time technology has changed our practice—think of online legal research—but the use of machine-learning and large-language models means this technology will evolve quickly and requires preparation and awareness.

Third, and finally, we’ll focus on ways to increase access to justice for all Montanans (which is critical to maintaining a fair system of dispute resolution, and thus the rule of law). In particular, I hope to leverage the State Bar organization to add momentum to the exciting work already being done to increase pro bono representation in our State; work being done by the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, the Justice Initiatives Committee (JIC), and by Montana Legal Services. Already these groups are revamping pro bono resources for lawyers and judges, but there is still much to do. As part of this effort, JIC will facilitate an article in the Montana Lawyer chronicling Montana pro bono stories and successes.

Before I sign off, thanks to all of you for allowing me to serve as president for this year. It will take some work, and some travel, but I look forward to a successful year and to the opportunity to engage with, learn from, and make progress with you. See you around, and please contact me or the State Bar if you want to help in these important initiatives.