Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Legal News for Mon 3/18 - KPMG Leverages AI to Compete Against Big Law, SEC Climate Suit Lottery and SCOTUS Takes Up Free Speech and Social Media

Legal News for Mon 3/18 - KPMG Leverages AI to Compete Against Big Law, SEC Climate Suit Lottery and SCOTUS Takes Up Free Speech and Social Media

KPMG's AI investment to reshape legal services, the SEC's climate suits lottery, and key Supreme Court cases on free speech and social media.

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This Day in Legal History: Constitutional Right to Counsel

On this day in legal history, the landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, fundamentally transformed the American legal system. The Court unanimously ruled that states are constitutionally required to provide counsel to criminal defendants who cannot afford one, grounding its decision in the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of the right to counsel. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the Court, eloquently underscored the importance of this right, stating that ensuring a fair trial necessitates providing counsel for those too impoverished to hire one.

Prior to this ruling, the mandate for providing counsel to indigent defendants applied only in federal courts, a precedent set in 1938. The Gideon decision, however, extended this fundamental protection to state courts, recognizing that the right to a fair trial and the right to counsel are essential to the integrity of the justice system. This case highlighted the disparities in legal representation that existed for the less fortunate, emphasizing that justice should not be contingent upon one's ability to pay for a defense attorney.

The implications of Gideon v. Wainwright were profound, leading to the establishment of public defender's offices across the United States. It ensured that the constitutional rights of all individuals, regardless of their financial situation, were upheld in the American judicial system. This decision not only reaffirmed the nation's commitment to fairness and equality before the law but also signified a crucial step towards the actualization of these ideals. The Gideon case remains a pivotal moment in legal history, symbolizing the enduring principle that justice should be accessible to all, irrespective of wealth or social standing.

KPMG is setting its sights on expanding its legal services by investing significantly in artificial intelligence (AI), aiming to outpace traditional law firms in the technological arena. Stuart Fuller, the head of KPMG's legal services, has announced plans to invest "tens of millions of dollars" into generative AI to streamline operations for corporate legal departments, anticipating that such technology will disrupt the traditional business model of law firms by automating tasks typically performed by junior lawyers. This strategic move is supported by KPMG's substantial financial resources, with the firm reporting over $36 billion in gross revenue last year, dwarfing the earnings of the world's largest law firms.

Despite the Big Four's long history of legal service expansion, their direct competition with elite law firms has been limited, partly due to regulatory restrictions in the U.S. However, KPMG Law, under Fuller's leadership, is pushing forward, leveraging a global presence with 3,850 legal professionals across 84 jurisdictions. Fuller, leveraging his experience as a former global managing partner of a major law firm, sees generative AI as a transformational technology that directly challenges the core functions of legal work.

KPMG's legal arm has seen substantial growth, partly fueled by its expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, and aims to further boost its market position through significant investments in AI. The firm is focusing on enhancing its services with generative AI in collaboration with Microsoft, targeting improvements in legal research, document processing, and information extraction among other areas. Fuller believes that the key to leveraging AI effectively lies in managing internal data and aligning technology with the firm's strategic goals, including revenue growth and client satisfaction.

However, the adoption of AI in legal practices is still in the early stages, with many law firms and their clients only beginning to explore potential applications. Fuller emphasizes the need for a workforce that is curious and adaptable to how legal practice will evolve with these technological advancements. The move towards generative AI is expected to pressure the traditional billable hour model, as clients demand more cost-effective solutions, presenting both opportunities and challenges for law firms to innovate while maintaining profitability.

KPMG Looks to Beat Big Law at AI by Leveraging Size and Capital

The SEC's new emissions reporting rules have triggered a flurry of lawsuits from various groups, including business interests, Republican state attorneys general, and environmentalists, resulting in at least nine lawsuits spread across six federal circuits. Each lawsuit has been strategically filed in a circuit that aligns ideologically with the plaintiffs, although the ultimate consolidation of these cases into a single court will be determined by a random lottery system, a process established over three decades ago to counteract manipulation and ensure impartiality in federal regulation litigation. This system, designed to maintain faith in the judicial system by providing an equal chance for each venue to be selected, will see the cases consolidated in one court, irrespective of the number of lawsuits filed in any particular circuit.

The lottery will include the U.S. appeals courts for the Second, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Eleventh, and District of Columbia circuits, all of which have received petitions challenging the SEC's climate regulations. Despite the ideological diversity of these courts, the random selection process aims to prevent any bias in the selection of the venue. The SEC rules have faced criticism from both sides: some argue they go too far in requiring detailed emissions reporting, while others believe they don't go far enough. The Fifth Circuit, known for its conservative leanings and having received the most lawsuits, has the same chance of being selected as other circuits with fewer filings.

The lawsuits reflect a broader debate on the SEC's role in mandating climate change-related disclosures, with opponents accusing the agency of overstepping its bounds and supporters arguing for more comprehensive requirements. The selection process for the consolidated case's venue is keenly observed, given its potential to influence the regulatory landscape for climate disclosures in the U.S. The process underscores the ongoing tension between regulatory attempts to address climate change risks and the varied interests seeking to shape these efforts through the judicial system.

SEC Climate Suits Head Toward Lottery to Pick Single Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to adjudicate Murthy v. Missouri, a pivotal case that tests the limits of government intervention in social media discourse, particularly focusing on whether the Biden administration overstepped its bounds in combatting disinformation on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This lawsuit, brought forward by social media users and GOP-led states, accuses the White House and agencies like the CDC of coercing these platforms to censor content labeled as misinformation on topics ranging from COVID-19 to the 2020 election results. This case emerges amidst a broader context of increasing tension over online speech rights, especially with accusations from conservatives claiming bias against right-leaning viewpoints on social media.

The Supreme Court's docket this term includes five cases probing the extent of governmental interactions with social media entities, with one ruling already affirming that officials can infringe upon First Amendment rights by blocking users. These cases collectively navigate complex First Amendment issues, involving government speech, users' rights to disseminate and access information, and platforms' rights to moderate content. The backdrop of these disputes includes significant events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the January 6 Capitol riot, highlighting the evolving role of social media as the predominant forum for public discourse.

Murthy v. Missouri and related cases highlight a critical challenge: balancing the government's right to address public concerns against the potential harm to users and platforms forced into content moderation against their will. Historical precedents, like the 1963 Bantam Books v. Sullivan case, illustrate the Supreme Court's acknowledgment of the dangers of informal censorship by the government. The current case further explores this tension, with lower courts finding that the Biden administration's actions towards social media platforms could constitute undue pressure, thus violating First Amendment protections.

Legal experts and amicus briefs submitted by various organizations emphasize the difficulty in distinguishing between permissible persuasion and unconstitutional coercion by the government in its dealings with social media platforms. The Supreme Court's decision in Murthy v. Missouri is expected to provide needed clarity on how government officials can communicate with social media companies without overstepping constitutional boundaries, setting a precedent that could shape the nature of digital public discourse for years to come.

Supreme Court Confronts Claim White House Bullied Social Giants

Supreme Court eyes government contacts with social media platforms | Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a significant free speech case involving the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a former New York state official, Maria Vullo. The NRA alleges that Vullo, the former superintendent of New York's Department of Financial Services, abused her regulatory authority by pressuring financial institutions to sever ties with the NRA, thus violating the organization's First Amendment rights. This legal battle stems from the NRA's 2018 lawsuit, which accuses Vullo of retaliatory actions against the group in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. The dispute centers on whether Vullo's actions, including fining insurers for offering NRA-endorsed products deemed illegal by New York insurance law, constituted unconstitutional coercion or permissible persuasion. A federal judge dismissed all claims against Vullo except for two related to free speech, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled these should also have been dismissed, leading to the NRA's appeal to the Supreme Court. The case highlights the ongoing debate over gun rights and free speech in the U.S., with the NRA seeking to protect its advocacy efforts against what it views as an implicit censorship regime.

US Supreme Court to weigh NRA free speech fight with New York official | Reuters

Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
The idea is that this podcast can accompany you on your commute home and will render you minimally competent on the major legal news stories of the day. The transcript is available in the form of a newsletter at