An Excellent Reason Not to Rely on Chat GPT For Legal Research

Some say that relatively new generative AI technology is set to disrupt one or more industries – including law. In light of a recent development, I’d say that’s a bit of an overstatement.

In a recent case, Mata v. Avianca, Inc., pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Civil Action No. 22-cv-1461 (a personal injury case in which plaintiff alleges he was struck by a serving cart),[1]Plaintiff initially filed this lawsuit in New York State court, Index No. 151004/2022, before the defendant shortly thereafter removed the case to federal court. the lawyer(s) for the plaintiff submitted a brief in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint.

There is just one “tiny” problem: the plaintiff’s submission contained case law, obtained via Chat GPT, that simply did not exist.

As outlined by Judge Kevin Castel in an Order to Show Cause dated May 4, 2023:

The Court is presented with an unprecedented circumstance. A submission filed by plaintiff’s counsel in opposition to a motion to dismiss is replete with citations to non-existent cases. When the circumstance was called to the Court’s attention by opposing counsel, the Court issued Orders requiring plaintiff’s counsel to provide an affidavit annexing copies of certain judicial opinions of courts of record cited in his submission, and he has complied. Six of the submitted cases appear to be bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations. Set forth below is an Order to show cause why plaintiff’s counsel ought not be sanctioned.

Judge Castel proceeded to explain, in detail, what is meant by a non-existent or bogus opinion, and set a hearing for June 8, 2023 to determine whether sanctions are appropriate.

Relatedly, here’s what Chat GPT says in response to the question “should lawyers rely on chat gpt for legal research?”:

As an AI language model, I can provide general information and assist with legal research by offering insights and suggesting potential sources of information. However, it’s important to note that relying solely on an AI like ChatGPT for legal research may not be advisable for lawyers or legal professionals. Here are a few reasons why:

Accuracy and Reliability: While GPT-3.5 is a highly advanced language model, it can still make errors or provide incomplete or outdated information. Legal research often requires precise and up-to-date knowledge, which is best obtained from reliable legal sources such as case law, statutes, regulations, and legal databases.

Contextual Understanding: ChatGPT does not have contextual understanding beyond the text provided in the conversation. Legal research often involves complex scenarios, nuanced interpretations, and specific legal frameworks that require deep expertise and understanding. Engaging with an AI alone may not capture the full legal context and implications.

Legal Interpretation: The law is subject to interpretation and relies on various factors, including case law, statutory language, legal precedents, and jurisdiction-specific nuances. Lawyers are trained to analyze and interpret legal information to provide accurate advice and solutions tailored to the specific needs of their clients. An AI language model like ChatGPT may not have the legal expertise to offer comprehensive legal advice.

Ethical Considerations: Lawyers have ethical obligations to their clients, such as maintaining confidentiality and providing competent representation. Relying solely on an AI for legal research may raise concerns about meeting these obligations. Lawyers are generally expected to exercise their professional judgment and conduct thorough research using trusted legal resources.

However, AI language models like ChatGPT can still be valuable tools for lawyers in their research process. They can help generate initial ideas, suggest potential sources of information, or offer a broader understanding of legal concepts. Legal professionals should use AI models as one of many resources at their disposal, cross-referencing the information obtained with reliable legal sources and consulting with experienced legal colleagues when necessary.

So there you have it: wise words from our not-yet-quite robot overlords.

1 Plaintiff initially filed this lawsuit in New York State court, Index No. 151004/2022, before the defendant shortly thereafter removed the case to federal court.
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