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Artificial Intelligence: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Brian Hallaq | Dec 13, 2023 | 0 Comments

There seems to be no doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make a significant change to our society soon.  Many professions will see significant changes.  Everything from medicine, accounting, to the legal profession will see a change the way that business is conducted.

The legal profession, in particular, is changing significantly.  This trend was already happening over the last twenty years.  When I started practice as an attorney in the 1990's I needed a legal secretary and a paralegal to do my work.  We did legal research using books.  Today, all of those functions are handled by various automated processes and software.  There is a very real possibility that, at some point, AI will replace the need for attorneys altogether.

While that day may come, it is not here yet, and we have to be careful about relying upon computer search tools to replace the competency and experience of an attorney.  Experienced attorneys, especially those who specialize or focus their practice in one particular area of the law, are familiar not just with their area of the law, but how those cases navigate the local courts.  That is why you typically don't see attorneys bounce from state to state throughout their careers.  It isn't just a factor of taking another bar exam, but it is the fact that you will have to relearn the local legal culture.  Over time, you learn how Judges view certain types of cases and the type of evidence necessary to win.  That type of knowledge spares you from taking cases that you know will not be successful.

In my particular area of law, which is Bankruptcy, it took years to learn the way that the local courts and local trustees approach various aspects of Bankruptcy law.  A few days ago, a prospective client asking me, “how do you know that the Judge will ‘approve' my case”…that isn't really how it happens in Bankruptcy, but I told him that over time, you simply know what cases to file and what cases should not be filed.  I have filed thousands of cases and I can count on one hand the number of cases that were not successful.  That is not because I'm the best attorney, but it is because I know when a case should not be filed and I turn those clients down for representation.

Just this week I received a fairly typical phone call from a woman who had done some extremely extensive internet research, and who made an otherwise compelling case as to why she was aggrieved and should be compensated for her claims.  Knowing nothing else, one would assume that she had a great case, but having practiced Bankruptcy law for over twenty years, I knew that her claims would not be viewed as worthy of anything other than a nominal recovery by the local Bankruptcy Judges.  She was quite upset with me for telling her that.  Her internet research had shown that similar cases in other jurisdictions produced great results, but she also admitted that several other attorneys that she had called had said the same thing that I had told her.  She just could not reconcile how her own internet research suggested that she had won the legal lottery with the opinions of experienced attorneys who were telling her quite the opposite.

Internet research is a necessary factor in today's world, but in every search that you do (whether it is in the law, or your latest DIY home improvement) you need to be careful about where you are getting your information from.

The case of Mata v. Avianca is a cautionary tale.  In that case a New York based attorney was handling an injury case against an airline.  The airline filed a motion claiming that the case was barred because of the “Manhattan Convention.”  The attorney did not know what the “Manhattan Convention” was, and he used a web version of a “chatbot” to do his legal research.  The chatbot produced a very polished presentation that he copied into his legal brief.  Everything looked very professionally written with lots of citations, so he had no reason to suspect anything was off, but he did not verify the chatbot's legal research.  Unfortunately, the AI simply made up the case law and gave the attorney a presentation that it thought he wanted to see.  The Judge did verify the legal research and was not impressed.  He sanctioned the attorneys, and that type of unprofessional error affects an attorney's credibility with a judge going forward in a case.

I have recently had several cases where my clients chose to use internet tools to generate sophisticated legal documents related to business transactions rather than use an attorney.  Everything from powers of attorney, stock purchase agreements, commercial leases, to loan documents.  Those transactions would have concluded with no issues had my clients used an attorney, but the internet-based documents all failed on some critical point and then my clients ended up in litigation. 

This is particularly the case in the creation of Limited Liability Companies.  Many states make it extremely easy to “register” an LLC, and that creates the illusion that a proper business formation has taken place.  People operate in that capacity for years, assuming that, if there was something wrong, the State agency or taxing authorities will tell them if there is something deficient.  That is incorrect.  Then when they get locked into litigation and are hoping to get the benefit of the LLC business form, they find out that they did everything wrong and now the plaintiff is coming after their personal house and other personal assets.

The fact is that many types of routine legal matters that used to require an attorney are perfectly easy to accomplish online, and because 90% of the time nobody runs into trouble you can get the feeling that you don't need an attorney.  If the matter is likely (or has the potential) to be litigated, or if the area of law is very technical, such as Bankruptcy, do yourself a favor and skip the artificial intelligence and opt for the human intelligence.

About the Author

Brian Hallaq

My name is Brian and I have been a practicing attorney in Bankruptcy for over 20 years helping thousands of clients.  I have worked for the Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington, as well as several small boutique Bankruptcy law firms handling Bankruptcy cases in Washington State and the State of California.  I have litigated for and against major banks, and I have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of clients in my career.


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