Lawyers take a crash course in the perils of ChatGPT

A #lawyer uses #ChatGPT to do legal research and faces likely sanctions. Don't be a fool, and take my free prompt engineering course.

Feature photo by Hanson Lu / Unsplash

It was bound to happen, right? At least if you fall into the same hole, you won't be the first one there now.

In a court filing that would have me die of embarrassment, a lawyer attests that he asked ChatGPT whether the cases it made up were real:

“Is varghese a real case,” he typed, according to a copy of the exchange that he submitted to the judge.

“Yes,” the chatbot replied, offering a citation and adding that it “is a real case.”

Mr. Schwartz dug deeper.“What is your source,” he wrote, according to the filing.

“I apologize for the confusion earlier,” ChatGPT responded, offering a legal citation.

“Are the other cases you provided fake,” Mr. Schwartz asked.

ChatGPT responded, “No, the other cases I provided are real and can be found in reputable legal databases.”

Many online comments claimed that the lawyer concerned should be disbarred for being so incompetent (read: stupid).

There's an alternative theory which challenges the idea of the protagonist as a bumbling idiot. Simply put, I am not 100% sure I can get ChatGPT to claim a non-existent case and then produce a judgement of that case without ChatGPT complaining that it is not a lawyer.

So, the long and short of it is that as a lawyer, you shouldn't use ChatGPT to do your legal research.

As an early adopter of this generative AI thing, I do hope that lawyers don't panic and throw this new technology out with the bathwater. However, as is well-known about lawyers and technology, this will probably be the proof for partners and leaders to declare that they never want to hear ChatGPT near their work ever again.

In order to work with this technology, it pays to be familiar with it. You know that calculators can add numbers but can't do legal research on your behalf. Similarly, generative AI like ChatGPT can't do legal research but can generate a lot of text.

If you want to use ChatGPT the right way, I would recommend my in-progress online book/course, “Prompt Engineering for Lawyers”, which focuses on possible and smart uses of ChatGPT in the legal domain. It also explains several features of large language models in an accessible way and demonstrates them too.

Given the horrors of what awaits you if you fail to use ChatGPT properly, you'd be in dangerous waters if you don't take my free course.

Just kidding, but only about the bit that you face possible disbarment if you use ChatGPT wrongly.

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu