person reaching out to a robot

The Case of the Fake Cases

A Cautionary Tale of the Risk of Blind Reliance on Artificial Intelligence.

In a recent federal case, two lawyers were sanctioned by a judge for citing fake cases in their brief that was filed with the court. This occurred in the case of Mata v. Avianca, Inc., Case 22-cv-1461, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The judge’s Opinion and Order on Sanctions can be found here.

The sanctioned lawyers utilized a “chatbot” called ChatGPT to generate case citations for use in a legal brief that they filed with the court. However, the case citations provided by the chatbot, and eventually, therefore, included in the brief that was filed with the court, were not real cases. The AI chatbot basically made them up. The lawyers could have avoided this problem simply by confirming the cases that were being cited. They, as evidenced by the outcome, did not do this, and, as a result, were sanctioned by the court.

Interestingly, an on-record exchange between one of the lawyers and the court indicated that the lawyer did, in fact, attempt to confirm at least one of the citations but he “couldn’t find it,” and included it, nonetheless.

In addition to monetary sanctions that were imposed on the lawyers, they also were ordered by the court to write letters “individually addressed to each judge falsely identified as the author of the fake […] opinion.”

This case should serve as a cautionary tale for any lawyer who is using artificial intelligence (AI) in their work. It goes without question that AI can be a powerful tool, but it is important to be careful when using it. Just because AI can generate text, answers, and facts that look and feel correct, it doesn’t mean that what is generated is always accurate.

This case also raises the question of how AI will be used in the legal profession in the future. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it is likely that lawyers will use it more and more. However, it is important to ensure that AI is used responsibly. Lawyers must be aware of the limitations of AI and they must be careful not to rely on it too much. AI should be used as a tool to help lawyers do their jobs, but it should never replace the judgment and experience of lawyers.

If you are a lawyer who is using AI in your work, I strongly encourage you to read the order, and to take the necessary precautions to avoid making the same mistake.

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