Management Assistance Program

A Non-Hysterical Guide to ChatGPT for Lawyers

By Jim Calloway

Attorneys need to know about ChatGPT and other AI tools because your clients will use them and at some point there will be a legal issue. So it’s important to understand the basics.

Some lawyers tell me they have never heard of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence tool from OpenAI, released late last year. I read dozens of posts and articles about ChatGPT every day. Lawyers sometimes tell me they fear ChatGPT misinformation and will never, ever use it. But I believe that many will use AI-powered tools in the near future.

Many lawyers only know the story of the New York City lawyer who is facing sanctions because he used ChatGPT to create a brief and didn’t realize many of the cases he cited were fictitious. Even when opposing counsel noted the cases were fictitious in a sanctions motion, he doubled down by having ChatGPT provide quotes from the fictitious cases. He had a Fastcase account that could have easily helped him determine he was citing fictitious opinions. In the sanctions hearing last week, the lawyer said he was “both embarrassed, humiliated and extremely remorseful” and said his reputation had suffered. But the lesson is not “Do not use ChatGPT.” The lesson is actually very traditional. Don’t cite cases in a brief you have not read. It is particularly dangerous when you are relying heavily on those cases. It is probably best not to use ChatGPT for legal research, but if you do, treat any result with great skepticism, even more than you would with a new law student or paralegal you have just hired, because those employees won’t make things up.

AI-powered legal research will be a game changer—if the tools fit within your budget. Thomson Reuters has announced generative AI is coming to Westlaw Precision. CaseText has released CoCounsel and a free trial is available. LexisNexis is promoting Lexis+AI™. Given the legal information these companies have, they will likely resolve the fake cases issue.

But many great uses for AI are extremely low risk—from summarizing a long document you have provided it, to planning vacation travel. If you are submitting a document with confidential client information or legal strategy, you will need to understand how the OpenAI privacy tools operate, so you don’t share the submitted information with others.

For a great “nonhysterical” guide to ChatGPT, I direct your attention to New Possibilities With ChatGPT: Two Professors Weigh In On AI And Legal Education from the North Carolina Bar Association. These professors do quite well explaining how ChatGPT works and outlining its inherent positives and negatives. When a client asks you a ChatGPT related question, you will be glad to have read this.

Originally published in Oklahoma Bar Association’s Courts and More, June 14, 2023.