What is ChatGPT?
If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about ChatGPT. ChatGPT, a project by OpenAI, is a conversational, human-sounding artificial intelligence model that responds to questions and commands. ChatGPT is trained with “Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback,” which is essentially a feedback cycle in which a Reddit post is sampled, policy methods are used to sample summaries, and a human judges which is a better summary of the Reddit post. This information is used by the system to create better summaries over time, developing human-like word choice and mechanics. ChatGPT’s responses, which often include thorough and informative answers to all types of questions, can produce high-scoring college essays, lines of Python code, and even rap lyrics matching the distinctive style of Eminem. Importantly, it can do all of these tasks in a matter of seconds.
Can ChatGPT Replace Lawyers?
Lawyers, and other professionals, have felt threatened by the advent of artificial intelligence even when the technology was rudimentary and limited to tasks like document review. With improved technology of the likes of ChatGPT, these concerns are more realistic and worrisome than ever. Lawyers have already benefited from artificial intelligence in their day-to-day practice, relying on sources like Lex Machina to predict outcomes of cases and Westlaw’s Quick Check to search for additional, relevant legal authority for briefs and memorandums. However, the technological capacity of artificial intelligence in this area has gone even further, with technology that accurately reviews contracts and a chatbot that can successfully negotiate bills and subscriptions.
An artificial intelligence chatbot that performs lawyer-like functions could, of course, lead to unemployment in the legal profession and result in economic disruption. On the other hand, an accessible, skillful artificial intelligence that evaluates legal claims for lower rates might address the “justice gap,” as low-income Americans receive “inadequate or no professional legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems in a year. However, it’s probably too early to worry about complete replacement, and this is apparent while interacting with ChatGPT.
Let’s say you’re a tenant in Michigan and your landlord is refusing to return your security deposit to you. You ask ChatGPT, “What can I do if my landlord doesn’t give my security deposit back?” ChatGPT responded to this question by suggesting that the tenant communicate with the landlord, and if that doesn’t work, you can file a lawsuit, and to win the lawsuit, you will need to prove that you are entitled to the security deposit, and that your landlord has wrongfully withheld the security deposit. The response makes it clear that laws vary from state to state and advises that one should “consider seeking advice from a local attorney or legal aid clinic to understand your rights and options.”
If you really don’t want to seek legal help in this situation, you might ask ChatGPT to “Write me a complaint for a Michigan lawsuit about a withheld security deposit.” ChatGPT starts off strong, with “”COMES NOW the plaintiff, [Name], and brings this action against the defendant, [Landlord], for the wrongful withholding of a security deposit in the amount of $[Amount].” The chatbot lays out reasons the plaintiff should recover, saying that the plaintiff left the premises in a clean and undamaged condition, requested the return of the security deposit, and concludes that “defendant’s actions constitute a breach of the rental agreement and a violation of Michigan law.”
While this response is impressive, it shows that the technology lacks the skills of a human lawyer. ChatGPT does not seem to have the capabilities to apply facts to the law, interpret the law, or use the human skills of persuasion and emotional intelligence, which is essential to the practice of law. Further, OpenAI warns that “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.” In response to requests for legal representation, ChatGPT admits that “It is not ethical for me to provide legal advice as I am not a qualified legal professional.” Finally, ChatGPT has an issue with biased responses to all sorts of inquiries, including an incident where ChatGPT suggested that only white or Asian men would make good scientists.
While artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT and similar technologies, can help lawyers with writing, parsing information, and predicting outcomes, artificial intelligence does not have the capability to completely replace lawyers at this point. The limitations of ChatGPT and other technologies make them ideal for delegating routine tasks, allowing lawyers to focus on more complex tasks. These technologies may also assist individuals without access to legal representation, by giving them a preliminary understanding of their legal issues and suggesting non-legal solutions to resolve their issues.
P.S. I did ask ChatGPT to “Write me a law article about how ChatGPT can replace lawyers.” It wrote me a well-informed and thoughtful article, making the same conclusions that I did. However, the above writing reflects my own thoughts and represents my work product only.
Maddy Zeeman is an Associate Editor on the Michigan Technology Law Review.