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Pro Se Litigant Fined 10k for Filing AI-Generated Reply Brief

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

In yet another warning to those relying solely on ChatGPT and other generative AI programs to complete highly skilled written tasks, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District recently fined a pro se litigant for citing fake and irrelevant case names in a reply brief generated by artificial intelligence.

Judge Rebecca M. Navarro-McKelvey issued a $10,000 fine after finding the pro se litigant violated the Missouri rules of civil procedure by failing to include an appendix, accurate legal citations, a table of contents, and other basic requirements.

The appellant could have hired a good lawyer for that kind of money.

While Judge Navarro-McKelvey noted that courts are more sympathetic to pro se litigants, that does not mean that an appellate court can jump in and play the role of advocate. The $10,000 fine compensated the opposing party's lawyers for having to read and identify the wrong citations and to expend more resources than necessary to decipher the record and arguments in the brief.

This is by no means the first time courts have punished lawyers and litigants for relying on AI to do work that requires a licensed attorney. People facing legal issues may be able to do some legal tasks using forms and AI. But when it comes to litigation, there's no substitute for a good lawyer.

AI Hallucinations

Generative AI has remarkable capabilities but is currently not reliable enough to use as a stand-in for an attorney. This is because generative AI has a problem with "hallucinations," which most of us just call "mistakes." Hallucinations occur when large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT, use incomplete or biased training data. They then learns incorrect patterns and offer false predictions or statements of fact.

Relying solely on AI is a particularly bad bet in appellate briefs, which have specific jurisdictional requirements and require meticulous case citations.

When it comes to high-stakes legal tasks such as creating closing arguments, using case citations, or writing a reply brief, AI is better thought of as a useful assistant - rather than a replacement for human effort. State bar associations that have so far issued guidance on AI use take a similar approach.

But that is not to say AI tools and generative AI cannot be useful in the legal industry.

One example is legal research, where AI tools can typically reliably sort through lengthy cases to find relevant precedents. Just make sure you read and cite the caselaw yourself. AI is typically good at summarizing lengthy documents, as well. Want to learn the main points of an amicus brief without spending hours on it? AI is good for that.

What lawyers (and anyone representing themselves pro se) cannot do, however, is rely solely on AI as a final draft. So, lawyers, no need to fret. There's still no substitute for a good appellate lawyer (or any other kind of lawyer) yet.

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