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Federal Judge Fights the Use of Artificial Intelligence in His Courtroom

Robot in a courtroom
By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

The rise of artificial intelligence and sophisticated language models like ChatGPT has created nearly as many headaches as opportunities. Educators from middle school to postgrad have suddenly been forced to contend with a sea of AI-generated work, much of it nearly indistinguishable from the genuine article. Writers of every persuasion have been confronted with the possibility that their already tenuous income streams may dry up overnight. Even musicians are worried about what the future holds with AI artists in the mix, with questions swirling around AI-produced products and content

And now, with AI growing ever more intelligent, it is only fitting that the legal profession get swept up in all the excitement. One federal judge is already taking active measures.

Judge Bans AI In the Courtroom

U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr of the Northern District of Texas issued possibly the first—but likely not the last—requirement involving the use of AI in the courtroom. As of last week, all lawyers entering the trial judge's courtroom will have to certify that they did not use artificial intelligence to draft their filings unless actual humans checked the work for accuracy. Starr was concerned about ChatGPT and its peers' bad habit of fabricating details, citations, and even whole cases.

"These platforms in their current states are prone to hallucinations and bias. On hallucinations, they make stuff up—even quotes and citations." Judge Starr said in a statement posted on his Dallas court's website. Attorneys swear an oath to uphold the law and represent their clients, Starr said, but AI platforms make no such promises.

The judge started drafting his mandate while attending a panel on artificial intelligence hosted by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He initially considered banning AI in his courtroom altogether after seeing the panelists demonstrate how ChatGPT and co make up bogus cases to support their arguments, though he adopted a more nuanced way of thinking after speaking with some of the country's best legal minds. Instead of banning AI altogether, the judge opted instead to ban its use in legal briefing—or at least in cases where the attorneys didn't check the facts themselves before submitting the documents to the court.

A Growing Pattern?

Judge Starr and his staff have sworn off the technology for the moment, but the potential utility of AI platforms in the legal profession can't be ignored so easily. The judge's measures are probably wise, considering that attorneys have already been caught citing fake cases from ChatGPT, and sanctioned for it. 

If Judge Starr's court is any indication, the legal profession is suffering from the same uncertainty around the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence as many other industries. A balance will eventually be found, though it's anyone's guess what that will look like or what the legal profession will look like when the dust has finally settled.

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