In a clear case of serious pitfalls of emerging technologies such artificial intelligence, Michael Cohen, former attorney to Donald Trump, admitted to using Google's AI service, Bard, to generate hallucinated legal citations that ended up in a federal court filing.
Cohen, seeking an early termination of court supervision from his 2018 campaign finance conviction, filed paperwork through his attorney, David M. Schwartz. However, the documents included references to fictitious legal cases. Federal District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman, unable to locate the cited cases, challenged Schwartz to validate the sources or provide a detailed explanation of their origin.
This incident, first reported by The New York Times, shows the potential pitfalls of emerging legal technologies.
In a sworn declaration, Cohen confessed to not being fully aware of the “emerging trends (and related risks) in legal technology.” He acknowledged using Bard, unaware that the AI could generate plausible but non-existent citations. Cohen also pointed to his lawyer's failure to verify the authenticity of these cases before submission to the court.
This scenario is not isolated. Steven Schwartz, a lawyer utilising OpenAI's ChatGPT, and the attorney for Fugees rapper Pras Michel have also been implicated in similar AI-related errors. Michel's lawyer was accused of using an AI tool, in which he might have had a financial interest, for crafting closing arguments.
These incidents shed light on a growing concern in the legal profession about the reliability and ethical use of AI-generated content. While AI offers efficiency and convenience, its capacity to create convincing but fraudulent information poses significant risks, especially in sensitive legal contexts.
The fallout from Cohen's Bard debacle is not just legal but also political. As a key witness in the Manhattan criminal case against Trump, the credibility of his testimony may now be under scrutiny. Trump's defense team could leverage this AI mishap to discredit Cohen's reliability.
Legal experts caution against the uncritical adoption of AI in legal proceedings. As AI continues to evolve, the legal profession faces the challenge of balancing innovation with integrity, ensuring that the pursuit of technological advancement does not compromise the foundations of justice and due process.