We previously wrote about the widely-publicized Southern District of New York case involving lawyers who submitted papers citing non-existent cases generated by the artificial intelligence program ChatGPT, Mata v. Avianca, Inc. The judge overseeing the matter held a lengthy, and tense, hearing on June 8, 2023, before a packed courtroom, and then issued a decision on June 22, 2023 sanctioning the lawyers involved. The case has grabbed attention by highlighting some of the real risks of using AI in the legal profession, but the case’s primary lessons have nothing to do with AI.
The June 8 Hearing
On June 8, 2023, the judge in the Mata case held a hearing on the issue of whether to sanction two of plaintiff’s lawyers, and the law firm at which they worked, for their conduct. The courtroom was filled to capacity, with many would-be observers directed to an overflow courtroom to watch a video feed of the hearing.
As set forth in our prior update, the plaintiff’s first lawyer submitted an affirmation on March 1, 2023, in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which was written by the second lawyer, but contained citations to non-existent cases. Thereafter, the defendant pointed out that it could not find these cases in a filing on March 15, and the Court issued an order on April 11 directing the plaintiff’s lawyer to submit an affidavit attaching the identified cases. The first lawyer did so on April 25 (attaching some of the “cases”, and admitting he could not find others), but did not reveal that all of the identified cases were obtained via ChatGPT. Only after the Court issued a further order on May 4 directing the lawyer to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned for citing non-existent cases did the first lawyer finally reveal the involvement of the second lawyer and the role of ChatGPT in the preparation of the submissions.