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Artificial intelligence programs must sit for the bar like everyone else!

ai.jpgA recent Ninth Circuit decision upheld a ruling that a man was practicing law without a license by maintaining websites which used software to automatically help folks fill out bankruptcy forms. Henry Ihejirika ran two websites which provided this bankruptcy service, and as one website explained:

Ziinet [the bankruptcy software] is an expert system and knows the law. Unlike most bankruptcy programs which are little more than customized word processors the Ziinet engine is an expert system. It knows bankruptcy laws right down to those applicable to the state in which you live. Now you no longer need to spend weeks studying bankruptcy laws.

Wow - Ihejirika clearly didn’t consult a lawyer before publishing that claim or he would’ve known what a world of hurt he was opening himself up to.

Anyway, Jayson Reynoso decided to use the service, paying over $200 for use of the Ziinet bankruptcy engine. Reynoso entered his basic information on the website through simple dialog boxes, and “the program generated a complete set of bankruptcy forms, including an affidavit for Reynoso to sign claiming he’d done all the legal research on his own.” Things went south when the bankruptcy trustee saw some errors on the form. This ultimately led to a bankruptcy judge slamming Ihejirika, who had been pulled into the case. He was found to have committed fraudulent, unfair or deceptive acts through the websites and the use of his program, as well as the unauthorized practice of law.

And as noted up top, the Ninth Circuit recently upheld this ruling because the software wasn’t simply clerical in nature, but provided “personalized guidance [which] has been held to constitute the practice of law,” and this was all made worse by the fact that the site “projected an aura of expertise concerning bankruptcy petitions.”

The way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before some crafty Silicon Valley nerd creates an uber-law program and petitions the state to allow the program to take the bar exam. That certified software could then be loaded into a robot, and we’d have our first robot lawyer. And this would be a dream come true for the BigLaw firms, as they’d now have lawyers they could literally work around the clock, watching the billable hours simply flow in. Partners nationwide are already drooling.

(On a serious note, one wonders if sites like the ones that let folks submit their tax info and get filled out tax forms will start putting up big, shiny red disclaimers all over the place, making it clear that they’re not offering “guidance” and are just placing the input information onto the tax forms.)