I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on the internet…

There are tons of ways in which the law doesn’t keep up with technical developments, but this is an interesting example of technology perhaps pushing too far ahead of the law. A company was found guilty of unauthorized practice of law by virtue of their online legal expert system. The system was focused on bankruptcy law, and the sales pitch used stressed that this was “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 seems that this use of “expert system” in the description was key to the ruling against the company, as it implied that more was done that simply filling out forms. I’m guessing that’s where the distinction lies between this case and the huge number of tax preparation programs out there. I haven’t seen tax software cross the line into claiming to have AI in them, though I’m sure such an approach would be as fruitful there as in bankruptcy law – and actually suspect that the “AI” in the bankruptcy system is not any more sophisticated than that in most tax preparation software. It’s, in fact, interesting to consider how much of this is about the sales pitch of the system versus the actual behavior of the system.
Interestingly, on the legal side, the American Bar Association actually has a document on Best Practice Guidelines for Legal Information Web Site Providers, though it’s focus is primarily on helping lawyers determine how much information and assistance they can provide through the internet, particularly considering jurisdiction issues of where one is authorized to practice law.

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