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Legal Practitioner in Hot Water: The ChatGPT Fiasco and Beyond

Caught in the AI Net: Attorney’s Inexperience and Technology Limitations

New York-based attorney Steven A. Schwartz has emerged as a cautionary figure in the legal profession, following a legal research blunder involving AI tool ChatGPT that led to the citation of six fabricated cases in a legal brief. However, Schwartz’s predicament extends beyond unfamiliarity with the AI tool. In a recent submission to the court, his lawyers revealed that Schwartz’s limited federal court experience, little to no knowledge of bankruptcy law, and his firm’s inadequate legal research capabilities contributed to the debacle.

This information surfaced in a filing by the attorneys from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, representing Schwartz in a case before Judge P. Kevin Castel in the Southern District of New York.

Schwartz’s Legal Journey: A Closer Look

Since his induction to the New York bar in 1992, Schwartz has spent his entire career at Levidow, Levidow & Oberman, specializing in workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Consequently, his practice largely involves state court proceedings and administrative bodies.

In 2020, Schwartz found himself representing Roberto Mata against Avianca, a Colombian airline, in a personal injury case. However, with Avianca declaring bankruptcy, the state court action was put on hold and the parties agreed to discontinue the case until the bankruptcy proceedings were concluded.

From State to Federal Court

In 2022, once Mata’s case was refiled, Avianca shifted it to federal court. Since Schwartz is not a member of the Southern District’s bar and rarely appears before the court, his colleague Peter LoDuca at Levidow, Levidow & Oberman took over as the attorney of record for the case. Nevertheless, Schwartz continued to assist with the case, handling the legal research and writing.

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In this regard, his attorneys noted that “Mr. Schwartz, a personal injury and workers compensation lawyer who does not often practice in federal court, found himself researching a bankruptcy issue under the Montreal Convention 1999”.

Tackling Unfamiliar Territory

Schwartz faced a significant challenge when Avianca moved to dismiss Mata’s claims as they were deemed time-barred by the two-year limitations period of the Montreal Convention. To oppose this, Schwartz had to dive into unchartered waters, researching the relationship between U.S. bankruptcy law and the Montreal Convention.

Fumbling in the Dark: The Role of Technology

Schwartz’s difficulties were exacerbated by his firm’s limited legal research resources. Levidow, Levidow & Oberman primarily relies on Fastcase, a more affordable alternative to Westlaw or LexisNexis, for its online legal research. However, a billing error had resulted in the firm’s access to Fastcase’s federal case database being deactivated, leaving Schwartz in a bind.

With Fastcase out of the equation, Schwartz turned to ChatGPT to conduct further legal research, leading to the now infamous errors that have thrust him and his firm into the limelight. The case serves as a reminder of the challenges and risks legal practitioners can face when navigating the increasingly complex intersection of law and technology.

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