Science and TechArtificial Intelligence


Attorney fired for using AI is turning a negative into a positive

When Colorado attorney Zachariah Crabill lost his job for using AI to generate court documents, he decided to start his own law firm with AI as the primary legal assistant.
Colorado attorney Zachariah Crabill stares at a tablet.
Posted at 10:48 AM, Apr 30, 2024

Artificial intelligence is changing how we create, solve problems, and how we work. But as more industries and professions make AI a part of our workplaces, the technology comes with a reminder that it can't quite replace humans yet.

Fans of artificial intelligence say it also has great potential to make our jobs a lot easier.

That's exactly why Colorado attorney Zachariah Crabill turned to AI for help. Last year he was working for a civil litigation firm in Colorado Springs but says his caseload became overwhelming.

"Stressed out to the max," Crabill says. "And, you know, the legal profession is highly stressful because a lot is at stake on each of these cases."

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Crabill was working for a client who didn't have a lot of money but needed help with a contract dispute.

"And I had just been exposed to the idea of ChatGPT," he says. "And I'm trying to save him money, trying to not eat through his entire retainer. And it dawned on me: What if ChatGPT could do caseload research for me?"

So he tried it by typing in a prompt with details about his case.

"And boom, it generated seemingly impeccable case law and case citations," Crabill says.

What would have taken hours took seconds, and Crabill filed his document with the court. But just before going in front of a judge, he realized the AI cited legal cases that did not exist. That's when panic ensued.

"I wasn't trying to mislead the judge or the, you know, defense counsel or anything like that. It was simply a hallucination from the search engine that I relied too heavily on," he says.

The judge, however, was not happy.

"So he reported me to the bar and I ended up getting a three-month suspension from the practice of law," says Crabill.

Crabill also lost his job, becoming part of a cautionary tale as AI turns up in more and more workplaces.

One recent U.K. study found 10% to 30% of jobs can be automated by AI, most of them white collar professional occupations.

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But as AI helps automate tasks, analyze data and boost productivity, it has also sparked debate about how and when the use of AI should be disclosed to business clients.

"Sometimes the limitations of these tools are not even clear to the developers of the tools," says Benjamin Boudreax, a policy researcher and AI expert at RAND. "And I do think there's going to be a fair amount of burden on each of us to try to understand both how they work, but how they don't work."

Despite AI letting him down, Crabill is still a firm believer in the technology. He says he still loves being a lawyer, and says he's turning what he calls a negative into a positive.

Crabill has now started his own law firm called Av{AI}lable Legal Solutions and says AI is like a virtual legal assistant, helping cut costs and level the playing field.

"This technology can be leveraged for the benefit of people like my client," Crabill says. "Lower socioeconomic income populations who just can't afford legal services."

These days he's more careful to double-check the results, but Crabill says AI has already changed his workplace for good.

"This technology, if leveraged, rightly and well, can really mean the difference between injustice and justice for a lot of people," he says.