ChatGPT, Esq.: Recasting Unauthorized Practice of Law in the Era of Generative AI

Joseph J. Avery, Patricia Sánchez Abril, Alissa del Riego
26 YALE J.L. & TECH. 64
In March of 2023, OpenAI released GPT-4, an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce text. GPT-4 has unprecedented ability to practice law: drafting briefs and memos, plotting litigation strategy, and providing general legal advice. However, scholars and practitioners have yet to unpack the implications of large language models, such as GPT-4, for long-standing bar association rules on the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”). The intersection of large language models with UPL raises manifold issues, including those pertaining to important and developing jurisprudence on free speech, antitrust, occupational licensing, and the inherent-powers doctrine. How the intersection is navigated, moreover, is of vital importance in the durative struggle for access to justice, and low-income individuals will be disproportionately impacted.
In this Article, we offer a recommendation that is both attuned to technological advances and avoids the extremes that have characterized the past decades of the UPL debate. Rather than abandon UPL rules, and rather than leave them undisturbed, we propose that they be recast as primarily regulation of entity-type claims. Through this recasting, bar associations can retain their role as the ultimate determiners of “lawyer” and “attorney” classifications while allowing nonlawyers, including the AI-powered entities that have emerged in recent years, to provide legal services—save for a narrow and clearly defined subset. Although this recommendation is novel, it is easy to implement, comes with few downsides, and would further the twin UPL aims of competency and ethicality better than traditional UPL enforcement. Legal technology companies would be freed from operating in a legal gray area; states would no longer have to create elaborate UPL- avoiding mechanisms, such as Utah’s “legal sandbox”; consumers—both individuals and companies—would benefit from better and cheaper legal services; and the dismantling of access-to-justice barriers would finally be possible. Moreover, the clouds of free speech and antitrust challenges that are massing above current UPL rules would dissipate, and bar associations would be able to focus on fulfilling their already established UPL-related aims.