'Expert System' Found Practicing Law Without License

California's Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel upheld a previous court's ruling, effectively finding that a web-based "expert system" was practicing law without a licence last week.

Jayson Reynoso accessed the "Ziinet Bankruptcy Engine," an online site that purported to offer a sophisticated "expert system" that knew bankruptcy law:

Ziinet 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.

When a bankruptcy trustee noticed some errors, Reynoso blamed his computer counsel; he and the trustee brought suit. The appellate panel stated in it's decision that it agreed with the earlier court ruling when it found that "the court considered the merits and found that Frankfort qualified as a bankruptcy petition preparer, had violated the requirements placed on such preparers by § 110, had committed fraudulent, unfair, or deceptive conduct, and had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law."

In his 1990 novel Earth, author David Brin wrote about "lawyer programs" that are in routine use in the near future.

Spivey held up one hand. "First I must tell you, Mr. Eng, that what we're about to discuss is highly classified. Top secret."

Logan winced. "I want my lawyer program."

The officer smiled placatingly. "I assure you it's all legal..."
(Read more about David Brin's lawyer program)

Update Mar-09-2007: As mentioned by a reader, see the Law Expert System (LEX) from The Moat by Greg Egan. (End update.)

From UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT (pdf) via Wired.

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