Law Firm Scolded For 'Misbegotten' ChatGPT Use In Fees Bid

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A Manhattan federal judge criticized a special education-focused law firm Thursday for citing ChatGPT calculations to back up its attorney fee request of more than $100,000, calling the move "utterly and unusually unpersuasive."

App icons on a phone showing ChatGPT

The judge said that, "barring a paradigm shift in the reliability of this tool, the Cuddy Law Firm is well advised to excise references to ChatGPT from future fee applications." ( Way)

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer knocked the fees for the Cuddy Law Firm PLLC down to just $53,050.13 plus interest for work done in a case brought by a parent on behalf of a child against the New York City Department of Education involving two administrative hearings.

The firm had asked for $113,484.62 plus interest after securing judgments against the department, saying the feedback from the generative artificial intelligence program supported its request.

"As the firm should have appreciated, treating ChatGPT's conclusions as a useful gauge of the reasonable billing rate for the work of a lawyer with a particular background carrying out a bespoke assignment for a client in a niche practice area was misbegotten at the jump," Judge Engelmayer wrote Thursday.

An attorney for the department, Tom Lindeman, said in a statement to Law360 Pulse that his side is pleased with the decision. 

"The firm's use of ChatGPT to support its aggressive fee request was deemed inappropriate and, as the court determined, the city's prior offer to resolve fees was fair and reasonable," Lindeman said. 

An attorney for the Cuddy Law Firm didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The parent of an unnamed child, referred to as G.G., hired the Cuddy Law Firm. G.G. has hyperactivity disorder, a language disorder, a developmental coordination disorder and acute stress disorder, according to Thursday's decision.

The child's parent, referred to as J.G., initiated two due process hearings, alleging in the first that the department failed to provide the child with a free appropriate public education for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. That included failing to provide annual reviews, evaluations and appropriate education services and implementing special education teacher support services, as mandated by the child's individualized education program from January 2018.

In the second matter, the parent alleged that the department again did not provide a free appropriate public education for the 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. She argued that the department failed to develop an independent education program in accordance with psychological evaluations, leading J.G. to enroll the child in a preparatory school, according to the decision.

In both cases, an impartial hearing officer found that the department erred, ordering it to provide compensatory education and tuition reimbursement for the preparatory school.

The Cuddy Law Firm sought compensation for its work in both hearings and resulting fees litigation. While the firm doesn't rely predominantly on ChatGPT-4 in arguing for its billing rates, it did present the findings of the AI program as a "cross-check," Judge Engelmayer said.

He added that the law firm failed to identify any information it inputted into ChatGPT for it to rely on to confirm its calculation, among other omissions.

"The court therefore rejects out of hand ChatGPT's conclusions as to the appropriate billing rates here. Barring a paradigm shift in the reliability of this tool, the Cuddy Law Firm is well advised to excise references to ChatGPT from future fee applications," the judge said.

Because of the inefficiencies of the ChatGPT argument, as well as its other arguments, the court decided to reduce the attorney fees awarded to the Cuddy Law Firm.

"For the reasons stated, the court grants J.G.'s motion for an award of fees and costs, but in an amount below that sought. J.G. is awarded $52,386.01 in fees and $664.12 in costs, for a total of $53,050.13, plus post-judgment interest at the applicable statutory rate," Judge Engelmayer said.

Outside the ChatGPT issue, the court reduced the fees in part because the parent and the Cuddy Law Firm had not given evidence that the case presented novel or complex legal or factual issues.

Additionally, in the first hearing, the department conceded its failure to provide a free appropriate public education for the child and did not oppose the parent's request for relief, submit a closing brief or appeal the decision, leading to less work for the attorneys.

In the second instance, the hearing was brief and consisted of two sessions lasting between two and three hours with the department presenting only one witness and cross-examining only two of the four witnesses presented by the parent.

"J.G.'s attorneys undoubtedly spent time and resources preparing for the hearings in the two administrative proceedings. But the case unavoidably qualifies as 'a fairly standard action for special education and related services,'" the judge found.

The parent is represented by Francesca Teresa Antorino of the Cuddy Law Firm PLLC.

The New York City Department of Education is represented by Lauren Michelle Howland and Thomas Lindeman of the New York Law Department.

The case is J.G. et al. v. New York City Department of Education, case number 1:23-cv-00959, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Emma Brauer.

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