Intermediaries asked ChatGPT to simplify complex legal information

From writing your dissertation to creating a snappy business tagline, ChatGPT is the latest piece of Artificial Intelligence poised to steal your job. Created by Open AI, the tech allows users to ‘chat’ with its system and to ask it to complete an endless range of text-based tasks, from producing copy for a website, to writing poems:

Limerick written by ChatGPT

According to Business Insider, “Chat bots like GPT are powered by large amounts of data and computing techniques to make predictions about stringing words together in a meaningful way. They not only tap into a vast amount vocabulary and information, but also understand words in context. This helps them mimic speech patterns while dispatching an encyclopedic knowledge”.

Intermediaries vs. AI

So, how do ChatGPT’s simplification skills stack up, and could the intermediaries of the future be generated by artificial intelligence? We decided to put it to the test.

Before we put the bot through its paces, it’s important to remember that every person Communicourt supports is unique, with their own, individual profile of communication strengths and difficulties. Intermediaries carefully assess each person’s communication skills, producing bespoke intermediary reports which recommend specific adjustments and strategies to improve the individual’s participation in legal proceedings.

The intermediary role is a person-centred role, which relies heavily on human connection. Rapport building, exploring strategies creatively and responding empathetically to service user needs are core intermediary skills. It is difficult to imagine artificial intelligence replicating these skills any decade soon.

However, with a suite of endlessly adaptable tools behind the scenes, it is theoretically possible to ‘teach’ tools like ChatGPT to explain legal proceedings using a range of different approaches (simplified vocabulary, defining complex terms, using analogy, using ‘flow charts’, using short sentences, using bullet points etc.) which could assist a range of court users with diverse communication needs.

Let battle commence…

To test out the tech, we asked both a Communicourt intermediary and ChatGPT to complete some short simplification tasks. Here are the results:

Round 1: An extract from a court order

Original: All parties must immediately inform the allocated judge as soon as they become aware that any direction given by the court cannot be complied with and to seek in advance an extension of time to comply. In the event that a party fails to comply with directions and/or fails to attend any hearing without good reason the court may make final orders including care orders and placement orders at that hearing.

ChatGPT simplification: All parties must tell the judge if they can’t follow a court order and ask for more time. If they don’t follow the order or show up to a hearing without a good reason, the court may make final orders (decisions) about care and placement.

Intermediary simplification:

Everyone in the case must tell the judge if there are any problems with:

  • Finishing the parenting assessment by 10th February 2023.
  • Getting Dr [NAME] to write down his opinion by 10th February 2023.
  • Doing the drug test by 14th February 2023.

If there are any problems, they must tell the judge and ask for more time.

The judge can make a final decision at the next hearing, even if:

  • You don’t do the tasks the court asked you to do (like the drug test).
  • You don’t come to the next hearing without a good reason.

The judge’s final decision could be:

  • Making a care order (deciding CHILD can’t live with you).
  • Making a placement order (deciding social services can look for a new family for CHILD).

*(invented examples for context).

Round 2: Simplification of court concepts – Threshold

ChatGPT simplifications:

Request: Explain “threshold” in care proceedings in simple terms:

Threshold in care proceedings is a legal term used to describe the level of harm or risk of harm that must be met before the court can make an order taking a child into care. It is based on the principle that it is only in exceptional circumstances that a court should interfere with a family’s right to look after their own children.

Request: Use a flow chart to explain “threshold” in care proceedings in simple terms:

Start: Is there evidence of significant harm to the child?

Yes:→ Proceed to court
No:→ End

Proceed to court
Are there any other factors that suggest the child is at risk of significant harm?

Yes:→ Court will consider threshold criteria
No:→ End
Court will consider threshold criteria.
Does the court believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if no action is taken?

Yes:→ Court will make a care order
No:→ End

Intermediary simplification:

  • Threshold is a word used at family court.
  • It means that the parents* have ‘crossed a line’ and put their child at risk.
  • Social services have to prove to the judge that you have ‘crossed a line’ and put Millie at risk.
  • If the judge believes them, she could decide that Millie can’t live with you anymore.

These are the things social services say ‘crossed a line’ and put Millie at risk:

*(invented examples for context).

Round 3: Simplification of complex concepts – Joint Enterprise

Request: Explain joint enterprise to a person with learning difficulties

Joint enterprise is when two or more people work together to commit a crime. It means that each person involved in the crime is responsible for the actions of the other people involved. For example, if two people rob a bank together, they are both responsible for the robbery even if one person did not actually do anything.

Intermediary simplification:

Joint enterprise is used when two or more people do a crime together.

It means you can be guilty of a crime, even when you didn’t do it yourself.

This is why the police say you stole Kate’s phone*:

  • You didn’t touch the phone or talk to Kate.
  • But you were there when John threatened Kate and took her phone.
  • Your texts show that you knew what John was going to do.
  • You didn’t try to stop him.
  • Because you were standing next to John, Kate felt more scared (there were two of you).
  • This helped John to steal her phone.

This means that the jury can decide you are both guilty of stealing the phone.

*(invented examples for context).

And the winner is…

ChatGPT offered some good, rapid simplification of some concepts and legal documents. However, many lower-frequency words (e.g. “significant harm” and “final order”) and longer sentence structures still appeared in the bot’s simplifications (although it is possible to further refine the app’s output).

However, for time-strapped solicitors working with a client who has difficulty reading complex court documents with understanding (and do not have an intermediary), this technology is certainly something which could prove helpful in future. Of course, AI-simplified documents would require careful review before provision to clients, however, the technology could potentially assist solicitors to provide more accessible court documents to their clients, without needing to simplify the text themselves.

One important aspect of simplification (making concepts, vocabulary and information relevant and concrete for the service user) was particularly absent from the simplifications offered by artificial intelligence. A human intermediary can quickly assimilate information about a case, apply it to their understanding of court concepts and develop simplifications which are accessible for each individual court user in their specific case – all while taking into consideration a very wide range of factors (the environment of the explanation, the service user’s response to intermediary assistance, their emotional regulation, their attention, their communication difficulties and strategies which assist them).

AI certainly has the capacity to eventually attune its output depending on a wide range of variables (like those listed above). However, human connection, responsiveness and adaptability lie at the heart of the intermediary role. So, don’t expect IntermediaryBot3000 to be taking the affirmation in the courtroom any time soon.  

Learn more about the intermediary role

To learn more about simplification or other aspects of the intermediary role, visit The Access Brief (our free library of resources for legal professionals working with a client who has communication needs). You could also tune into the Accessing Justice Podcast to listen to discussions about ensuring equal access to justice for court users with a wide range of diagnoses and difficulties.