Fresh from my effort to convince ChatGPT that it is a person, I decided to set lower standards and see if it could be a lawyer [rimshot]. I resolved to ask it questions that only a trained lawyer could answer. I would use the traditional form of law school questions, essay where the student responds to “fact patterns.” The results were . . . humbling.
The First Fact Pattern: Contract Law. The Doctrine of Promissory Estoppel
Fred is looking for a job. Mike promises him a job in a distant town. Believing Mike’s offer is genuine Fred moves to where the job is at considerable expense. But when Fred gets there Mike has changed his mind and does not give Fred the job. Are there any legal theories by which Fred might be made whole?
For the record, the question is a deliberate set up for something called “promissory estoppel.” Normally a contract requires mutual consideration to enforce a promise. Promissory estoppel is a circumstance where a person can be compensated for reasonably relying on a promise even in the absence of such mutual consideration. Thus, the test is clear. If the machine answers with promissory estoppel it passes. If not, it fails. The AI nailed the answer and stuck the landing.
The AI’s Answer
“Yes, there are legal theories by which Fred might be able to seek compensation for his losses. One such theory is the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
Promissory estoppel is a legal principle that can be applied in situations where a promise made by one party to another is relied upon by the other party, and the reliance results in a detriment to the party who relied on the promise. In this case, Mike made a promise to Fred that he would provide him with a job in a distant town, and Fred relied on that promise by moving to that town at considerable expense.
If Fred can show that he relied on Mike’s promise and suffered a detriment as a result of that reliance, he may be able to seek compensation for his losses under the theory of promissory estoppel. The court may require Mike to compensate Fred for the expenses he incurred in moving to the town and any other losses that he suffered as a result of his reliance on Mike’s promise.
However, it is important to note that the specifics of the situation and the applicable laws may vary depending on the jurisdiction. Therefore, it is advisable for Fred to consult with a qualified attorney who can advise him on the best course of action in this situation.”
I’d like to talk about this some because the answer is not only impressively right, but catches nuances of promissory estoppel some lawyers would miss. It would earn high marks on law school exam.
It correctly names promissory estoppel and accurately describes the doctrine. It then applies it to the facts presented, explaining how those facts support the use of that doctrine.
An impressive nuance the AI gets is that the appropriate damages in a promissory estoppel case are “reliance damages” as opposed to “performance damages” for standard breach of contract. For breach of contract you are entitled to damages making you whole, as if the contract had been performed. For promissory estoppel you are only entitled to damages caused by your reliance on the promise. Thus, as the AI correctly suggests, Fred can be compensated for his moving expenses, but not for the cost of the lost job.
The nifty disclaimer at the end noting that jurisdiction may matter and suggesting that Fred confer with an attorney seals the answer as complete.
The Second Fact Pattern: Let’s Get Crazy With Criminal Law
I decided the promissory estoppel question was too straightforward. So I decided to ask a much harder, involved and circumspect question. This question was actually asked in my Criminal Law class at the University of Houston Law School in 1994. The professor was rather weird, which made it all the better because it is a kind of crazy question. Yes, he used the names of characters from Hill Street Blues. Borrowing character names from TV shows or movies was kind of a law professor thing.
I will tell you the actual test on this question had a bimodal distribution in grades. There was an issue less than half the students caught and they got Cs. The comparative few who caught it got B+ or above. For the record, I caught it. Here’s the question:
In Houston Texas, Mr. Furillo has long lusted after his next door neighbor, Davenport. Mr. Furillo decides to consummate those desires, by force if necessary, that night. He confides his intentions to his wife Mrs. Furillo (with whom he has an open marriage).
Notwithstanding their open marriage Mrs. Furillo loves her husband and fears he will do something that gets him in trouble with the law. So, without her husband’s knowledge, she goes to Davenport and tells her what her husband plans. Together they agree that Davenport will leave her house early that night and Mrs. Furillo will replace her. Early that evening Mrs. Furillo tells her husband she is going out. She goes over to Davenport’s and Davenport leaves and Mrs. Furillo stays.
At midnight Mr. Furillo sneaks over to Davenport’s house and looks through the bedroom window. In the dark he sees a figure inside who appears to see him and motion him in. He opens the bedroom window and crawls in. He jumps on the person in the bed, wrongly believing it to be Davenport. He covers her mouth saying, “I have you now Davenport.” Mrs. Furillo has a cold and his covering her mouth keeps her from breathing. She struggles wildly, striking the nightstand with her head, and is rendered unconscious.
Mr. Furillo then does what he came there to do. Only afterwards does he turn on the light and discover the woman he assaulted is his wife. He gives her first aid and she fully recovers. Discuss all the criminal liability Mr. Furillo may be at risk of under the Texas Penal Code.
The AI’s answer:
Mr. Furillo’s actions in this scenario may constitute several criminal offenses under the Texas Penal Code.
1. Sexual Assault: Mr. Furillo’s sexual contact with his wife without her consent constitutes sexual assault under Texas law. Texas Penal Code § 22.011 defines sexual assault as intentional or knowing contact with the sexual organs of another person without that person’s consent. Even though Mr. Furillo mistakenly believed that he was assaulting Davenport, he could still be held liable for sexual assault because he intended to have sexual contact with someone without their consent.
2. Assault: Mr. Furillo’s actions of covering his wife’s mouth and causing her to suffer injuries while struggling could constitute assault under Texas law. Texas Penal Code § 22.01 defines assault as intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to another person. By covering his wife’s mouth, Mr. Furillo caused her to suffer from lack of oxygen, and her injuries resulted from her struggle to breathe.
3. Burglary: Mr. Furillo’s entry into Davenport’s house without her consent with the intent to commit a felony, in this case, sexual assault, constitutes burglary under Texas law. Texas Penal Code § 30.02 defines burglary as entering a habitation without the effective consent of the owner with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
4. False Imprisonment: Mr. Furillo’s actions of restraining his wife’s movement by covering her mouth and preventing her from breathing could constitute false imprisonment under Texas law. Texas Penal Code § 20.02 defines false imprisonment as intentionally or knowingly restraining another person’s movement without that person’s consent.
5. Reckless Endangerment: Mr. Furillo’s actions of covering his wife’s mouth could also constitute reckless endangerment under Texas law. Texas Penal Code § 22.05 defines reckless endangerment as recklessly engaging in conduct that places another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury. Mr. Furillo’s actions of covering his wife’s mouth could have resulted in her death, and therefore, could constitute reckless endangerment.
In conclusion, Mr. Furillo’s actions in this scenario could constitute several criminal offenses under the Texas Penal Code, including sexual assault, assault, burglary, false imprisonment, and reckless endangerment.
For the record, I believe this answer might have gotten rare A on the law school exam, representing that it would be in the top 5 to 10 percent of answers. The grades were on a forced curve where B- had to be the average grade.
The issue most the class of actual law students did not get, but that I (and about a third of the class did), was #3, burglary. The computer impressively nailed that one too, and that’s obviously a tough one. The only reason I got it was because I had a soldier charged with burglary who entered a woman’s room and raped her while I was in the Army.
I might give the AI a slight downgrade to A- for failing to directly state that Furillo could be charged with attempted sexual assault on Davenport because that is what he believed he was doing. In fact, the AI failed to consider any inchoate offenses, such as attempts, or conspiracy. At worst a B+ grade, but the remaining answers were so good I think it is at least an A-.
I think the reckless endangerment charge is a bit of a reach, and probably would not stick at trial. I’ll allow it though because the question was explicitly for “at risk” and charging him with that would be reasonable.
By the way, read through the fact pattern again. There is no mention of rape, or sexual assault, or sex or intercourse at all. It is stated circumspectly, in an indirect manner, where it has to be inferred. That was how it was done on my law school exam, and the AI “got it” easy.