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Automated Legal Guidance and Taxation (hosted by the Institute of Tax Law)
Joshua D Blank and Leigh Osofsky, Automated Legal Guidance, 106 Cornell Law Review 179 (2020)

Through virtual assistants and other online tools, governments increasingly rely on artificial intelligence to help the public understand and apply the law. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, encourages taxpayers to use its online Interactive Tax Assistant for information regarding various tax credits and deductions. The IRS can thus provide advice to the public at a fraction of the cost of employing human beings to perform these tasks.

The article offers one of the first critiques of these new systems. It shows that automated legal guidance currently relies upon the concept of ‘simplexity’, whereby law is presented as though it is simple. While this approach offers potential gains in terms of efficiency and ease of use, it also leads to less precise advice and potentially inaccurate legal positions. Using the Interactive Tax Assistant as a case study, the article shows that the use of simplexity in automated legal guidance is more powerful and pervasive than in static publications because it is personalised, instantaneous and non-qualified. Further, it argues that understanding the costs as well as the benefits of such systems is essential to evaluating more sophisticated systems governments are likely to adopt in future.

The article offers three recommendations to policymakers. First, it argues that governments should prevent automated legal guidance from widening the gap in access to legal advice between high-income and low-income individuals. Second, it argues that governments should introduce more robust oversight and review processes for automated legal guidance. Finally, it argues that governments should allow individuals to avoid certain penalties and sanctions where they have taken actions or legal positions in reliance upon automated legal guidance. Otherwise, the costs of these systems may soon come to outweigh their benefits.

Apr 29, 2021 05:00 PM in London

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