Automated Legal Guidance and Taxation
Date: 29 April 2021
This event was hosted by the Institute of Tax Law at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London.
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.
Joshua Blank is Professor of Law and Faculty Director of Strategic Initiatives at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Previously, he was a member of the full-time faculty of NYU School of Law, where he served as Professor of Tax Law, Vice Dean for Technology-Enhanced Education and Faculty Director of its postgraduate tax programme. Professor Blank’s scholarship focuses on tax administration and compliance, taxpayer privacy, and taxation of business entities. His recent publications have appeared in Cornell Law Review, Emory Law Journal, New York University Law Review, Southern California Law Review, Tax Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and UCLA Law Review, among others.
He is a frequent contributor to Bloomberg, CNN, Fortune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Professor Blank received a Teacher of the Year Award from the Association of American Law Schools in 2020, the NYU School of Law Alumni Association Legal Teaching Award in 2017, and the Podell Distinguished Teaching Award from NYU School of Law in 2014.