Prompt engineering

ChatGPT speaks English. In fact it speaks many different languages, but it particularly likes English due to its simplicity and quality as a global language. That is fine by me, as I lack the ability to talk to it in Ukrainian. But it speaks a particular kind of English. You give it instructions in text, which are called “prompts”.

This has in turn led to a new skill called “prompt engineering”. Which is nothing more nor less, than being able to write clear, specific but potentially complex instructions which constrain the software to do what you want it to do, in the way that you want it done.

Easy, you might think. But as any pleader knows, accuracy and precision in drafting, is a skilled task, and although you can easily create something, it may not be the thing that you had in mind, or indeed the thing that you need.

For myself, the task of writing “prompts” has a curious familiarity, from writing computer code in the 1980s, except instead of using BASIC, or Z80 machine code, one uses English. One the constructs a programme of instructions, using sentences or simple text commands. But one has to scope out the full extent of the work required, and refine it.

This is not a once and for all exercise: as ChatGPT is an interative programme, you can give it instructions in series, refining and tightening the text of your instructions, to achieve your goal.  The use of prompts can occur in a variety of contexts. In this respect I am going to look at two of them: co-creation and formating. 

By co-creation, I mean using ChatGPT to facilitate your own writing. Let me explain how that works. Suppose I simply asked the software to write a 1500 word article on the use and abuse of non party costs orders, the resulting output would suck. If however I asked it to help me write the article, something more useful might emerge. So let us begin:

Assume that you are a qualified lawyer working in England and Wales, with a knowledge of English and Welsh law. Explain to me what a non party costs order is. Explain to me what the principles applicable to non party costs orders are. Identify for me 5 circumstances in which a party to litigation may at the conclusion of a case, wish to apply for a non party costs order. Give me indepth explanations as to whether a non party costs order would likely be granted by a court in such circumstances.

This produces the following text. Note that it is written at a very high level. It also lacks the insight that one would wish to put into a typical article or blog post.

A non-party costs order is a legal mechanism in England and Wales that allows a court to order someone who is not a party to the litigation to pay some or all of the costs associated with the case. This is a deviation from the general rule that only the parties involved in litigation are responsible for their own costs or the costs awarded against them.

The principles applicable to non-party costs orders are primarily derived from Section 51 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. The court’s discretion under this section is wide, and the key principles guiding its application were set out in the landmark case Dymocks Franchise Systems (NSW) Pty Ltd v Todd [2004] 1 WLR 2807, among others. The principles highlight the importance of considering whether it is just to make the order, taking into account the non-party’s involvement in the cause of the action, their conduct relating to the cause of action, and their financial interest in the outcome of the case.

Five circumstances in which a party may wish to apply for a non-party costs order, and the likelihood of such an order being granted, include:

  1. Funding Litigation: A non-party who funds litigation may be subject to a costs order if the litigation is unsuccessful. Courts consider whether the funder controlled or stood to benefit from the litigation. A costs order is more likely if the funder had a significant control or stood to benefit substantially from the outcome.

  2. Director’s Conduct: A director of a company who is not a party to the litigation but has played an active role in the conduct of the litigation or the underlying dispute may be liable for costs. The court will consider the extent of the director’s personal conduct and involvement in the case. Orders are more likely when directors have acted beyond their corporate role, especially in cases of fraudulent or wrongful conduct.

  3. Third-party Interference: If a third party has interfered with the litigation process or has acted in a way to drive the litigation, they may be liable for costs. The court will look at the level of interference and whether it was substantial enough to justify a costs order.

  4. Insurance Companies: Insurance companies that have conducted the defence of a claim under a policy may be liable for costs, especially if they have controlled the litigation. The likelihood of a costs order being made against an insurer is higher if they had a direct role in the litigation strategy or refused a reasonable settlement.

  5. Corporate Groups and Sole Owners: Where a parent company or sole owner has directed and funded the litigation of its subsidiary or another entity, they may be liable for costs. The court will assess the level of control and benefit derived from the litigation by the parent company or owner. Orders are more likely where there is clear evidence of direct involvement and financial interest in the outcome of the litigation.

In each of these circumstances, the overarching consideration for the court is whether it is just and equitable to make the order. The court will look at the conduct of the non-party, their relationship to the litigation, and the extent to which they have contributed to the costs being incurred. Non-party costs orders are exceptional and are not granted lightly; there must be compelling reasons to justify such an order.

But I can go deeper, using the iterative qualities of ChatGPT. Now instead of copying and pasting this, I can ask it further questions in order to use ChatGPT as a “co creator”, sparking my knowledge and giving me angles to look at:

What are the pros and cons of the non party costs order jurisdiction? When considering the context of an order against a director, tell me with a granular level of detail, what must be etablished before such an order might be made by the court? Use easy and accessible language in your answers.

The response comes back:

The jurisdiction to award non-party costs orders is a powerful tool in litigation, enabling courts to ensure that justice is served by allocating the costs of litigation more fairly in certain circumstances. However, like any legal tool, it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.


  1. Fairness and Equity: This jurisdiction allows for a more equitable distribution of costs, especially in situations where non-parties have significantly contributed to the cause of litigation or have a substantial interest in the outcome.
  2. Deterrence: It can act as a deterrent against frivolous or vexatious litigation funded or encouraged by non-parties. Knowing that they might be liable for costs could make third parties think twice before interfering.
  3. Access to Justice: By potentially holding funders liable, it might encourage more careful consideration and due diligence before litigation is pursued, which can indirectly lead to a reduction in baseless claims.


  1. Chilling Effect: The risk of being held liable for costs could deter legitimate third-party funding of litigation, especially in cases where the funded party does not have the means to pursue a case that could be in the public interest.
  2. Uncertainty and Complexity: The discretion granted to courts can introduce an element of unpredictability, making it difficult for parties and non-parties to assess the potential financial risks of litigation.
  3. Resource Intensity: Applications for non-party costs orders can lead to additional hearings and further legal costs, possibly prolonging the litigation process.

Making an Order Against a Director:

For a court to consider making a non-party costs order against a director, several factors need to be established. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Direct Involvement: It must be shown that the director had a level of involvement in the litigation that goes beyond what would normally be expected from a director acting in their capacity to manage the company. This involves actively participating in or directing the litigation strategy.
  2. Personal Benefit: There should be evidence that the director stood to gain personally from the outcome of the litigation. This does not necessarily mean financial gain but can include other forms of personal advantage.
  3. Conduct Contributing to Costs: The conduct of the director, particularly if it falls into the realms of impropriety or bad faith, would be a significant factor. The court will look at whether this conduct has directly resulted in unnecessary costs being incurred.
  4. Financial Control and Funding: The director’s role in financing the litigation is also a critical aspect. If the director has provided the financial backing for the litigation, this increases the likelihood of an order being made.
  5. Failure to Adhere to Legal Obligations: If the director’s actions demonstrate a disregard for their legal obligations, either to the court or under general law, this can justify an order.

Before making an order, the court will consider the overall fairness and justice of the situation. The key is not just the involvement of the director but the nature and extent of that involvement, especially actions that can be seen as an abuse of the litigation process or that unfairly increase the litigation costs for the other party.

And so the conversation can develop. But you will have noticed an interesting thing. The more precise I am, the better the response. And this leads us onto the far more useful technique of “chain prompting”, which I will deal with on another occasion. But I want to conclude this post, with a discussion on formatting.

On formatting, I can suggest the kind of structure or format I want to see: I can specify numbers, word counts, number of lines, whether I want the answer in prose or as poetry. But I can be even more specific by the use of “inserts”, which are square brackets as follows:

Write an article which explains why all handsome barristers should be appointed to the House of Lords and given power to rule over the United Kingdom in the following format: [catchy title that uses a pun] [the consequences of barristers becoming rulers][a paragraph setting out 5 reasons why barristers should be appointed to the House of Lords][a paragraph explaining each such reason in turn][a concluding paragraph explaning why this will never happen][a joke at the barristers expense]

I use formatting to gain more control over the structure of the content. It can be used to create a higher quality first draft, and then I can refine the content, using iterative questions. This weaves in the ideas (which come from me) and the heavy lifting of first draft (which comes from ChatGPT). Here is that first draft:

“Courtly Conduct: The Barrister Bench Pressing the UK into Shape”

The Unconventional Rise of Legal Lions

Imagine a United Kingdom governed not by career politicians but by its most dashing legal minds, where the House of Lords is more akin to a ‘Court of Appeal’ against political misjudgments. While the notion of barristers taking the reins of the country might seem as fanciful as a plot from a legal drama, let’s explore the ripple effects of such a judiciary juggernaut.

Five Arguments for the Gavel of Governance

  1. Legal Expertise: Barristers bring a deep understanding of law and order, crucial for crafting fair and just policies.
  2. Rhetorical Skill: Their prowess in argumentation and public speaking is unmatched, perfect for debate and diplomacy.
  3. Ethical Integrity: Trained to uphold justice, barristers could bring a much-needed moral compass to political leadership.
  4. Analytical Acumen: Their ability to dissect complex cases can translate into effective problem-solving at a national level.
  5. Public Confidence: The respect and trust barristers command could restore faith in the governmental process.

A Closer Look at the Legal Lineup

Legal Expertise ensures policies are not just made, but made right, with an intricate balance of fairness and practicality. Rhetorical Skill turns parliamentary debates into masterclasses of persuasion and policy-making. Ethical Integrity transforms political decision-making, prioritizing the public good over personal gain. Analytical Acumen introduces a methodical approach to national issues, ensuring solutions are both effective and efficient. Lastly, Public Confidence in these legal guardians could rejuvenate the political landscape, fostering a renewed sense of unity and purpose.

The Fantasy of Legal Lords

As tantalizing as the prospect of barristers at the helm might be, bridging the gap between legal expertise and political governance is a quixotic quest. The realms of law and politics, while intertwined, demand distinct skills and sensibilities. The judiciary’s independence is its strength, allowing it to hold the government accountable. Merging these domains could compromise this critical balance, blurring the lines of separation that safeguard our democracy.

The Final Verdict: A Legal Jest

In the end, the idea of barristers ruling the UK is perhaps best reserved for a world where courtrooms and council chambers are indistinguishable. And let’s not forget, if handsome barristers were to govern, who would be left to defend us in court? Perhaps it’s best they stay in their robes rather than robes of state. After all, we wouldn’t want their judgment clouded by the fog of politics—lest they find themselves in a ‘court of appeal’ against the court of public opinion!

“Why don’t barristers ever become prime ministers? Because they can’t handle the cross-examination from the press!”

Not the best jokes, I am afraid. But then I find that actually comforting. Humour is still something humans do best. In the next post, I will look at “chain prompting”, and how this can be used, to create more indepth summaries and plans.

2 thoughts on “Prompt engineering

  1. This is all fascinating stuff, but how do we know that ChatGPT didn’t write the whole thing? Prompt: write a detailed article about ChatGPT writing a detailed article about non-party costs orders in England and Wales as though the article is written by a costs barrister.

    1. Or indeed Simon, that beneath the veneer, you have not always been a cybernetic lifeform, bent on a mission of a destruction?

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