Joshua Browder, the founder of legally-themed chatbot DoNotPay, announced with much fanfare earlier this month that his robot lawyer would actually represent a human in court.
DoNotPay is software supported by artificial intelligence (AI) which was initially created to help challenge parking tickets; it has since expanded to the provision of other legal services.
Browder explained that the AI would be run on a smartphone which would listen to the proceedings and instruct the defendant what to say via an earpiece. Fresh from getting a $16 bank fee reversed by connecting the AI to the bank’s customer service department, Browder was initially full of confidence, and a fair bit of righteousness.
“A lot of lawyers are just charging way too much money to copy and paste documents and I think they will definitely be replaced, and they should be replaced,” he told New Scientist magazine. DoNotPay would not, however, reveal the specific court or name the defendant.
Browder had already attracted media attention with a stunt in which he offered $1 million to anyone prepared to let his robot lawyer argue a case they had before the Supreme Court of the United States. Unfortunately his robot lawyer forget to tell him that electronics are banned within the hallowed halls of America’s highest court.
Attracting the attention of the legal profession, however, turned out to be a pretty bad move and prompted a response that a human lawyer, at least, would have told him to expect. Prosecutors threatened that he might go to jail if he tried to use the AI in court, which was bad enough; but then people in the legal profession began testing the service, and tweeting the results.
One paralegal noted that the service took eight hours to provide a response to one request, which would test the patience of even the most understanding of judges. Worse, the documents provided prompted one user to describe the software as, “a straight-up plug-and-chug document wizard”. Another lawyer alleged that the AI violated the US Bankruptcy Code.
Following all this, DoNotPay has abandoned plans to represent people in court. On 26 January Browder tweeted that DoNotPay was effectively exiting the legal market, noting that things like defamation demand letters and divorce agreements had little usage and were a distraction. The AI would return to focusing on consumer rights products which help lower medical bills, cancel subscriptions and dispute credit reports because, “there isn’t a lawyer that will get out of bed to help you with a $400 refund”.
The outcome will hardly surprise many in legal profession, especially given that in most jurisdictions (including Queensland) the services DoNotPay planned to provide would certainly be considered legal services, and so only able to be provided by a lawyer. Legality aside, the limitations of the software itself would seem to mean that lawyers are in no danger of being replaced by robots – yet.