AI lawyer cancels court date after threats of jail time surface

An artificial intelligence program was supposed to aid a real defendant in court.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Robotic hand in front of law books
Robotic hand in front of law books


Earlier this month, we reported how a program trained with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) was set to help a defendant contest his case in a U.S. court next month. Instead of addressing the court, the program, which will run on a smartphone, would supply appropriate responses through an earpiece to the defendant, who can then use them in the courtroom.

Prosecution and jail time

Now, NPR has reported that the effort will be dropped after the owner of the program, Joshua Browder, the CEO of the New York-based startup DoNotPay, received threats of possible prosecution and jail time.

“Multiple state bar associations have threatened us," Browder told NPR. "One even said a referral to the district attorney's office and prosecution and prison time would be possible."

One state bar official even noted that the unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor in some states and is punishable with up to six months in county jail.

"Even if it wouldn't happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to give it up," Browder added. "The letters have become so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and that we should move on."

In a statement, State Bar of California Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona noted that his organization has to examine all possible instances of unauthorized law practice.

"We regularly let potential violators know that they could face prosecution in civil or criminal court, which is entirely up to law enforcement," Cardona said in a statement.

Browder said DoNotPay will now pivot its intentions to focus on assisting people dealing with expensive medical bills, unwanted subscriptions, and issues with credit reporting agencies.

Still hopes for its day in court

But he hasn’t entirely given up on AI seeing its day in the courtroom.

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"The truth is, most people can't afford lawyers," he said. "This could've shifted the balance and allowed people to use tools like ChatGPT in the courtroom that maybe could've helped them win cases."

According to its website, DoNotPay's expertise goes above and beyond just helping with speeding tickets, and the program, which costs just $36 a year, could offer a very pocket-friendly option for those who want to put up a fight in court.

However, another obstacle to AI in court is that the program requires the sessions to be recorded. Recording audio during a live legal proceeding is not permitted in federal court and is often prohibited in state courts. 

"I think calling the tool a 'robot lawyer' really riled a lot of lawyers up," Browder said. "But I think they're missing the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing, and courtroom rules are very outdated."

Earlier this month, Browder claimed that he had found a court where listening via an earpiece was within the rules, even though it might not be in the spirit of the rules. It seems this fact has since been up for debate. Will the AI lawyer ever see its day in court?

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