'Robot lawyer' creator says a lot of attorneys 'should be replaced' by AI

We caught up with the man behind the tech to find out if lawyers are about to be usurped by artificial intelligence.
Alice Cooke
Stock image of a robotic hand striking gavel.
Stock image of a robotic hand striking gavel.

AndreyPopov/iStock 

  • Next month, an AI-powered program will defend a case in a U.S. court through a smartphone.

  • The idea behind the tech is to make defending yourself against injustice accessible to everyone.

  • But they’re not the first to use AI in court. China has been developing a “smart court” system since 2016.

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Next month, a defendant is going to contest his case using a program trained by artificial intelligence (AI).

It will auto-respond from a smartphone through an earpiece to the defendant. It's Siri meets Atticus Finch. But is that a winning formula?

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DoNotPay, the company behind the initiative, says its program will successfully be able to defend the speeding case, which is due to be heard in a U.S. court in February 2023. 

The identity of the defendant is (at the time of writing) something of an enigma, but the speeding ticket element has been confirmed. 

What is DoNotPay?

Founded in 2015, it's an AI solution that – as the name suggests — helps individuals take on large organizations for wrongly applicated fees, persistent robocalling, unjust parking tickets, and the like.

It says most of these cases are "winnable," but appeals fall by the wayside simply because defendants cannot afford high legal fees or don't have the time and/or resources to fight bureaucracy.

To date, the company has used AI templates to win more than two million customer service disputes and court cases on behalf of individuals against institutions and organizations.

And investors are backing it. To date, it has raised $27.7 million from tech-focused venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz and Crew Capital.

But until now, DoNotPay's services have revolved around helping you jump through the hoops laid out for you by the Interactive Voice Response Systems (IVRS)of large organizations – its AI provides you with the perfect answer to each question, with an intelligent responder.

Robot lawyer

In 2023 though, DoNotPay will flex its muscles a little more by helping an individual defend his case against a speeding ticket. This is a first for the company and is an initiative they're calling "robot lawyer."

CEO Josh Browder says: "In the past year, AI tech has really developed and allowed us to go back and forth in real-time with corporations and governments. We spoke live [with companies and customer service reps] to lower bills with companies, and what we're doing next month is to try to use the tech in a courtroom for the first time."

So the program does all the data crunching from past cases to prepare the individual's defense and even responds to questions raised in court. Clever, right?

In fact, it goes further than that because Browder has even tweaked the audio tool not to react to statements instantly. Instead, it lets the offense finish their discussion, analyzes comments, and then presents a solution.

He says: "It's all about language, and that's what lawyers charge hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour to do."

And as to why, Browder adds: "There'll still be a lot of good lawyers out there who may be arguing in the European Court of Human Rights, but 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."

What if it fails?

This speeding ticket guinea pig guy (or girl) is on to a winner here, as DoNotPay is willing to pay the fine if the program's advice doesn't help the client. 

If it wins, on the other hand, they're on to something pretty major. 

Is it legal?

Browder says the company has found a court where listening via an earpiece is within the rules (even though it might not be in the spirit of the rules).

But going forward, finding courtrooms where AI is accepted as legal counsel might be tricky. The tech isn't legal in most courtrooms, and some states require that all parties consent to be recorded, which rules out the possibility of a robot lawyer in the majority of cases. 

In fact, of the 300 cases DoNotPay considered for a trial of its robot lawyer, only two were actually feasible. 

Browder concedes: "It's not in the spirit of the law, but we're trying to push things forward, and a lot of people can't afford legal help. If these cases are successful, it will encourage more courts to change their rules."

But he's not deterred: "This courtroom stuff is more advocacy," he said. "It's more to encourage the system to change." 

The goal

Browder aims to democratize legal representation by making it free for those who can't afford it and, in some cases, eliminating the need for pricey attorneys.

"What we are trying to do is automate consumer rights," says Browder. "New technologies typically fall into the hands of big companies first, and our goal is to put it in the hands of the people first."

The challenges

When Browder tweeted about demoing DoNotPay's robot lawyer in court last month, he was threatened by lawyers, who told him he'd be sent to jail if he carried on. Punchy.

And he is the first to admit that the technology is in its infancy: "ChatGPT is very good at holding conversations, but it's terrible at knowing the law. We've had to retrain these AIs to know the law. 

"AI is a high school student, and we're sending it to law school."

But he's not the first

China was the first to use AI in the courtroom.

Last July, it announced that it is using the technology to improve its court system by recommending laws, drafting documents, and flagging up "perceived human errors" in rulings. 

In fact, in China, judges must now consult AI on every case by law. And if they go against its recommendation, they have to submit a written explanation as to why.

The country has actually been developing a "smart court" system since 2016 when Chief Justice Qiang Zhou called for technology to improve the "fairness, efficiency, and credibility" of the judicial system.

So China is what you might accurately describe as one step ahead.