An AI lawyer is ready to tackle its first court case—should lawyers be worried?
In the past couple of years, we have seen artificial intelligence (AI) do just about anything. Drawing, writing, creating brand-new inventions and even coding. It thus makes complete sense that now this technology has found its way to the legal world as well. In January this year, the legal services company DoNotPay made it to the news for letting its AI lawyer (by the same name) serve as the legal representative in two speeding ticket cases. The case was set to be heard in February, and DoNotPay will provide the defendants with guidance on how to respond to the questions asked by the judge. Here is a clear look at how this AI works, the services it offers and the potential downsides of using it.
What is DoNotPay?
The company DoNotPay was founded by Joshua Browder, a Stanford University computer scientist, in 2015. The company created the DoNotPay AI chatbot as a legal services tool meant to help people deal with minor legal issues such as late fees, fines and traffic tickets.
It has since expanded its reach, and today, it can be used for a multitude of legal concerns such as filing restraining orders, annulling marriages and fighting workplace discrimination according to their website.
The company’s mission is to help its clients, “battle corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the touch of a button.” As of 2023, the DoNotPay AI has been used in 250,000 cases and won 160,000 of them, with a success rate of 64%.
How does DoNotPay work?
According to Browder, “The law is almost like code and language combined, so it’s the perfect use case for AI.” DoNotPay’s AI can help clients contest traffic tickets in court via their mobile phones, delivering prompts on when and what to say to clients through headphones. While the use of headphones isn’t legal in most places, the company has found a court where it qualifies as a hearing aid.
The AI has been trained to stick to facts as opposed to manipulating information all for the sake of winning. In case the AI is unable to win the case, the company intends to cover the cost of their traffic tickets.
DoNotPay can also be used in cases that don’t necessarily need to go to court. For instance, it can use machine learning to highlight important parts of terms of service agreements, thereby informing clients of how their information will be used. The AI can also conduct automated telephone calls to contest any unwarranted charges or cancel subscriptions with banks or any other customer service providers. If the issue escalates, you can use templates created by DoNotPay to file complaints or take legal action in small claims cases.
Besides, it has a paid email service—DoNotPay Email—that scans your emails and recommends possible courses of action you can take, such as unsubscribing to a service or applying for a refund if eligible. What’s more, if you move an email to the spam folder in your DoNotPay inbox, you will automatically get unsubscribed. It also scans spam emails and checks for class action lawsuits against the sender that the user can join in with.
To use the service, you can use your DoNotPay email address to set up an account on websites that you might want a refund or unsubscription later, or you can forward your emails to your DoNotPay inbox from your main email address.
The downsides of using DoNotPay as your lawyer
While we might think AI lawyers are tremendously useful, however, according to reviews on the business review website TrustPilot, DoNotPay is everything that it stands against. Multiple users have reported that the app did not deliver on any of its promises of making the process of getting refunds easier. They were also unable to get a refund once they tried to cancel their DoNotPay service—how ironic when this is one of its main services.
DoNotPay costs US$36 to get an annual subscription, and there is no way of canceling it mid-way through the year. The U.S.-based non-profit organization Better Business Bureau has given the website an “F” rating. This means that it is not considered a reputable business, with some of the reviews even suggesting that it is a scam.
Can lawyers survive the AI era?
Before we delve into this question, it is important to note that DoNotPay isn’t the only AI being used to simplify legal work. For example, U.S.-based company Ex-Parte uses AI and machine learning to predict the outcome of litigations. Similarly, the legal research platform Casetext provides tools like Case Analysis Research Assistant (CARA) to help attorneys find cases relevant to the one they are currently working on.
However, just because AI can lighten some of a lawyer’s workload doesn’t mean that it can overtake their job any time soon. AI tends to rely on pre-existing case data, but what happens when there is no precedent for a case? It is unlikely that AI would be able to handle cases with the same expertise and empathy that lawyers typically do. This is why state prosecutors are against having DoNotPay in court.
On January 25, Browder tweeted saying that DoNotPay is postponing its plans to go to court since doing so could land him in jail for six months. Thus, there is no immediate threat of lawyers being replaced by AI. But just because AI isn’t entering the courts doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue to influence the legal field positively. Since AI can solve things more quickly and efficiently, all that we can expect is that lawyers would not be able to bill their clients for quite as many hours as they currently do. This is definitely not a bad thing, particularly when we consider the fact that low-income people tend to lack access to legal aid.
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Header image courtesy of Envato