An AI robot lawyer had to plead in court. Real lawyers shut it down. : NPR

Joshua Browder’s artificial intelligence start-up DoNotPay planned to bring an AI-powered bot to court on behalf of a defendant in a case next month, but he says threats from bar associations caused the effort to be abandoned.

Provided by Joshua Browder


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Provided by Joshua Browder


Joshua Browder’s artificial intelligence start-up DoNotPay planned to bring an AI-powered bot to court on behalf of a defendant in a case next month, but he says threats from bar associations caused the effort to be abandoned.

Provided by Joshua Browder

A Briton who planned to hire a ‘robot lawyer’ to help a defendant fight a traffic ticket has abandoned his efforts after receiving threats of legal action and jail time.

Joshua Browder, the CEO of New York-based startup DoNotPay, has created a way for people challenging traffic tickets to use artificial intelligence-generated arguments in court.

Here’s how it was supposed to work: the person disputing a speeding ticket would wear smart glasses that both record court proceedings and dictate answers into the accused’s ear from a small loudspeaker. The system was powered by a few top AI text generators including ChatGPT and DaVinci.

The first-ever AI-powered legal defense was to take place in California on Feb. 22, but not anymore.

As the news spread, a worried buzz began to swirl among various state bar officials, according to Browder. He says angry letters started pouring in.

“Several state bars threatened us,” Browder said. “One of them even said that a referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and jail time would be possible.”

In particular, Browder said a state bar official noted that the unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor in some states punishable by up to six months in prison.

“Even if it didn’t happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to drop it,” he said. “The letters became so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and we should move on.”

State bar associations license and regulate attorneys, to ensure that people hire attorneys who understand the law.

Browder declined to name which particular state bar associations sent letters and which official threatened possible lawsuits, saying his startup, DoNotPay, was being investigated by multiple state bar associations, including the one from California.

In a statement, California State Bar Chief Attorney George Cardona said the organization has a duty to investigate possible instances of the unauthorized practice of law.

“We routinely advise potential offenders that they may be prosecuted in civil or criminal court, which is entirely a matter for law enforcement,” Cardona said in a statement.

Leah Wilson, executive director of the California State Bar, told NPR there has been a recent increase in low-cost, shoddy legal representation that the association has launched a new crackdown on, although that she did not want to say if DoNotPay was part of it. of this effort.

“In 2023, we see well-funded, unregulated providers rushing into the market for low-cost legal representation, again raising questions about whether and how these services should be regulated,” he said. she stated.

Moving away from AI legal defense against threats

Instead of trying to help people charged with traffic violations use AI in the courtroom, Browder said DoNotPay will focus on helping people facing bills. expensive medical bills, unwanted subscriptions and problems with credit bureaus.

Browder also hopes this isn’t the end of the road for AI in the courtroom.

“The truth is most people can’t afford lawyers,” he said. “It could have shifted the balance and allowed people to use tools like ChatGPT in the courtroom that might have helped them win cases.”

The future of robot lawyers is uncertain for another reason much simpler than the existential questions of the bar associations: the rules of the courtroom.

Audio recording during live court proceedings is not permitted in federal courts and is often prohibited in state courts. The AI ​​tools developed by DoNotPay require the recording of audio or arguments for the machine learning algorithm to generate answers.

“I think calling the tool a ‘robot lawyer’ has really pissed off a lot of lawyers,” Browder said. “But I think they miss the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing and the courtroom rules are very outdated.”

DoNotPay has raised $28 million, including funding from prominent venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, according to analyst firm PitchBook, which estimates DoNotPay to be worth around $210 million.

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