Provided by Joshua Browder
A British man who planned to have a “robot lawyer” help a defendant fight a traffic ticket has abandoned his efforts after receiving threats of possible prosecution and jail time.
Joshua Browder, 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 contesting the speeding ticket would wear smart glasses that simultaneously record court proceedings and dictate answers into the ear of the accused from a small speaker. The system was powered by several leading AI text generators, including ChatGPT and DaVinci.
The first legal defense with artificial intelligence was to take place in California February 22, but not anymore.
As word got out, an uneasy buzz began to swirl among various state bar officials, Browder says. He says angry letters have started pouring in.
“Multiple state bar associations have threatened us,” Browder said. “One even said referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and jail time would be possible.”
Specifically, Browder said a state bar official noted that practicing law without a license is a misdemeanor in some states punishable by up to six months in county jail.
“Even if that didn’t happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to stop 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 lawyers as a way to ensure that people hire lawyers who understand the law.
Browder declined to say which state bar associations specifically sent the letters and which official threatened possible prosecution, saying his startup, DoNotPay, is under investigation by multiple state bar associations, including California.
In a statement, California State Bar General Counsel George Cardona said the organization has a duty to investigate possible cases of unauthorized practice of law.
“We regularly notify potential violators that they could face prosecution in civil or criminal court, which is entirely up to law enforcement,” Cardona said in a statement.
Leah Wilson, executive director of the California State Bar, told NPR that there has been a recent surge in cheap and low-quality legal representation that the association has launched a new crackdown on, though she declined to comment on whether DoNotPay was part of the 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,” she said.
Moving away from the legal defense of artificial intelligence amid threats
Instead of trying to help those charged with traffic violations use artificial intelligence in the courtroom, Browder said DoNotPay will train its focus on helping people dealing with expensive medical bills, unwanted subscriptions and problems with credit reporting agencies.
Browder also remains hopeful that this isn’t the end of the road for artificial intelligence in the courtroom.
“The truth is, most people can’t afford lawyers,” he said. “This could have tipped the balance and allowed people to use tools like ChatGPT in the courtroom that may have helped them win cases.”
The future of robot lawyers faces uncertainty for another reason far simpler than bar associations’ existential questions: courtroom rules.
Audio recording during live legal proceedings is not permitted in federal court and is often prohibited in state courts. The AI tools developed by DoNotPai require audio recordings of arguments in order for a machine learning algorithm to generate responses.
“I think calling the tool a ‘robot lawyer’ really upset a lot of lawyers,” Browder said. “But I think they’re missing the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing and courtroom rules are very outdated.”
DoNotPay has raised $28 million, including funding from prominent venture capital firm Andreessen Horovitz, according to analyst firm PitchBook, which estimates DoNotPay is worth about $210 million.