January 29, 2023
A few weeks ago, the head of a company called DoNotPay offered a million dollars to anyone who’d let his a chatbot argue a case at the Supreme Court. I do not know if anyone took him up on the offer but it was later reported that two lawyers agreed to let the bot represent two defendants fight speeding tickets in traffic court.
The story picked up a lot of press (including the Smithsonian magazine), but some time later, the plan was scrapped and DoNotPay announced that its chatbot is quitting the legal services business to concentrate on consumer protection products instead.
What happened? It is not entirely clear, but if you are interested in the possibility of A-I in the legal field you should read the account of the Kathryn Tewson's account of her experience with DoNotPay which was published in two parts in Tech Dirt here and here. The story ends with DoNotPay blocking Tewson about which she writes: ". . . DoNotPay.com would rather block me, ban my account, retcon his terms of service to disallow any test usage at all, and claim to pull out of the “Legal Services” industry that his site is PLASTERED with branding for, rather than show me the two documents I generated and tried to buy."
Not a good look... Above the Law also has two comments on the story here and here. The second one of these stories deals with the bigger questions raised by this whole debacle. Could a robot help provide legal representation to clients in certain situations? Would that be a bad thing?
In general, at this point the answers are probably no and yes. But for traffic court... the answers may be different. The fact that the company was apparently trying to do something surreptitiously in court eliminated the possibility and the fact it acted so strangely when challenged by someone trying to test its product did not help its image among lawyers, but does that mean that AI legal aides don't have a place in the market of legal services?
If you are interested in this topic, you should read the article by Joe Patrice in Above the Law in which he argues that AI-driven legal aides are going to keep getting more sophisticated and that much of the arguments against allowing AI services "read a lot as though lawyers only want technology that keeps them properly installed as the sole gatekeepers of justice. . . . . In an ideal world, everyone who finds themselves before the law would have access to an attorney. But since we seem committed to a legal services model that makes that a fantasy, we need to have serious discussions about what tools we let people use to pursue their own rights."
Here is a follow up story on DoNotPay's less than stellar businsess practices.