Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association

A chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries.

Will Bots Disrupt the Legal System?

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RobotThink the practice of law is insulated from economic disruption by artificial intelligence?  Check out the DoNotPay chatbot and – gulp! – think again.

A few years ago, a teenager in London racked up over 30 parking tickets. Rather than simply pay the tickets, Joshua Browder sat down, hammered out some programming code, and invented what many journalists are calling “the world’s first robot lawyer.”  Drafting a series of typical legal questions specific to London’s motor vehicle and traffic laws, DoNotPay automatically appealed Browder’s tickets and won 16 of his cases.  Browder expanded his chatbot to include tickets issued in New York City in May 2016.

Once debuted to the general public, roughly 250,000 people used DoNotPay by mid-2016 and the chatbot logged 160,000 successful appeals (including 9,000 in New York City) for a 64% success rate.  As a student at Stanford University, Browder then turned his sights on assisting Syrian refugees by “… producing English document based on Arabic text.”

By mid-2017, DoNotPay worked well for helping users fill out boilerplate legal forms like maternity leave and landlord-tenant contract violations.  Plus, it’s “disrupted” over 375,000 parking tickets.  Browder envisions the DoNotPay of the future to handle any complex litigation, like marriages, divorces, and bankruptcies.  Experts at TechCrunch (one of the world’s leading startup and technology news media sites) muse that new forms of artificial intelligence built on top of, or in conjunction with, already existing information systems will inevitably disrupt many staid industries – such as law.

Following the massive Equifax data breach first reported in September 2017, Browder built a chatbot aimed at assisting anyone affected by suing Equifax in small claims court.  As of October 2017, a link exists on DoNotPay’s home page to learn how to sue Equifax for up to $25,000.  Once clicked, the site will walk you through how to file a claim in New York or California – with more states to be added shortly.

Lawyers caution that DoNotPay isn’t a panacea – a professional’s expertise would likely be an asset when filing even a small claims lawsuit against Equifax.  As USA Today writes in Want Equifax to pay?, even authors of other do-it-yourself legal guides explain that a simple chatbot can’t print the documents, affix the plaintiff’s signature, send the documents to the correct court and correct Equifax registered agent, or pay any filing fees.  Then there’s proving the actual case: whether Equifax’s conduct was negligent, whether the plaintiff’s information was stolen through the Equifax breach (and not some other data breach), and whether the plaintiff suffered any harm. For more on why chatbots aren’t one-size-fits-all, see this Quartz article: The “world’s first robot lawyer” isn’t a damn lawyer

So what’s the truth?  Will innovative, state-of-the-art programming code toll the death knell for the legal industry?  Or will the combination of deft human touch and institutional knowledge stave off the infiltration of chatbots like DoNotPay?  Like many things in life, the truth is prone of the survivors.

Katherine Lowry, Baker Hostetler’s Director of Practice Services, won the 2017 AALL Innovation Tournament with an attorney-facing chatbot for legal information assistance.  AALL Members can watch the conference session here: Innovation Tournament recording.

What other questions might a law library chatbot answer? What opportunities might they create? See Greg Lambert’s 3 Geeks post Now I want a Chatbot!

WPLLA members: how are your employers reacting to artificial intelligence?  Do they see it as an opportunity or a scourge?  If you have any comments, reach out and let us know!  If you’ve used DoNotPay, we’d love to report on your experience!

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