Jail threats stop AI 'robot lawyer' from making its debut in court

DoNotPay's AI-powered technology was supposed to help a defendant in court next month.

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Joshua Browder, the CEO of New York startup DoNotPay, recently announced that his company's bot will represent a defendant fighting a traffic ticket in the courtroom on February 22nd. "DoNotPay A.I will whisper in someone's ear exactly what to say. We will release the results and share more after it happens," he said. We may never know how the "robot lawyer" will fare in court, though, because a few days later, Browder announced that DoNotPay is postponing its court case after reportedly receiving jail threats from state bar prosecutors if he was to go through with his plan.

The CEO told NPR that multiple state bar associations had threatened his company, and one even said he could be imprisoned for six months. He told the media organization: "Even if it wouldn't happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to give it up. The letters have become so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and that we should move on." While the State Bar of California refused to talk about DoNotPay's situation, it told NPR that it has a duty to investigate potential instances of unauthorized law practice.

Browder originally created DoNotPay as a free AI-powered chatbot that can help draft letters and fill out forms for various legal matters, including appeals for parking tickets. The company's "robot lawyer" is said to be powered by several AI text generators, including ChatGPT and DaVinci, that have been tuned to focus on law. A defendant using the technology in court would have worn smart glasses to record the court proceedings, as well as a headset that would give the AI a way to tell them what to say.

As CBS News said in a previous report, though, the tech isn't legal in most courtrooms. Also, in some states, all parties must consent to being recorded. DoNotPay looked at 300 cases, but only two were viable candidates. In the end, Browder reversed course and suggested the company will instead fixate on consumer rights issues, specifically lowering medical bills, cancelling subscriptions and disputing credit reports, among others.

On January 24th, Kathryn Tewson took to Twitter to share an in-depth analysis of the platform after attempting to generate a Defamation Demand Letter, Divorce Settlement Agreement and a Sue Anyone in Small Claims Court document. They found the process to be confusing, often finding DoNotPay switched focus on the action they wished to take.

"There is literally nothing AI about this. This is a straight-up plug-and-chug document wizard, and it is not well done at all," Tewson remarked, adding: "Let me be clear: this is a terrible demand letter. Absolutely terrible. Useless or worse than useless — if an actual attorney saw this, she would instantly know that the sender was unsophisticated, unrepresented, and gullible af."

NPR said, however, that the CEO is still hoping that artificial intelligence could eventually help people in the courtroom. "The truth is, most people can't afford lawyers. This could've shifted the balance and allowed people to use tools like ChatGPT in the courtroom that maybe could've helped them win cases," he told the organization.