An AI robot lawyer was ready to argue in court. Real lawyers shut it down. :npr

Joshua Browder’s artificial intelligence startup, DoNotPay, planned to have an AI-powered bot argue on behalf of a defendant in a case next month, but says threats from bar associations have made it drop the effort.

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Provided by Joshua Browder

Joshua Browder’s artificial intelligence startup, DoNotPay, planned to have an AI-powered bot argue on behalf of a defendant in a case next month, but says threats from bar associations have made it drop the effort.

Provided by Joshua Browder

A British man who planned to have a “robot lawyer” help a defendant fight a traffic ticket has abandoned the effort 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.

This is how it was supposed to work: the person challenging a speeding ticket would use smart glasses that record court proceedings and dictate responses into the defendant’s ear from a small speaker. The system was based on some leading AI text generators including ChatGPT and DaVinci.

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

As word spread, a murmur of concern began to rise among several state bar officials, according to Browder. He says that angry letters began to arrive.

“Multiple state bar associations have threatened us,” Browder said. “One even said 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 county jail.

“Even if it didn’t happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to resign,” he said. “The letters have become 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 attorneys who understand the law.

Browder declined to cite which particular state bar associations sent the letters and which official made the threat of possible prosecution, saying his startup, DoNotPay, is under investigation by several state bar associations, including California’s.

In a statement, the California State Bar’s lead trial attorney, George Cardona, declined to comment on the DoNotPay investigation, but said the organization has a duty to investigate potential instances of unauthorized practice of law.

“We regularly inform potential violators that they could face prosecution in a civil or criminal court, which is entirely dependent on law enforcement,” Cardona said in a statement.

Leah Wilson, executive director of the California State Bar Association, told NPR there has been a recent rise in shoddy legal representation that has sprung up to fill a gap in affordable legal advice.

“In 2023, we are seeing well-funded, unregulated providers rush to enter the low-cost legal representation market, raising questions again about whether and how these services should be regulated,” Wilson said.

Even if the use of AI in court was not challenged, some observers have questioned how effective DoNotPay’s AI tools would be for people in need of legal services, with some getting mixed or shoddy results when trying to use its basic features. .

Browder has been known to attract attention with stunts. Earlier this month, he reclaimed on Twitter that the company would pay any lawyer $1 million to argue in front of the US Supreme Court using AirPods that would funnel AI-generated arguments from its “robot lawyer.”

Founded in 2015, DoNotPay has raised $28 million, including funding from prominent venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, according to analytics firm PitchBook.

Walking Away From AI’s Legal Defense Amid Threats

Rather than trying to help traffic defendants use AI in the courtroom, Browder said DoNotPay will train its approach to help people dealing with expensive medical bills, unwanted subscriptions and problems with credit reporting agencies.

Browder also hopes it’s not the end of the road for AI in the courtroom.

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

The future of robot lawyers faces uncertainty for another reason that is much simpler than the existential questions of the bar associations: the rules of the courts.

Audio recording during a live legal proceeding is not permitted in federal courts and is often prohibited in state courts. The artificial intelligence tools developed by DoNotPay, which have not yet been tested in actual courts, require audio recording of arguments in order for the machine learning algorithm to generate responses.

“I think calling the tool a ‘robot lawyer’ really irritated a lot of lawyers,” Browder said. “But I think they’re missing the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing and court rules are way out of date.”

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