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An AI robot lawyer was put 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 he says threats from the bar association have caused him to drop the effort.

Provided by Joshua Browder


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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 he says threats from the bar association have caused him to 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 dropped the effort after receiving threats of possible prosecution and jail time.

Joshua Browder, CEO of New York-based startup DoNotPay, created a way for people contesting traffic tickets to use arguments in court generated by artificial intelligence.

Here’s how it was supposed to work: The person who challenged a speeding ticket would wear smart glasses that both record court proceedings and dictate answers into the defendant’s ear from a small speaker. The system was powered by a few leading AI text generators, including ChatGPT and DaVinci.

The first ever AI-powered legal defense was set to take place in California on February 22, but no longer.

As word got out, an uneasy buzz began to swirl among various state bar officials, according to Browder. He says that angry letters started pouring in.

“Several state bar associations have threatened us,” Browder said. “One even said that a referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and jail time would be possible.”

In particular, Browder said an official with the state attorney general’s office 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 wasn’t going to happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to give it up,” he said. “The letters have become so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and that 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 name which state bar associations specifically 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, California Attorney General George Cardona said the organization has a duty to investigate possible cases of unauthorized law enforcement.

“We regularly let potential violators know that they may be prosecuted in civil or criminal courts, which is entirely up to law enforcement,” Cardona said in a statement.

Leah Wilson, the California attorney general’s executive director, told NPR that there has been a recent increase in cheap, low-quality legal representation that the association has launched a new crackdown on, though she would not comment on whether DoNotPay was part of this effort.

“By 2023, we see well-funded, unregulated providers rushing into the low-cost legal representation market, which in turn raises questions about whether and how these services should be regulated,” she said.

Pivoting away from AI legal defense 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 is not the end of the road for AI in the courtroom.

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

The future of robot lawyers faces uncertainty for another reason far simpler than the bar’s existential question: courtroom rules.

Audio recording during a direct trial is not permitted in federal courts and is often prohibited in state courts. The AI ​​tools developed by DoNotPay require audio recording of arguments for the 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 Horowitz, according to research firm PitchBook, which estimates DoNotPay is worth about $210 million.

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