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Meet the Robot Lawyer Fighting Fines, Fees, and Red Tape

DoNotPay is launching a "denial of service attack on the legal system to make it better."

Joshua Browder is trying to upend the legal services industry. His company, DoNotPay, has built an AI-powered chatbot that interviews users about their legal problems in plain English and then uses their answers to complete and submit legal paperwork on their behalf.

Browder describes DoNotPay as "the world's first robot lawyer," and believes that the system he's building will one day be able to address the majority of legal issues.

"DoNotPay will have succeeded if the word 'lawyer' is completely removed from the dictionary for average people," Browder told Reason.

The 21-year-old entrepreneur from the UK, who taught himself to code by watching YouTube videos, lives and works with his eight-person team out of the same Palo Alto house that Mark Zuckerberg rented during his first summer in California building Facebook. Browder says the legal industry is so ripe for disruption through software because most services involve nothing more than standardized processes and boilerplate language.

DoNotPay initially focused on fighting parking tickets because Browder views them as an unfair tax on the poor. He says DoNotPay has succeeded in overturning citations about half the time, saving users $16 million in fines over its first three years. Now, operating on just over $1 million in venture capital funding, the start-up is expanding to cover a broad range of legal problems.

DoNotPay's app, which is in development, will monitors users' accounts and gets them money back whenever the law allows. It can automatically rebook plane tickets when prices drop, request refunds when banks charge illegal overdraft fees, and help users reclaim security deposits from shady landlords.

Browder says DoNotPay will never charge for any legal services, and he doesn't need much cash to continue expanding and thus has time to figure out a revenue source. This allows the company to serve clients who can't afford to hire lawyers, such as refugees seeking asylum and homeless people applying for public housing in the UK. DoNotPay is also working on a service that helps navigate the US visa process.

"These processes are so bureaucratic that if you have no resources at all, it really is impossible to get the help you need," says Browder. And as long as lawyers have an incentive to keep laws complex and their services expensive, he thinks it will take a bottom-up approach to make the system fair. DoNotPay has built bots that can query automated email, chat, and telephone systems thousands of times to, for example, get users a quick appointment at the DMV.

Browder calls this tactic "DDoSing the legal system to make it better." Beyond helping his users navigate bureaucracy, Browder hopes to flip the script by making legal complexity more of a pain for governments than for average people, and thereby incentivize lawmakers to slash red tape in general.

"There's a $200 billion legal industry at the moment," Browder says, "and DoNotPay will hopefully one day make it free for everyone."

Produced by Justin Monticello. Camera by Monticello and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Gunnar Olsen, Matt Harris, Geographer, Text Me Records & Bobby Renz, and Silent Partner.

Image credit: ID 126279773 © Andrey Popov | Dreamstime.com

Joshua Browder photos; Credit: Jeenah Moon/picture alliance //Newscom

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  • BYODB||

    Oh, yeah, I'll definitely trust a guy that learned coding from YouTube to submit legal paperwork for me via chatbot. What could possibly go wrong?


    /sarc


    Not that it's a bad idea, but even lawyers and judges don't know the whole of the law. You think a robot could navigate the various conflicting laws in Britain, let alone the sea of mutually exclusive and petty law in the U.S.? Yeah, good luck with that Danny Boy.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think it's more of an 80/20 system. Where the vast majority of legal interaction is petty crimes and purely paperwork based stuff, like real estate purchases. And obviously this can't go to trial.

  • Libertymike||

    Real estate transactions are best entered into with the assistance of able, creative, and thorough counsel who abhor use of routine, boilerplate vanilla documents.

    It is why I counsel my clients to route everything through me, beginning with the engagement of a broker. Why leave the resolution of disputes with one's broker to chance. Ditto for offers to purchase. Mega dittoes for the purchase and sales agreement.

    One should never, ever have a broker prepare the P&S. Litigators love that.

    Yeah, my way costs more, but look at the upside:

    (1) much less chance of litigation

    (2) they get to spend more time with me.

  • ||

    So tell us, why do hate robots so much? Was it a scratchy fleshlight that made you this way?

  • Libertymike||

    Dude, it that is what you deduced, perhaps you need some AI to assist you with reading comprehension.

    OTOH, I do hate real estate brokers who think they are perfectly capable of preparing comprehensive, creative, perspicacious, rigorous, risk-minimizing, and thorough P&S agreements.

  • Rossami||

    You are right to set the standard at an average human lawyers' understanding of the complexity of the conflicting laws.

    Luckily, that's not too high a bar to beat. This app doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be as good as the best possible lawyer. It just has to be better than the worst.

  • Cranedoc||

    I can see this upsetting a lot of lawyers.
    Who make a living leeching off the rest of us.
    The only problem with this is that it's only good for the small stuff. Making lawyer an obsolete profession would solve more problems than any other possible action.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    The seed funding for this is coming from lawyers, so it appears that there are at least some people in the actual profession of law who disagree with you.

  • ||

    The robot may not be able to navigate through a conflict, but it could quickly find ALL relevant case law pertaining to it, thus helping a human lawyer come to the best conclusion.

  • vek||

    Supposedly this is already a thing. I've heard a lot of the leg work stuff new lawyers and paralegals used to do is already being automated, hence it is apparently really tough for fresh out of school lawyers to find a decent gig nowadays. I don't know how much of this is true, but I've heard it several times from several sources, so there's probably something to it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It also has built in technology allowing it to travel as fast as and jump onto the back of any ambulance.

  • ||

    Now I am picturing a spider-bot from Minority Report holding up a guys hand so he can sign the contract. And another one zapping him until he does.

  • Dillinger||

    morph into whichever attorney-identity suits the case best.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    He's absolutely right about the uncontested, ministerial elements of the law -- which are the majority of processes most people come in contact with. What he's doing in that regard is little different than using software to prepare your taxes. Some of what he describes pushes the envelope, like demanding refunds of late fees, but at least there's some poetic justice in allowing the little guy to have his own mindless bots to oppose the automated systems of banks and other big businesses.

    Actual litigation, or criminal defense, on the other hand, likely require more human involvement.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I imagine lawyers of the non-robot variety are probably going to have something to chat about regarding this site.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    DoNotPay's app, which is in development

    I just went to the website itself. I would say "under development" is a bit of an understatement.

    I wish him luck, but, I'm skeptical.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think it's major value could be for handling a tremendous amount of paperwork, which ultimately is a very large portion of all legal interaction.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There was a business years and years ago that actually became the subject of a documentary, the startup was called 'govworks'. It was a website that purported to created an easy-to-use, unified interface that would then allow users to do business, permits, pay tickets, etc., with every city in the country.

    While this is a highly chopped down and narrowly focused version of that, it looks like it's going down the same road... essentially.

    I don't deny the value-- at all. I think the idea is invaluable. I just doubt the implementation.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yes, that remains to be seen. Implementing it as a chat bot feels to me like unnecessary showy overhead. I'd prefer explicit mappings for something like this.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Implementing it as a chat bot feels to me like unnecessary showy overhead.

    I don't like tellin' tales out of school, so I kept my mouth shut about that part. But uhh, yeah, good luck with your chatbot tech.

  • Eddy||

    As if the first thing anyone would do once they discovered chatbot technology would be to build a lawyer.

    "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you do that...oh, well, just the tip..."

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yeah, there are natural language problems that seem natural fits. I question why this is necessary, things should be relatively concrete in what you're talking about. I think you can simplify things in such a way that most people could understand directly.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    I just doubt the implementation.

    Says someone about every technological advance ever.

    If capitalism teaches us anything, it's that where there's a market there's a way.

  • Eddy||

    And here is what happens when each side has its own robot.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And here is what happens if it actually has to fight against the government.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez||

    If we're getting so busy tearing down statues of Confederate generals, let's erect one of this kid in their place; he's the real hero.

  • Eddy||

    What we need is hi-tech statues, so that when the UDC is visiting it's Robert E. Lee, but when someone else comes near it reconfigures itself into General Grant.

  • jonnysage||

    Offense Sensitive Sunglassea that go dark whenever you might see something that offends you. Or AR too make life appear fair.

  • Eddy||

    I'll believe this when I see it.

  • Eddy||

    And if it works I'll watch the miniseries.

  • GlenchristLaw||

    Tax software companies are not lobbying to keep the tax code complex -- taxpayers are.

    This guy is no Zuckerberg or Kalanick. He's just a simpleton living in la-la land.

  • Eddy||

    But he got the mojo from Zuckerberg's house!

  • Eddy||

    KIRK: "Yes, X1000, I know that's the language of the statute, but the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life, as someone on my home planet once said."

    X1000: "Does not compute..."

    (smoke pours out of X1000 and it explodes)

  • Eddy||

    Kirk bangs a Kardassian chick. I mean Cardassian.

  • Uncle Jay||

    How does this robot lawyer get paid?
    In microchips?

  • Jima||

    Bitcoin, Duh!

  • Kristian H.||

    Y'all are harshing this too much. This is minute clinic / urgent care scope. Low hanging fruit that the local gives and /or lawyers make bank off you by makiyit too expensive to fight small battles. Would you feel better is he adds a "fight civil asset forfeiture" line? Isn't one of the complaints that it would cost more to fight than surrender?

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Using technology to promote libertarianism. Why didn't we think of that?

  • MichaelL||

    Since lawyer-ing seems as imperfect as any other profession, I would think that it might have a chance of catching on. Does not strike me much different than using nurse practitioners to handle medial problems. I would thinkg the legal battle would be the legal profession trying to shut it down!

  • BlueStarDragon||

    This remind me of a conversation where I made a point about all high schools should give kids four years of law. As one way of improving the schools system ( The other was getting rid of schools and let people home school them ). The reply from this lefty was "If we give every person from ninth to twelfth grades law. What would we do with all the lawyers.".

  • markm23||

    Shakespeare had a suggestion about that.

  • Tionico||

    Put then into the time machine, take them back to just before the Titanic left port on her maiden voyage, and put them aboard that ship. Not all would die, but it would be a good start.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Trump should agree to meet with Mueller but then send this robot in his place.

  • Sandyfeet101||

    Imagine not having political or biased personal leanings determine the outcome of a trial. Imagine the system working as intended.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Hey! Robolawyer is a Sam Hurt character our of the Eyebeam comics. Eyebeam single-handedly created demand for the otherwise drab Daily Texan on the UT campus in Austin.

  • vek||

    As mentioned above, I think this could work as an 80/20 solution. Lots of routine stuff is so Byzantine it's ridiculous, and perfectly suited to a well programmed robot dealing with it. Some of that routine nonsense could be big business though. Think a large property company that uses a service to automatically file small claims stuff against deadbeat renters, file petitions to restore voting or gun rights for someone once probation for a felony is over, or 1000 other applications. But lots of complex stuff will still need lawyers.

    Lawyers are a scourge on this earth though. They make things unnecessarily complicated just to be dicks most of the time. I work in the entertainment industry, and deal with lots of contracts. Lawyers will always want to draw up entire agreements from scratch, FOR NO REASON. These are things a boilerplate contract could be kept for, and then just add/delete/alter clauses as needed. But they want to suck you dry.

    We just created a boilerplate long ago, and update/modify it as needed, and never use lawyers on our end. I know the law in my industry better than most lawyers at this point. Whenever some idiot we're dealing with has a moron attorney who wants to get crazy with things, we generally just tell them we'll walk if they don't cut out the bullshit. They usually stop their shit.

  • vek||

    Every other industry is like this too. There's no reason a real estate attorney should EVER have to spend more than a few minutes editing a boilerplate agreement they should have on file. It should all just be add/delete/modify clauses. Yet they refuse to do the sensible thing. This is why I hate them. The funny thing is, I imagine if a single law firm in an area that specialized in something fairly routine ever started being sensible, they could KILL IT in business by charging vastly less... It always makes me wonder why you don't ever seem to see that sort of thing. I guess it's just because none of them have souls?

    This kid seems like an overly utopian moron, but if somebody went at this from a more hardcore perspective it would be a good idea.

  • Svletyanna||

    This is probably the single most important barrier faced by the have-nots in the US, so if his idea and algorythm is successful in removing it, it could be the single most important equalizer that gives We the People their voice back and saves Democracy. And that is beyond huge. God I love smart, young people. The have the whole world in their hands and may save us from destruction, after all. I needed that glimmer of hope this morning. Thanks, kid, you rock.

  • GoatOnABoat||

    I can't wait to see a robot lawyer defend a sex robot charged with prostitution.

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