An AI robot lawyer was set to argue in court. Scared lawyers shut it down with jail threats

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, the CEO of the 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 challenging a speeding ticket would wear smart glasses that both record court proceedings and dictate responses into the defendant’s ear from a small speaker. The system relied on 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 Feb. 22, but not anymore.

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

“Multiple state bars have threatened us,” Browder said. “One even said a referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and prison time would be possible.”

In particular, Browder said one state bar official noted that the unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor in some states punishable up to six months in county jail.

“Even if it wouldn’t 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 organizations license and regulate attorneys, as a way to ensure people hire lawyers who understand the law.

Browder refused to cite which state bar in particular sent letters, and what official made the threat of possible prosecution, saying his startup, DoNotPay, is under investigation by multiple state bars, including California’s.


“The truth is, most people can’t afford lawyers,” he said. “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.”

The future of robot lawyers faces uncertainty for another reason that is far simpler than the bar officials’ existential questions: courtroom rules.

Recording audio during a live legal proceeding is not permitted in federal court and is often prohibited in state courts. The AI tools developed by DoNotPay, which remain completely untested in actual courtrooms, require recording audio of arguments in order for the machine-learning algorithm to generate responses.

“I think calling the tool a ‘robot lawyer’ really riled a lot of lawyers up,” Browder said. “But I think they’re missing the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing and courtroom rules are very outdated.”


Source: An AI robot lawyer was set to argue in court. Real lawyers shut it down. : NPR

Lawyers protecting their own at the cost of the population? Who’d have thunk it?

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