In less than a month, the first AI-powered legal defense was to take place in California, possibly creating a new precedent in law and yet another advancement for artificial intelligence in law. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. In case you didn’t know, New York-based start-up DoNotPay created an AI-powered program to assist people in traffic court. The program was simple. It would provide real-time arguments generated by the program for those in court through a small earpiece.
As you can imagine, word of this so-called AI lawyer spread like wildfire among legal circles and as the buzz grew, so did the threats according to NPR. These threats are even more concerning because they come from state actors, not random chatter online. DoNotPay’s CEO, Joshua Browder, painted a clear picture, “Multiple state bars have threatened us…One even said a referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and prison time would be possible.”
It seems that the lawyers aren’t keen on the idea of AI bridging the gap between laymen and the law. For instance, one state bar official pointed to the legal concept of unauthorized practice of law. In some states, this is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to six months in county jail. Browder goes into further detail about why they pulled back, “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.”
Within the same report, Browder didn’t go into details on which state bar sent the letters or the complete threat given to the startup. But it seems that DoNotPay is now under investigation by multiple states. Because of this, DoNotPay has pivoted away from AI legal defense and instead now focusing on helping people dealing with medical experiences, issues with credit reporting, and more. This at least for the time being.
But not all hope of AI in the courtroom is gone. Browder still sees a path forward due to the costs associated with legal representation. “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.” But it’s not only costs, Browder sees a future with AI leading the charge, “I think calling the tool a ‘robot lawyer’ really riled a lot of lawyers up…But I think they’re missing the forest for the trees. Technology is advancing and courtroom rules are very outdated.”
With the backlash from state bar associations, it’s clear that they and other industries are paying close attention to the disruption caused by AI. Though it’s still too early to tell if AI will be fully embraced by workers, rejected, or something in-between.