Robot Lawyer Battles Human Regulators

Correction: This article misstated that the State Bar of California’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group was still in operation. It was dissolved after the state bar’s annual fee-licensing bill, signed into law on Sept. 18, directed the agency to halt its work on proposals to allow nonlawyers to practice law.

Life moves pretty fast for artificial intelligence start-up DoNotPay. On Jan. 8, CEO Joshua Browder announced the company would pay $1 million to any attorney who would allow the company’s “robot lawyer” to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The bold offer initiated a wave of skepticism and intrigue across the legal community.

On Jan. 25, Browder—revealing threats of a jail sentence from State Bar officials—announced the company had ditched all plans of deploying its cybernetic barrister. The CEO says they will now focus on their core mission of helping consumers with issues like bank fees and unwanted subscriptions. While all this may have come as a shock to Browder and his team at DoNotPay, the discourse over AI’s place in the legal profession has been ongoing for years.

Notwithstanding the deep complexities involved in the AI’s backend, its user application is straightforward. DoNotPay’s program would have “argued” by having the attorney parrot statements provided by the AI in real-time through a pair of wireless earbuds connected to the attorney’s cellphone. Ostensibly, the program would simultaneously be listening and responding (through the lawyer) to questions and comments from the justices.

The Supreme Court was not the first place Browder sought to test DoNotPay’s AI. The initial real-world experiment was to take place on Feb. 22 in a California traffic court which is what sparked the backlash from state bar officials across the country. Although Browder will not say who specifically sent letters or threatened a

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