An AI-powered “robot lawyer” marketed as having the potential to change the future of law around the world, helping millions of people with legal disputes, has been hit with a class action in the US for practising without a license.
The chatbot’s creator, US-based legal services firm DoNotPay, is being sued for providing “substandard” and “poor legal advice” to the plaintiff on a host of matters including drafting demand letters, an independent contractor agreement and a small claims court filing.
Jonathon Faridian believed he was purchasing legal documents and services that would be “fit for use from a lawyer that was competent to provide them”. He claims the robot’s conduct was “unlawful” and is seeking damages.
“Unfortunately for its customers, DoNotPay is not actually a robot, a lawyer, nor a law firm. DoNotPay does not have a law degree, is not barred in any jurisdiction, and is not supervised by any lawyer,” court documents read.
“DoNotPay is merely a website with a repository of—unfortunately, substandard— legal documents that at best fills in a legal adlib based on information input by customers.
“This is precisely why the practice of law is regulated in every state in the nation. Individuals seeking legal services most often do not fully understand the law or the implications of the legal documents or processes that they are looking to DoNotPay for help with.”
The class action proceedings are being brought by US law firm Edelson on behalf of Faridian and filed in San Francisco’s Superior Court on 3 March.
The “robot lawyer” runs on a smartphone and does not address the court directly, but rather listens to the arguments, collates data from legislation and legal precedent and then formulates legal advice for the defendant. The robot then tells the defendant what to say in real time via headphones.
DoNotPay was founded in 2015 by Joshua Browder, a British-American entrepreneur and software developer, initially as a tool to help people fight parking tickets.
But the company has since expanded to cover more than 100 areas of law, including disputing property taxes, creating divorce settlement agreements and even helping people access government services like unemployment benefits.
Its website and marketing materials offer customers the ability to “hire a lawyer at the click of a button”.
“In California, practising law without a license is prohibited by the State Bar Act … Despite this prohibition, DoNotPay’s Robot Lawyer provided and continues to provide unauthorised legal services to thousands of customers throughout the country,” case notes read.
Court documents also reveal other cases where DoNotPay’s robot failed to deliver on its promises.
According to one customer, the robot reversed her arguments in her parking ticket dispute. Where she intended to argue she was not at fault, the bot instead admitted fault, and the customer was ordered to pay a $US114 fine.
This comes after comments were published by News Corp Australia from the President of the Law Council of Australia Luke Murphy, condemning the use of AI Operated lawyers in the courtroom. Murphy said lawyers “would not and could not” be replaced by robots in the near future.
However, he did agree there is a place for AI in the legal profession: “How AI is incorporated into legal practice will be a vital area of focus in the coming years and may even play a role in creating opportunities for increased access to justice.”