Bob Loblaw Law Bot Guy Shocked That 'But I'm A Disrupter' No Defense To Practicing Law Without A License
UPDATE! BREAKING! The world's first robot lawyer is being mothballed. We live to fight another day against our cyborg overlords.
Friends, cast your minds back two weeks to that fun story we brought you about wunderkind Joshua Browder, CEO of tech startup DoNotPay. Josh's company sells subscription access to a suite of autogenerated documents that help you do things like cancel your cable bill, report potholes to municipal authorities, or hide your phone number if you're a serial killer looking to get verified on Tinder without being tracked down. All of which would be fine, more or less. But our Josh got a wee smidge out in front of his skis and decided that it would be super cool to let the AI practice law.
A FUN STORY! Bob Loblaw's Law Bot (Not) Coming To Supreme Court Near You!
Why no, the 26-year-old is not a lawyer. But he'd been allowing subscribers to generate wills and divorce agreements, as well as filing small claims complaints, and no one had put him in jail for it yet, so he figured he was ready for the big time.
\u201cWe have upcoming cases in municipal (traffic) court next month. But the haters will say \u201ctraffic court is too simple for GPT.\u201d\n\nSo we are making this serious offer, contingent on us coming to a formal agreement and all rules being followed.\n\nPlease contact me if interested!\u201d— Joshua Browder (@Joshua Browder) 1673240279
"DoNotPay will pay any lawyer or person $1,000,000 with an upcoming case in front of the United States Supreme Court to wear AirPods and let our robot lawyer argue the case by repeating exactly what it says," he tweeted on January 8, adding that he had "upcoming cases in municipal (traffic) court next month."
Browder was undeterred by all the IRL lawyers pointing out you can't bring electronics into the Supreme Court; that recording the proceeding is illegal; that it was pretty clearly practicing law without a license. He even went so far as to brag to Gizmodo that he might smuggle earpieces into a hearing disguised as hearing aids, or even allow the AI to simulate the defendant's voice using deepfake technology.
"On February 22nd at 1.30PM, history will be made. For the first time ever, a robot will represent someone in a US courtroom. DoNotPay A.I will whisper in someone's ear exactly what to say," he boasted on January 20. "We will release the results and share more after it happens. Wish us luck!"
Browder's yapping did garner a lot of attention for his company, although most of it was of the LOL, GET A LOAD OF THIS DIPSHIT variety. But Seattle-based investigator and paralegal Kathryn Tewson knows BS when she sees it, and when she saw a since-deleted tweet by Browder claiming that the computer had generated a subpoena, she knew that something was massively askew.
So she signed up for the service and gave some of the legal features a test run.
What followed was this hilarious Twitter thread, which later became an article at TechDirt. Tewson was able to get a simple demand letter almost immediately, although she described the product as "useless or worse than useless." But the two more complicated documents stalled out.
In fact, Tewson never got the documents. Instead Browder refunded her money and blocked her on Twitter. Which seems ... sketchy. She writes:
I have literally no way to know what the fuck is actually going on here, but I can think of two likely options. The first is that the whole tool is just fucking broken, and Joshua Browder is scamming people out of almost $20 a month for a service that simply does not work. The second, though — and I find this much more likely based on the one-hour and eight-hour timelines given — is that this isn’t AI at all; DoNotPay collects the information from the prompt and then hands it to a human to go find the relevant law and customize the doc.
At which point Browder got on Twitter and announced that he was taking his robot lawyer and going home.
\u201cSpecifically, lowering medical bills, cancelling subscriptions, disputing credit reports, among other things, with A.l. I think it's very important for companies to stay focused. Unlike courtroom drama, these types of cases can be handled online, are simple and are underserved.\u201d— Joshua Browder (@Joshua Browder) 1674659510
"I have realized that non-consumer rights legal products (e.g defamation demand letters, divorce agreements and others), which have very little usage, are a distraction," he went on, congratulating himself for "decisiveness when one is taking the wrong direction."
Browder later told NPR that he'd been chased out of the industry by state bar officials gatekeeping to protect their own industry.
"Multiple state bar associations have threatened us," he told the network. "One even said a referral to the district attorney's office and prosecution and prison time would be possible."
"Even if it wouldn't happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to give it up," he continued, like someone with sufficient judgment and understanding of American criminal statutes to speak confidently on the topic. "The letters have become so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and that we should move on."
Aaaaaaaand scene. Just like that, Browder exited an industry he was promising to blow up just three weeks ago. No more chatbot SCOTUS, no more traffic court, no more auto-generated defamation cases. Hope you're happy, guys!
"There isn't a lawyer that will get out of bed to help you with a $400 refund," he tweeted, but, "As much as I love to experiment, I have to stay out of jail if I want to help people fight Comcast!"
Always lookin' out for the little guy. That's our Josh!
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.