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The Case Against Robot Lawyers

A company called DoNotPay was sued last week in California Superior Court for the unlawful practice of law. DoNotPay’s website identifies its app as “The World’s First Robot Lawyer” and invites potential customers to “Fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button.” The class action complaint, filed by Edelson PC, accuses DoNotPay of “holding itself out to be an attorney to residents of the State of California when it was not, in fact, a law firm or lawyer licensed to practice to law in that jurisdiction” and follows DoNotPay CEO Joshua Browder’s very public offer to give any lawyer with a pending case before the United States Supreme Court $1 million to let its robot lawyer argue the case.

ChatGPT is barely three months old and is already making waves in the legal profession, a typically change-resistant profession which prides itself on tradition, reputation, and its ability to self-regulate. But clients are demanding law firms employ legal tech to reduce costs and lawyers, following the eDiscovery revolution, are demanding legal tech to improve work-life balance. And it’s not just law firms, the whole legal ecosystem is learning how to balance legal tech with professional responsibility. We recently looked at how over-reliance on digital court reporting interrupted one of the most highly publicized murder trials in recent memory. We have also examined how the Rules of Professional Conduct demand that lawyers be and stay technologically proficient.

A big selling point of legal tech and innovation in general is that it provides resources for pro se litigants, making access to justice more attainable. We agree that good legal tech is helpful and necessary in reforming that which needs to be reformed in the legal industry. But legal tech with an asterisk next to it heralding its “near perfect” success rate is part of the problem insofar as it suggests that those for whom the legal system has historically been out of reach should settle for anything but the very best. Similarly, inviting judges to argue with a robot can only undermine the authority of the court and legal proceedings in general just like holding legal proceedings that on platforms that do not properly acknowledge a party’s role or affiliation.

In our own legal tech arena, we believe remote litigation to make justice more accessible is a great idea. But remote litigation via mass market video conference platforms which anticipate, and expect attorneys to excuse, the occasional unauthorized infiltration or substandard chat features, is unacceptable. Similarly, expecting litigants to settle or “make do” with an artificial lawyer is unacceptable and not a solution. A solution to the problem is leveraging technology so that those who need access to justice most have access to the world’s best (human) lawyers.

This is what we are doing to solve the problem. Making the processes, documents, and services courts use more accessible is another. The National Center for State Courts is doing phenomenal work in this area.

The difference between robot lawyers and true innovators is the difference between ceding to the status quo or changing it. Circumventing problems is not solving them.