from the a-fool-for-a-lawyer dept
So, we’ve written a few times about DoNotPay, the supposedly AI-powered “robot lawyer” that was initially designed to help you contest parking tickets but then expanded to helping (usefully) with a bunch of consumer annoyances, like cancelling accounts, obtaining owed refunds, and the like. But it’s also got some shadiness in its past, like the time it wanted to automate sharing of streaming account credential cookies. And, while there have long been pretty serious questions about what things you should trust it to do, a couple years ago the company raised a round of venture capital from such trustworthy investors as (checks notes) Sam Bankman-Fried, along with a16z, and DST Global, which has a bit of an interesting history.
Anyway, since then it has ramped up some of its attempts to generate publicity via very questionable stunts. Earlier this month it announced that its “AI lawyer” would represent clients in traffic court via an earbud, and then went even further by promising a very publicity-stuntalicious $1 million to any lawyer who would use its AI lawyer via an earbud to argue in front of the Supreme Court. Leaving aside that such tech isn’t allowed in the Supreme Court, at one point CEO Josh Browder said that they would effectively abuse the rules the court has in place for making courts “accessible” to get the ear buds in. Which is, really not great.
All of these publicity stunts brought with them some scrutiny. And, as we posted this week, Kathryn Tewson (who is one of the most astute legal commentators out there) decided to test out many of its “legal” services. She found them extremely lacking. And maybe that’s fine in low stakes situations like parking tickets or consumer refunds and complaints. But it could do real harm to people relying on the service for larger things. Personally, the fact that it seemed to be encouraging people to make questionable defamation threats seemed pretty problematic to me.
On Wednesday morning, Browder announced that the company was (1) ditching the plans to be used in court and (2) stepping back from some of those more harrowing legal jobs (coincidentally, the very ones that Kathryn had tested out). Of course, rather than admit that the company shouldn’t be doing those things and was not qualified to be doing them, Browder did the techbro equivalent of claiming that it was all a “distraction” with very little usage. Oh, and also, that state bars were threatening him with potential jail time for the courtroom antics:
I guess Browder didn’t trust his AI lawyer whispering in his AirPods to keep him out of jail for the unauthorized practice of law. And if he’s unwilling to eat his own dogfood that way, perhaps he shouldn’t be offering it to other people.
The “distraction” claim is not all that believable, honestly:
If they were a distraction, they were a self-created distraction, in which Browder used all this to generate publicity for his not-ready-for-prime-time “legal” services that people with real problems might have otherwise come to rely on.
I actually do think that there is some interesting ideas in the underlying concept behind this company. Using smarter tools to help automate the horrible processes that large companies and governments put people through to get them to give up and not exercise their rights is a good idea. But it feels like someone should sit Browder down and explain to him the value of actually delivering a good and useful product over hyping up something that can’t do what it promises.