News of the Robot Lawyer Is Premature

Robot lawyers are making headlines everywhere from USA Today to the Washington Post thanks to Stanford University student Joshua Browder, who has created a chatbot he claims is powering “the first case of a fully automated lawsuit.”

“You can sue Equifax for $25,000 by pressing a button,” Browder tweeted.

ediscovery robot

Upset about the credit agency’s massive security breach, which compromised the personal data of up to 143 million people in the U.S., including his own, Browder wants to empower consumers. His chatbot promises a free and easy way to sue Equifax without having to hire a lawyer.

Browder originally created his DoNotPay chatbot to help people fight parking tickets. The bot uses what Browder describes as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find relevant legal forms based on answers to questions like, “What is your zip code?” Now Browder has unleashed the chatbot to automatically fill out the forms required for suing Equifax in small claims court.

But is this robot actually a lawyer? Writer and lawyer Ephrat Livini unequivocally says “no” in a Quartz essay cleverly formatted as a legal brief—complete with sections for standing, facts, and a motion to dismiss.

Livini points out that a chatbot “cannot visit you in jail, represent you in court, sign a document, convince the opposition, cajole a judge, charm a prosecutor, pay your bail bondsperson, negotiate a resolution, or be held liable criminally or civilly for ineffective assistance.”

For all these reasons, talk of robot lawyers is obviously premature.

What about Browder’s AI claims? At best, his chatbot can find and fill out legal forms. That’s a convenience. But it isn’t AI or a “fully automated lawsuit.” Much more must happen to take a complex case to court and win. A seasoned human lawyer is still needed to appear in court and make a convincing argument to prove wrongdoing or defend innocence.

AJ Shankar, Everlaw CEO

Even if Browder’s chatbot used actual machine learning, it still wouldn’t replace human lawyers.

“The practice of law is a bewildering collision of contexts: language, business operations, societal structure and mores, law, slang, implication. It’s subjective and ill-defined, logical and emotional,” Everlaw CEO AJ Shankar told Bloomberg Law.

In this environment, the smartest deployment of AI is one that augments human expertise, rather than replacing it.  For instance, rather than staying up all night paging through mind-numbing corporate files to find a needle-in-the-haystack memo, machine learning in predictive coding or technology-assisted review (TAR) systems can learn from a relatively small amount of human input to quickly identify documents that are relevant to a case, and weed out superfluous documents so lawyers can focus on finding the smoking guns. This hybrid approach, where the AI acts as an assistant guiding the focus of human effort, is a more realistic  model for the legal sector, at least in the near term.

The shift here isn’t about robots taking jobs from lawyers—much less becoming lawyers themselves. This is about using technology to help humans practice better law.