The Curious Case of the Robolawyer (No, it's not a Perry Mason Novel!)

With the advent of technology, there is a drastic increase in the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) which has significantly altered the way technology is perceived and will have a far-reaching impact in the future. Hence, it becomes necessary to try to minimize its shortcomings and make prudent use of the technology.

I do not know how many of you have heard of Joshua Browder, the 26-year-old founder of DoNotPay, a US-based venture that has developed a “robolawyer”- essentially an AI-powered bot that helps users in use cases such as appealing vehicle parking tickets, negotiating airline ticket refunds, and contesting service provider bills. Although the app was first released in 2015, to be honest, until recently, I too had not heard of him or the app!

My curiosity was piqued when I recently read the news that his company is willing to pay a million US dollars to any person or lawyer willing to repeat verbatim in front of the Supreme Court judge all that their robolawyer asks them to. It remains to be seen whether someone will take Josh up on that offer, whether the US Supreme Court will grant permission and what the outcome will be. However, it is being reported in the media that the DoNotPay app will help two defendants argue speeding tickets in US courts next month. The company has promised to pay the fines on behalf of the users if the robolawyer loses their appeals.

The app runs on the AI model known as “Generative Pre-trained Transformer” or GPT. This is the same technology that runs ChatGPT, which reportedly hit a million users in less than a week of its launch. AI technologies are constantly improving, and there is now greater emphasis on “ethics” and “explainability.” Essentially, the software must be able to explain how it arrived at a certain conclusion or output. This is important to minimize, if not altogether eliminate, the risk of biases and prejudices that creep into AI software simply because it is trained using hundreds of millions of content elements on the web (articles, images, reports, videos, etc.) that were all created by humans, and as such, carry the individual beliefs, prejudices, convictions, etc. of their original creators.

Over the coming decades, AI will shake up many fields including legal practice, healthcare, finance, etc. Not all fields will be impacted at the same pace or to the same extent but change they will. Already, AI is being used by healthcare professionals in improving the efficacy of diagnosis and confirmation of lines of treatment. Law firms too are beginning to use AI to simplify the tedium of the process of trawling through case laws and legal judgments to identify precedents and the reasoning of the benches involved. Soon, lawyers will simply be able to type in questions into ChatGPT, which will provide well-reasoned answers in a matter of minutes. Of course, the real skill will be to ask the right questions and figure out how sensible the answers are, and decide on further courses of action. Think of it as an advocate briefing a senior lawyer before the latter argues in court.

Half-baked knowledge is dangerous. For many years, patients (and/or caregivers) have used search engines to find information about symptoms, diagnostic tests, and lines of treatment and then argue with qualified medical professionals about their choices, at times forcing doctors to explain their hypotheses and reasoning. It is quite likely that in the foreseeable future, clients of lawyers and law firms too will be tempted to adopt a similar approach, which means lawyers too will end up spending time and effort on educating clients on matters of law and jurisprudence. Maybe it is worth coming up with new pricing models to dissuade frivolous “brainstorming” and “legal strategy” sessions!

Note to myself: Try out ChatGPT to explore the kind of responses it provides and start preparing for a future that will undoubtedly be more closely linked with AI tools.

References:

[1] Design Application Numbers 274917, 274918, 284680, 276736, 260403

[2] 24 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1614 (BPAI Apr. 2, 1992)

[3] Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., 926 F. Supp. 2d 1100 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (partially affirming jury damages award).

[4] US6763497B1

[5] US10915243B2

Image Credits:

Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-using-macbook-3584994/

Over the coming decades, AI will shake up many fields including legal practice, healthcare, finance, etc. Not all fields will be impacted at the same pace or to the same extent but change they will. Already, AI is being used by healthcare professionals in improving the efficacy of diagnosis and confirmation of lines of treatment. Law firms too are beginning to use AI to simplify the tedium of the process of trawling through case laws and legal judgments to identify precedents and the reasoning of the benches involved.

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