Rise of the robolawyers: How legal representation could come to resemble TurboTax

Technologies like Ross and Lex Machina are intended to assist lawyers, but AI has also begun to replace them—at least in very straightforward areas of law. The most successful robolawyer yet was developed by a British teenager named Joshua Browder. Called DoNotPay, it’s a free parking-ticket-fighting chatbot that asks a series of questions about your case—Were the signs clearly marked? Were you parked illegally because of a medical emergency?—and generates a letter that can be filed with the appropriate agency. So far, the bot has helped more than 215,000 people beat traffic and parking tickets in London, New York, and Seattle. Browder recently added new functions—DoNotPay can now help people demand compensation from airlines for delayed flights and file paperwork for government housing assistance—and more are on the way.

DoNotPay is just the beginning. Until we see a major, society-changing breakthrough in artificial intelligence, robolawyers won’t dispute the finer points of copyright law or write elegant legal briefs. But chatbots could be very useful in certain types of law. Deportation, bankruptcy, and divorce disputes, for instance, typically require navigating lengthy and confusing statutes that have been interpreted in thousands of previous decisions. Chatbots could eventually analyze most every possible exception, loophole, and historical case to determine the best path forward.

As AI develops, robolawyers could help address the vast unmet legal needs of the poor. Roland Vogl, the executive director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology, says bots will become the main entry point into the legal system. “Every legal-aid group has to turn people away because there isn’t time to process all of the cases,” he says. “We’ll see cases that get navigated through an artificially intelligent computer system, and lawyers will only get involved when it’s really necessary.” A good analogy is TurboTax: If your taxes are straightforward, you use TurboTax; if they’re not, you get an accountant. The same will happen with law.