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AI as a lawyer: it starts as a stunt, but there is a real need

AI as a lawyer: it starts as a stunt, but there is a real need

AI as a lawyer: it starts as a stunt, but there is a real need

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Next month, AI will enter the courtroom and the American legal system may never be the same again.

An artificial intelligence chatbot, technology programmed to answer questions and hold a conversation, is set to counsel two individuals fighting speeding tickets in courtrooms in undisclosed cities. The two will be wearing wireless headphones, which will transmit what the judge is saying to the chatbot run by DoNotPay, a company that typically helps people fight traffic tickets in the mail. The headset will then broadcast the chatbot’s suggested answers to the judge’s questions, which individuals can then choose to repeat in court.

It’s a waterfall. But it also has the potential to change the way people interact with the law and bring many other changes over time. DoNotPay CEO Josh Browder says high legal fees have historically prevented people from hiring traditional lawyers to fight for them in traffic court, which usually involves fines of up to hundreds of dollars.

So his team wondered if an AI chatbot, trained to understand and argue the law, could intervene.

“Most people can’t afford legal representation,” Browder said in an interview. Using AI in a real court situation “will be a proof of concept for the courts to allow the technology into the courtroom.”

Regardless of Browder’s success — he says he will be — his company’s actions mark the first of what will likely be many more efforts to bring AI further into our daily lives.

Modern life is already filled with technology. Some people wake up to a song chosen by AI-powered alarms. Their newsfeed is also often organized by a computer program, which learns to choose the items they will find most interesting or that they will be most likely to comment on and share via social networks. The AI ​​chooses which photos to show us on our phones, it asks us if it should add a meeting to our calendars based on the emails we receive, and it reminds us to send a birthday message to our loved ones .

But proponents say AI’s ability to sort through information, spot patterns and quickly extract data means that in a short period of time it could become a “co-pilot” for our daily lives. Already, coders on Microsoft-owned GitHub are using AI to help them build apps and solve technical problems. Social media managers rely on AI to determine the best time to post a new post. Same we here at CNET are experimenting with whether AI can help write explanatory-type stories about the ever-changing world of finance.

So, it may seem like only a matter of time before AI finds its way into research-intensive industries like law as well. And considering that 80% of low-income Americans don’t have access to legal aid, while 40% to 60% of the middle class still struggle to get such assistance, there’s clearly a demand. AI could help meet that need, but lawyers shouldn’t feel like new technologies are going to take away their cases, says Andrew Perlman, dean of the law school at Suffolk University. It’s just a matter of scale.

“It’s impossible for the legal profession to be able to provide all the legal services that people need,” Perlman said.

How will AI enter the legal profession?

Hiroshi Watanabe/Getty Images

Turn to AI

DoNotPay began its latest AI experiment in 2021 when companies got early access to GPT-3, the same AI tool used by the OpenAI startup to create ChatGPT, who went viral for his ability to answer questions, write essays, and even create new computer programs. In December, Browder pitched his idea via a tweet: Have someone wear an Apple AirPod in traffic court so the AI ​​can hear what’s going on through the microphone and relay responses through the earpiece.

Aside from people making fun of him for the stunt, Browder knew he would have other challenges. Many states and districts limit legal counsel to those who are licensed to practice law, an obvious hurdle that UC Irvine Law School professor Emily Taylor Poppe said could cause problems for the AI ​​of DoNotPay.

“Because AI would provide real-time information, and because it would involve the application of the relevant law to specific facts, it is difficult to see how it could avoid being considered the provision of legal advice. “Poppe said. Essentially, the IA would be legally considered an attorney acting without a law license.

Artificial intelligence tools also raise privacy concerns. The computer program technically needs to record audio to interpret what it hears, a move that is not permitted in many courts. Lawyers are also required to abide by ethics rules that prohibit them from sharing confidential client information. Can a chatbot, designed to share information, follow the same protocols?

Perlman says many of these concerns can be resolved if these tools are created with care. If successful, he says, these technologies could also help with the mountains of paperwork lawyers encounter on a daily basis.

Ultimately, he argues, chatbots can prove as useful as Google and other search tools are today, saving lawyers from having to physically scour law libraries for stored information. on shelves.

“Lawyers who attempt to provide legal services without technology will be inadequate and insufficient to meet the legalities of the public,” Perlman said. Ultimately, he thinks, AI can do more good than harm.

The two cases that DoNotPay is involved in will likely impact much of this conversation. Browder declined to say where the proceedings will take place, citing security concerns.

Neither DoNotPay nor the defendants plan to notify judges or anyone in court that an AI is being used or audio is being recorded, a fact that raises ethical concerns. That in itself led to a pushback on Twitter when Browder asked for traffic tickets volunteers in December. But Browder says the courts chosen by DoNotPay will likely be more lenient if they find out.

AI has a lot of potential to democratize legal aid, advocates say.

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The future of law

After these ticket battles, DoNotPay plans to create a video presentation designed to advocate for the technology, with the ultimate goal of changing law and policy to allow AI in courtrooms.

States and legal organizations, for their part, are already debating these issues. In 2020, a California task force dedicated to exploring ways to expand access to legal services recommended allowing certain unlicensed practitioners to represent clients, among other reforms. The American Bar Association has told judges using AI tools to be aware of the biases instilled in the tools themselves. UNESCO, the international organization dedicated to the preservation of culture, offers a free online course covering the basics of what AI can offer legal systems.

For his part, Browder says AI chatbots will become so popular in the next two years that the courts will have no choice but to allow them anyway. Maybe AI tools will have a place at the table, rather than having to whisper in our ears.

“Six months ago, you couldn’t even imagine an AI could respond in these detailed ways,” Browder said. “No one imagined, in any law, what it might look like in real life.”

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