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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
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Robot lawyers? Not yet, lawsuit says

According to the lawsuit, the DoNotPay app doesn't even do a good job of handling its original purpose — fighting parking tickets.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The world’s first robot lawyer has been practicing law without a license — doing a pretty poor job of it to boot, according to a putative class action filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

Defendant DoNotPay Inc. began as an app to fight parking tickets and in the eight years since it began has morphed into an online legal service which claims to be able to handle a slew of legal services for its clients ranging from finding hidden money and filing lawsuits to annulling marriages and beating bureaucracy, all without having to hire a lawyer.

The app now offers divorce settlement agreements, defamation demand letters, restraining orders, and U.S. Securities and Exchange complaints in addition to dozens of other legal services. “The DoNotPay app is the home of the world’s first robot lawyer,” the company claims on its website. “Fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button.”

But the plaintiffs in Tuesday's lawsuit have their doubts.

“This is all junk,” said Jay Edelson, the Chicago attorney representing the plaintiffs. “It doesn’t work.”

While he doesn’t yet know how many people could be part of the class action, Edelson said he and his team have been talking with a lot of potential class members since filing the complaint.

“People are — what’s the technical legal term? — pissed off,” he said.

The plaintiffs say DoNotPay is “merely a website with a repository of — unfortunately, substandard — legal documents that at best fills in a legal ad lib based on information input by customers.”

The app doesn’t possess a law degree, isn’t the member of any state bar and isn’t overseen by an attorney. And the service it has been providing has caused problems for its customers, according to the plaintiffs, who cite two instances where DoNotPay failed its clients.

“One customer, who posted an online review, used DoNotPay’s legal services to dispute two parking tickets. According to his account, his fines actually increased because DoNotPay failed to respond to the ticket summons. The customer then canceled his account, but DoNotPay continued to charge a subscription fee," the plaintiffs say in the complaint.

“DoNotPay’s service then reversed another customer’s arguments in her parking ticket dispute. Where she had intended to argue she was not at fault, DoNotPay’s services instead admitted fault, and the customer had to pay a resulting $114 fine.”

Lead plaintiff Jonathan Faridian, who has used DoNotPay for several legal services, says he discovered demand letters he had drafted through the app never made it to their intended destinations and were, instead, returned to his address.

“Upon opening one of the letters, Faridian found it to be an otherwise blank piece of paper with his name printed on it. As a result of this delay, his claims may be time-barred.”

Faridian says other documents he had purchased from the company “were so poorly or inaccurately drafted that he could not even use them.” Some contained misspellings of the names of relevant parties, and others used language that didn’t apply to his particular business.

Edelson said he doesn’t doubt AI, actual AI, has a place in the courtroom someday, but in the meantime there has become “a weird feeding frenzy where everyone wants to say their services are powered by AI.”

“There will be a time when there will be real AI which helps people and that’s a good thing,” he said in a phone interview. “It’ll help people with quasi-legal tasks. That is not what this is.”

In an email, DoNotPay denied what it called “false allegations.”

“The named plaintiff has submitted dozens of cases and seen significant success with our products," the company said. "The case is being filed by a lawyer that has personally made hundreds of millions from class actions, so it’s not surprising that he would accuse an AI of ‘unauthorized practice of law.’ Once we respond in court, this will be cleared up.”

Faridian seeks class certification and restitution on a state-law claim of unfair business practices.

Categories / Consumers, Law, Technology

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