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Joshua Browder is trying to upend the legal services industry. His company, DoNotPay, has built an AI-powered chatbot that interviews users about their legal problems in plain English and then uses their answers to complete and submit legal paperwork on their behalf.
Browder describes DoNotPay as “the world’s first robot lawyer,” and believes that the system he’s building will one day be able to address the majority of legal issues.
“DoNotPay will have succeeded if the word ‘lawyer’ is completely removed from the dictionary for average people,” Browder told Reason.
The 21-year-old entrepreneur from the UK, who taught himself to code by watching YouTube videos, lives and works with his eight-person team out of the same Palo Alto house that Mark Zuckerberg rented during his first summer in California building Facebook. Browder says the legal industry is so ripe for disruption through software because most services involve nothing more than standardized processes and boilerplate language.
DoNotPay initially focused on fighting parking tickets because Browder views them as an unfair tax on the poor. He says DoNotPay has succeeded in overturning citations about half the time, saving users $16 million in fines over its first three years. Now, operating on just over $1 million in venture capital funding, the start-up is expanding to cover a broad range of legal problems.
DoNotPay’s app, which is in development, will monitors users’ accounts and gets them money back whenever the law allows. It can automatically rebook plane tickets when prices drop, request refunds when banks charge illegal overdraft fees, and help users reclaim security deposits from shady landlords.
Browder says DoNotPay will never charge for any legal services, and he doesn’t need much cash to continue expanding and thus has time to figure out a revenue source. This allows the company to serve clients who can’t afford to hire lawyers, such as refugees seeking asylum and homeless people applying for public housing in the UK. DoNotPay is also working on a service that helps navigate the US visa process.
“These processes are so bureaucratic that if you have no resources at all, it really is impossible to get the help you need,” says Browder. And as long as lawyers have an incentive to keep laws complex and their services expensive, he thinks it will take a bottom-up approach to make the system fair. DoNotPay has built bots that can query automated email, chat, and telephone systems thousands of times to, for example, get users a quick appointment at the DMV.
Browder calls this tactic “DDoSing the legal system to make it better.” Beyond helping his users navigate bureaucracy, Browder hopes to flip the script by making legal complexity more of a pain for governments than for average people, and thereby incentivize lawmakers to slash red tape in general.
“There’s a $200 billion legal industry at the moment,” Browder says, “and DoNotPay will hopefully one day make it free for everyone.”
For full text and downloadable versions, go to https://reason.com/reasontv/2018/09/19/robot-lawyer-fights-fines-fees-red-tape
Produced by Justin Monticello. Camera by Monticello and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Gunnar Olsen, Matt Harris, Geographer, Text Me Records & Bobby Renz, and Silent Partner.
Image credit: ID 126279773 © Andrey Popov | Dreamstime.com