In a history-making intervention, an Artificial Intelligence-powered legal assistant will advise a defendant in a US court next month as he challenges a traffic violation charge.
The defendant will not have a lawyer in court beside him.
Instead, through a pair of Apple Airpod earphones, he will receive advice on what to say in real time — from an AI-fuelled app, which is being called the world’s first “robot lawyer”.
The app will listen to arguments in court and formulate the defendant’s responses — on the fly. The location and date of the court case is being held secret by authors of the app, till it happens to evade any pre-emptive legal challenges.
The startup which will fuel this service is called DoNotPay — the brainchild of UK-born Joshua Browder who came to the US to study at Stanford, at the age of 19, then found himself plagued with multiple traffic and parking violation tickets — many wrongly issued.
The legal profession in the US is notoriously pricey and most of the defendants of petty offences who come from the bottom of the pyramid, just pay — because the cost of hiring a lawyer to challenge an unjust charge is often costlier than the fine.
Browder founded a company in 2015 to be "the General Counsel for the Consumer" and created an app to automate simple legal tasks, avoiding having to hire a lawyer.
The DoNotPay legal services chatbot is very affordable — $36 for three months — and allows users to create legal documents or to fight large corporation directly, eliminating lawyer fees in a host of situations: appeal parking tickets in any city, appeal speeding tickets, file a complaint against any company, fight workplace discrimination, file for bankruptcy, file police report, compensation for victims of crime, deal with defamation demand letters, draft at divorce settlement agreement…
The service is currently available in the US and UK. At the backend, the app has an IBM Watson AI computer.
Next month’s case will be the first where DoNotPay will act as a virtual lawyer in a courtroom. It remains to be seen if the US legal system — which varies sharply in its practices from state to state — will allow such scenarios.
ChatBot Clears Bar Exam!
Meanwhile, another development was reported last month, which shows AI is creeping into the legal profession.
The US system requires lawyers to clear a professional licence exam known as the bar exam, after they have got their law degree.
Only by passing this bar exam, can lawyers be admitted to the bar of a US state and begin practice. About one in five people fail on the first try.
Researchers at Chicago Kent College of Law, Bucerius Law School Hamburg, and the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics (CodeX) have now examined how OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 model, which also serves as the basis of ChatGPT performs at the bar exam.
Their report, published on 31 December 2022 as a paper, says GPT-3.5 and by implication ChatGPT can clear the bar exam.
Lawyers In India Size Up ChatGPT
Ever since ChatGPT became available (Swarajya carried a detailed review), lawyers in India have been sizing up if AI can help in their work.
P B Sahasrananam, long-time information technology user and a senior advocate of the Kerala High Court, tried ChatGPT in some test situations and shared his expert opinion in a recent LinkedIn piece:
“The new ChatGPT will soon take away many of the works of lawyers worldwide. Unlike the Google search, it answers the questions raised instead of giving more internet site addresses.
“I asked some legal questions like when two division bench judgments conflict which should be followed. It answered correctly stating that the latter should be followed. It is capable of answering many legal questions based on Indian law.
“The accuracy of legal questions is not hundred percent correct. Even judgments rendered by courts are often found wrong in appeal. But the basic knowledge of the programme is praiseworthy.
“Artificial intelligence will be helpful for the persons who deal with laws to make a decision fast. ChatGPT will be a first-rank winner if the questions of law schools are put to it. It will help to reduce the pendency of cases, if used properly.”
Placing cameras in courts to live-transmit proceedings; online submission of case documents; swift publication of court decisions and orders, in software form to hasten justice especially to bail applications, 2022 already saw many pathbreaking changes in Indian jurisprudence achieved by harnessing the best of today’s technologies.
A tech-savvy Chief Justice at the apex court — Justice D Y Chandrachud — inspired many of these reforms and motivated state courts to go paperless.
One can safely predict that he is carefully watching and evaluating the latest AI-driven developments — from robot lawyers legal chatbots like DoNotPay to ChatGPT — to see how AI could be the next big thing for Indian judiciary to harness and deploy — so that it can fulfil its mandate to deliver justice to every Indian who seeks it.
Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.
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