Not everyone has the option to hire a professional lawyer when they need one. However, Joshua Browder, a student at Stanford University, is helping to make legal advice more accessible than ever through his website DoNotPay, which runs an artificial intelligence (AI) platform to provide free legal aid.
Initially, Browder created the program to contest parking tickets. Because appealing parking tickets is a defined and relatively straightforward process, artificial intelligence is capable of navigating the appeals procedure. People who want to use the program go the DoNotPay website, where the AI asks them a series of questions and then creates a claim letter if appropriate. After launching in London and New York, DoNotPay managed to successfully appeal 160,000 parking tickets, saving a combined $4 million for its clients.
Despite the success of his program, Browder has expanded his ambitions beyond just overturning parking tickets. Earlier this August, he updated his program to provide legal assistance to those recently evicted from their homes in the U.K. His updates are especially relevant considering eviction rates increased by 53% between 2010 and 2015 in the U.K. and are at an all time high currently.
Similarly to the way it approaches parking tickets, DoNotPay starts off by asking recently evicted clients a series of questions. In the U.K., government housing is guaranteed to the recently evicted, but the actual application process for government housing can be complicated, especially if someone is trying to do it on his or her own. DoNotPay helps people craft claim letters for the government housing that they deserve.
Browder hopes to expand the housing services to New York and San Francisco. However, he acknowledges that there are some obstacles to his aspirations. He would have to account for a different set of housing laws in each city; and in places where government housing is not guaranteed, helping the evicted is not as simple as crafting a claim letter to housing that the government is obligated to give someone. Additionally, the massive homeless population of 60,000 in New York might be too large for the AI to handle in its current form.
Critics are also wary of the AI’s ability to handle non-standard scenarios and pick up subtle legal nuances. Of course, a real life lawyer will provide better and more specific advice than an AI. However, Browder still believes that his program can be of use to those who cannot afford a real lawyer.
He also continues to seek other legal possibilities for his program. For example, he wants to update the AI to provide advice to HIV-positive people on their legal rights. Additionally, he hopes to release another update in September to help Syrian asylum seekers.
Despite some of the questions being raised about the efficacy of the AI in dealing with more complex legal situations, Browder’s work could still be an important first step in providing universal legal aid. This use of AI is still in its early stages of development, and as the technology improves, so too should the quality of legal advice.
– Edmond Kim