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When Joshua Browder kept getting hit with parking tickets in London, he decided to stop paying the fines and start beating the tickets. He soon became an expert at fighting traffic tickets and has since helped people overturn 160,000 tickets, thanks to a chatbot he programed. You can chat with Browder's bot online, for free, and it will guide you through contesting your ticket, just like you were talking to a human being.
Except Browder isn't an attorney, he's a 19-year old Stanford undergrad. Could his chatbot constitute the unlicensed practice of law?
Putting "Exploitive Lawyers" Out of Business?
Browder taught himself to code at 12 and put that skill to use fighting traffic tickets six years later. Since launching, Donotpay.co.uk has successfully appealed more than $3 million worth of tickets, according to Business Insider. His chatbot works by asking users straightforward questions about their ticket, using a conversation algorithm. Here's how Tech Insider describes it:
Once you sign in, a chat screen pops up. To learn about your case, the bot asks questions like, "Were you the one driving?" and "Was it hard to understand the parking signs?" It then spits out an appeal letter, which you mail to the court.
True to its name, Donotpay.co.uk does not demand payment from users, unlike lawyers who can charge a few hundred bucks to help drivers deal with tickets. "My hope is that by the end of the year," Browder told the Daily Mail in January, "it will be good enough to replace these exploitative lawyers completely."
Is Your Chatbot a Member of the Bar?
So far, Browder's chatbot has been operating mostly in England. But the website is expanding, taking on tickets in the United States. It's managed to get 10,000 out of 24,000 tickets dismissed in New York City, according to the New York Post, and it will start handling tickets in Seattle come September, Seattle's KUOW reports.
Donotpay.co.uk advertises itself as the "The World's First Robot Lawyer," but we don't imagine the chatbot has a license to practice. New York and Washington, like all states, have laws against the unauthorized practice of law.
Does Browder's chatbot, or any other "robot lawyer," violate them? Possibly -- and possibly not. Those laws require not just the application of legal principles ("was it hard to understand the parking signs?") but the exercise of judgement. Programs like Browder's chatbot can certainly do the former, but might not be able to latter. That could keep them out of legal hot water, for the time being.