Tuesday, January 17, 2023
A Unilateral Offer at SCOTUS?
Thanks to Elizabeth Winston for sharing with us this Tweet from Joshua Browder, CEO of DoNotPay.
Note: I could not find a homepage for either the company or its CEO, which tells you something, but I'm not sure what. Perhaps technology companies have now moved beyond the traditional web and are going to use social media sites to connect with potential clients.
People working for Twitter's buzzkill department were quick to point out that the Supreme Court does not permit electronic devices in the courtroom. Mr. Browder, who is perhaps 25 years old, is not exactly backing down.
So, what do we have here? It seems like we at first had a unilateral offer that nobody but those bent on professional suicide could take. And now we have -- well, nothing serious at all. A pretend offer contingent on unknown terms that will be hard to reconcile with the fact that SCOTUS does not permit technology in the courtroom.
Also, just a few notes. My favorite response to Mr. Browder's post was "Why can't you tech people just be normal?" It's a great question. Reading this, I imagined a Bahamian extradition hearing lurking somewhere in Mr. Browder's future. But the truth is, he has reportedly raised $27.7 million for his start-up, and he claims in a published report that the company was valued at over $210 million in 2021, a report that also mentions Sam Bankman-Fried as an investor in the company. Small world. It is unlikely that his short-term goal is to have his robot argue in the Supreme Court. The goal is more likely to drum up more interest in his traffic-court business and what Gillian Tan describes in her Bloomberg report as his "do not pay lawyers" ethos.
In 2021, DoNotPay boasted 250,000 clients, who were not paying actual lawyers but were paying a $144 annual fee for robotic legal representation. The company has itself been sued, which led to this interesting Twitter exchange:
C'mon Joshua, since you are bragging about the fact that your bot is going to argue its first traffic ticket in court this month, it seems clear that you relied on actual lawyers and not the bot to defend you when you got sued? Right?
Okay, so it is okay to pay lawyers, so long as they are AMAZING. Got it.
Look Mr. Browder, I'm sure your bot is amazing, but if you really think it can argue before the Supreme Court and you are interested in proving it, why wouldn't a moot be sufficient? Donate $1 million to my law school, and I guarantee we will assemble a distinguished panel to test out your technology's capabilities. This a serious offer* contingent on us coming to formal agreement and all rules being followed.
*This is not a serious offer. It is serious snark. But if you donate $1 million to my law school, I will certainly do my best to organize a moot for you.
There is a real issue lurking here, which has no necessary relation to AI. The practice of law is a legally-protected monopoly that assures that legal fees charged to the public must be at least great enough to amortize the costs of a law degree and in-person practice. Given the ease with which documents and information can be acquired from anonymous sources over the internet, how can state supreme courts and bar associations prevent unauthorized practice of law, if on-line unlicensed providers promise to deliver for pennies services that lawyers would charge thousands for? Assuming that it is impossible as a practical matter to prevent the on-line sale of legal services by unlicensed sources, should the profession continue to prevent the delivery of affordable, in-person legal services by unlicensed providers? Perhaps the market will split (perhaps it already has) into services for low-income clients, regulated solely by the “market,” and services for high-income clients who can pay for competence and skill.
Posted by: Sidney DeLong | Jan 17, 2023 8:22:14 AM
This offer is also likely against public policy as well. Now, if you took him up on the offer, were sanctioned by SCOTUS, and then tried to sue his company, are you in pari delicto?
Posted by: Erin Archerd | Jan 17, 2023 8:12:22 AM