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  • Lisa Präauer

Given a choice in the courtroom: artificial intelligence or a human being?

February 22nd, 2023 would have been an exciting day. It was initially planned that, for the first time, a trial in the courtroom would take place with the defendant using artificial intelligence. DoNotPay, founded in 2015 by Joshua Browder, offers software based on Artificial Intelligence for legal help or how they market themselves: "The World's First Robot Lawyer". Their application was planned to defend a client to dispute parking fines in California in February 2023. Unfortunately, on 25 January 2023, Browder announced via Twitter that the event would not occur, as he had been threatened by a State Bar with prosecution and jail.

How it started

It started a few years after the first social media platform came online. The New York Times published an article about software replacing lawyers for document reviews in 2011. In the meantime, numerous scholarly research, development, and discussions are going on about the impact of artificial intelligence on the profession of a lawyer. Also, several applications appeared on the market focusing on legal advice in different legal fields. Prominent examples are ROSS, DoNotPay and LegalZoom.

ROSS Intelligence was founded at the University of Toronto in 2014 using IBM's Watson natural language processing to automate legal processes. The so-called TAR process (Technology-aided review) extracts relevant data points from unstructured data sets. They combined machine learning with grammatical structure, word embeddings and facts & motions. Taking the example of ROSS, it can swift a billion documents per second. The law firm "Baker&Hostetler" was the first to "hire" this application for their internal use.

What about DoNotPay?

Back to DoNotPay. It was created for people contesting traffic tickets to use arguments in court generated by their software and shifted to artificial intelligence in 2020. At this point in time, they offer different features in the consumer service, like disputing credit reports or a ChatGPT integration that reads Terms and Conditions. In December 2022, Browder announced that he wanted to start an experiment with building a bot that listens to the court hearing via Bluetooth headphones and telling you what to say by also using GPT-3 (deep learning language model) and LLMs (large language models). He aims to "replace some lawyers altogether to save defendants money." Since he wanted to experiment, he even offered to cover any fines in case of losing the case. It was no surprise that first critics came up quickly by saying it's practising law without a licence, which Browder countered by saying they will do it in a jurisdiction where it's allowed, which the end where two out of 300 cases where it's legally authorised and feasible to use the technology. Sadly, we could not witness the outcome of this experiment, and Browder couldn't make history as he wished. Also, his offer of $1,000,000 if someone uses its bot in front of the Supreme Court may be frozen for the next time.


With all the discussion on whether artificial intelligence should play a legitimate role in the courtroom, we should not only point out the opposing side. Of course, dealing with risks, biases, and errors is essential. However, the other side of development holds countless possibilities and simplifications. A collaborative journey between tradition and technical innovation opens new doors. Legal bots, etc., can be a cost-effective alternative for those affected and law firms. As Arruda, founder and CEO of ROSS, said: "The law is the same for both parties. Whether you have 20 associates researching a case, or just one equipped with ROSS, the relevant passages will be found for you."

Complex court cases will remain in the hands of lawyers for years to come and probably also should in the first hand since human judgements are critical since emotions also play a significant part. However, it would have been interesting for the entire profession to see how artificial intelligence would have fared in a relatively simple case without a lawyer's obligation. Research showing that language models could pass the Bar Exam shortly should already be questioned as to what role artificial intelligence will play in legal science and practice and how we can best integrate it.

Also, the chairman of the American Bar Association's Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Committee states that there are still a lot of cases which need to be dealt with by a lawyer because it's not lucrative for them. Karim Seghouane highlights that humans outpace machines in the beginning, but with time average errors by machines are smaller than ours.

It would be refreshing and necessary to see trials using artificial intelligence and possibly adapt the legal requirements for using artificial intelligence in the courtroom in the future.


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