A Robot that Kills Parking Tickets and its Big Law Friend

Photographer: John Rizzo/ Bloomberg News.

If you’re in the legal tech world you’ve no doubt read the headlines about a 19-year-old Stanford University student who created a robot lawyer that overturns parking tickets.

Launched last September, DoNotPay also helps people seek reimbursement for delayed airline flights and has plans to implement IBM’s Watson technology to roll out an arabic-speaking feature that helps Syrian refugees understand the legal process while seeking asylum in the U.K.

“I have faced some backlash from lawyers,” said Joshua Browder, who created the chat-based online portal. “They say parking tickets are too complicated, you need to hire someone. I think it shows how threatened they are, even by low-level legal activity.”

While we don’t often cover solo- and small-firm business here on Big Law Business, it’s difficult to look at the development and not ponder the implications of this little technology, which has taken the world by storm in the course of 21 months.

According to Browder, his gadget has overturned more than $4 million worth of parking tickets in London and New York. And he’s doing all of it for free — no charge to the client.

“This is a complete public service,” said Browder. “It doesn’t cost anything to appeal the ticket. And the reason I’m doing that is the people who can’t afford to pay the parking ticket are the most vulnerable in our society. I think it would be morally wrong to charge people and exploit the parking ticket system.”

The fact that it’s free makes it different from ROSS Intelligence, the legal research tool based on IBM’s Watson technology that a few big law firms (including BakerHostetler and Latham & Watkins) are using. But there are also some similarities.

Browder is friends with 27-year-old Andrew Arruda, who is CEO of Ross.

Similar to DoNotPay, Arruda said that ROSS is designed to cut out low-level legal work: ROSS, which focuses on the bankruptcy practice, is a robot that answers questions lawyers have about case law in the legal research process.

After every answer it spits out, lawyers can give positive or negative feedback and ROSS learns from its mistakes, said Arruda.

“Big law firms are writing off a ton of legal research time that the clients aren’t paying for,” explained Arruda. “We are eliminating and automating that, so it speeds up that learning curve for the associate. The more time you can put them to work in analyzing, comparing and contrasting and advising and not on information retrieval, the faster they can add value to the firm itself.”

But Arruda doesn’t see the technology as an existential threat to lawyers, as Browder does.

“Whenever something like this happens, there is a sense of panic,” said Arruda. “A lot of folks don’t know what AI is and does. It lends itself to a more Sci-Fi understanding of a relentless robot. But AI is a relative term. Really what it allows lawyers to do is enhance their abilities. What I think we’ll see is a move away from letting lawyers spend time on data retrieval and document preparation and more spending time on advocating [for] clients. That is what clients are most open to pay for.”

Of course, Arruda comes in from a different vantage point: He’s selling his technology to law firms and the whole disruption talk doesn’t fly much with clients. Nevertheless, he is doubling down. Arruda said that he has plans to expand ROSS into other practice areas, and even begin rolling out ROSS to law schools.

Asked for specifics on the law school front, Arruda said: “We are not going to be announcing that right now. But we will.”

BLB Newsletter image (LARGE)