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London student hoping to ‘take down’ lawyers with AI chatbots handed £840,000 by Silicon Valley investors

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Computer whizz will use cash to tackle more complicated areas of law

A London-born computer science student who hopes to “take down” lawyers with artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots has moved one step closer to realising his dream after being handed $1.1 million (£840,000) in support.

Joshua Browder, a student at Stanford University, California, is the brains behind an AI system called DoNotPay. Launched in 2016, the site provides 24-hour free legal advice to the public in areas including parking fines, delayed flights and payment protection insurance (PPI).

Now, having been given £840,000 from a group of wealthy Silicon Valley investors, the 21-year-old has his eyes fixed on more complex areas of law. Browder told Legal Futures:

“Divorce, immigration, small claims, property tax and more corporate takedowns are on their way, and perhaps the last app that everyone downloads is the one that solves all of their problems for free.”

The tech-savvy student — who recently moved into the house that Mark Zuckerberg used to rent — claims that he isn’t in it for the money. He said:

“I am not doing this to make any money whatsoever. As part of the funding (and all future financings), I will take a $1 salary until the law is free for everyone in America [and the United Kingdom (UK)].”

The financial war chest is thanks, in part, to venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The California-based outfit has backed businesses such as telecommunications giant Skype and media titan BuzzFeed.

Find out more about STEM Future Lawyers

Other Browder-backers include Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm at which he is an ‘entrepreneur in residence’, and US law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

However, despite the hefty cash injection, Browder concedes that he is a long way from his goal of giving “everyone the same legal power as the richest in society”.

In September, Browder revealed his AI system would help UK citizens affected by the highly-publicised data breach of US credit report giant Equifax. Reports at the time suggested that around 44 million British consumers’ details may have been compromised.

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29 Comments

Anonymous

Yes, his own ability as a young man entering business will defeat thousands of lawyers and highly motivated business people that depend upon law for their livelihood.

nighthawkprof on tumblr

It is unfortunately a trend that will lead to more stress for those graduating — they who must find another means by which to set themselves apart — and the law will take some time to catch up with the idea of machine rendered “advice”

Anonymous

Parking fines, delayed flights and PPI?!?! We need to stop this man, he will ruin half the city by taking away those precious high-value areas!

Consultation with an app, 2046

Mobile: “Siri, I would like you to consider causes of actions and potential claims against the DoNotPay app, because by overlooking a defence that I had to my parking fine (under the Statute of Marlborough 1267), it me £250.”

Siri: “I have assessed the merits of such a claim successfully being brought against the app developer and can conclude that they are 85%.”

Consumer: “Great. I will issue proceedings and speak with your clerks about your availability for a hearing at Court in early February”

Siri: “I do not have rights of audience in the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Showing Google search results for ‘Consumer Redress Barrister based in London'”

Consumer: “Oh. So I still have to pay for justice?”

Siri: “Not at all. I can draft your statements of case free of charge and you can appear as a litigant in person”

Consumer: “I’m not sure how effective that will be. DoNotPay is represented by Mark Howard QC and three juniors from Brick Court.”

Anonymous

Yes. This vintage is “most amusing”. I’m getting hints of panic, sarcasm, technophobia, bitterness, Luddism and erm more panic..

Consultation with an app, 2046

TBH I am panicked.

I’m petrified by AI in a general sense (try World Without Mind, by Franklin Foer).

However, I am not worried professionally – I don’t think my job as a solicitor (litigator) will be in jeopardy for several decades/centuries.

That is because law itself will always be of the highest order (so long as it is written by humans). So long as the legislature never becomes computer/AI based, then humans will still be required in the law. Alternatively, even if we end up in a world where legislation is drafted by AI, presumably that AI would need programming and therefore be subject to some higher man-made laws.

Anonymous

Consumer will have more of a chance of getting his money than he presently has. What would a solicitor charge him for even the most basic advice. £200 an hour? or more? That is the whole point of what this person is trying to achieve. (And how much would it take to pay a legal team to take on the QC and his team in any event?).

Anonymous

Just another rich kid (he’s the son of the financier, Bill Browder) using Daddy’s connections and wealth (greatly boosted in recent years by quantitative easing) to make a name for himself as a “tech entrepreneur”.

This is not real capitalism, just the 0.1% transferring money between each other and to their kids. Hence the productivity crisis, hence populism. Could central banks please hurry up and raise interest rates to normal levels?

Anonymous

Yep, he may take a symbolic $1 salary at present, but given he will still be majority shareholder, when this entire project is packaged for sale in 2 years time with minimal results but ‘maximum potential’, he will parachute out with a hefty figure, and move on to the next thing, having established his reputation as said tech entrepreneur.

SingaporeSwing

Absolutely spot on. Every word.

Anonymous

I smell fear – or is that envy?

Anonymous

If we are talking of the seven deadly sins, then you may smell covetousness on the part of the financier’ s son. Have you mixedthat smell up for a smell of envy ?

Anonymous

Sounds like a jelly remoaner

Get a job

More misallocation of capital into crummy schemes of the very wealthy

Anonymous

The law is not accessible to many people. If this make access to the law (and some semblance of justice) more accessible, then it is to be commended. And as for those lawyers who think that they cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence: hmmmm Carry on believing that. You might get to retirement before reality catches up with you.

Anonymous

To be fair, as the present state of reforms and access to justice goes, we may very well see us replaced by pennies-to-the-pound AI, but don’t kid yourself in thinking it will be a true replacement, and will serve the needs of clients like actual lawyers do.

Anonymous

The Time recently ran a story of a respectable law firm, Blake Morgan, charging £115,000 for administering an estate of some £300,000, including £4000 for that admin involved in paying utilities bills for two small properties. (The Times, 4 November 2017). I am not suggesting Blake Morgan overcharged for its services. Heavens forbid! But these fees are simply not sustainable for people who simply cannot afford them.

Anonymous

“these fees are simply not sustainable for people who simply cannot afford them……………….”

or in mathematical terms 1=1

genius dude

Anonymous

Excellent contribution to the discussion.

Anonymous

In immigration the Home Office decisions are so generic and templated they may as well be written by bots as opposed to paying salaries to the staff in Croydon, so definite potential for growth here.

And if the Home Office decisions get written by bots why not the appeals also? After all many shady immigration solicitors simply cut and paste hopeless grounds.

Anonymous

Stick it on the blockchain and I’ll make $$$ from pumping and dumping this non-meritorious start-up.

Anonymous

He is not doing it for money. Mhm. Right.

Yana

well i just started my law studies. this guy better dont leave me without a job

Anonymous

You’re fucked anyway mate. “Better don’t leave me…” is kind of an indictment.

Never mind – retrain ! As a rocket scientist. You can do it kid !

Frankly

A chat box will not be able to apply the law to a given set of facts.

Any first year can tell you what the law is.

nighthawkprof on tumblr

If only they all could — they can presently do it better than a machine in my experience — that is those who have spent summer in a firm

Anonymous

It is a shame the legal cheek reporting on the ai versus 112 lawyers about PPI claims was not better reported, so that we could follow the detail here.

Sceptical.

Bet he takes dividends though.

Mike O'Horo

Those posting smug, dismissive comments would be well advised to remember the observation about reactions to new ideas attributed to Gandhi: “First, they ignore you. Then, they ridicule you. Then, they attack you. Then, you win.”

This thread seems to have a lot of ridicule/attack in it. As for grand ambitions, “making the law available “free for everyone in America and the United Kingdom (UK)” is right up there. However, even if he never achieves that lofty aim, he’ll still transform the law and access to justice in ways that few would believe today.

The smug would also do well to remember that the law is, essentially, a set of rules that correspond to and integrate with other rules. Anything rule-based has always been the sweet spot of software.

As for the belief that lawyers’ judgment and perspective are so indispensable that they can’t be replaced by automation, many years ago the same thing was thought about the strategic and tactical thinking required of chess masters, and then, oops, the computer beat the master, and now it’s universally accepted that no human can beat BigBlue.

Technology won’t replace all lawyers, but enough of them to render the law firm leverage model uneconomic. It’s already happening with corporate clients unbundling their purchasing, allocating assignments to different solution categories at appropriate cost.

Law is not the only intellectual discipline that deals with complexity, and far more complex things than legal matters have been automated for a long time.

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