AUTOMATED LAWYERS 2: NOTHING FOR SOMETHING
In my previous blog on this topic, I began to explore the various automated legal services popping up, mostly related to generating Wills that are probably not worth the paper they’re printed on.
The trend of trying to automate or to use AI learning to streamline access to legal services is coming and will not go away; but there are problems.
There are already some services that provide lawyers with programs to facilitate organizing and calling certain keywords out of large volumes of documents - those services are productive and helpful.
The topic I have been struggling with and analyzing is whether the robot legal services are valuable to the average consumer. I believe as they evolve, they may be valuable for certain types of cases; but presently, I believe their customers are getting nothing while paying something.
I see claims from these AI-lawyer sites that they have defeated hundreds of thousands of traffic tickets, etc., but that all rings hollow to me. That is not a claim that the bots are successful at practicing law or even winning the case. The long-standing cliché, long before bot lawyers started on the scene, is a defendant showing up with blank papers stuffed into a few file folders and “winning” the case.
I had a law school professor relate a story of her going to Court with blank papers and she had absolutely no explanation for her traffic infraction - but the Court dismissed it as soon as it saw her carry in the papers.
I recall an instance when I was waiting for a motion hearing and about 7 to 9 traffic ticket defendants were waiting in line to appear before the Judge. The court security officer walked up to them and said the Judge was tossing all of their tickets and took their names.
I bet the Judge tossed the tickets for all those who showed up and found the rest guilty in absentia.
The reality is the Courts are vastly overburdened and regularly the state will drop charges against anyone with a pulse who shows up or provides a written opposition to the ticket. No one is reading the opposition letters that these automated counselors generate.
The Courts are simply overburdened - such triage tactics must be implemented.
Thus, these bot attorneys are not providing any services to those who pay for them; they are simply charging people for their lack of knowledge about how easy it is to fight traffic tickets, and similar low-effort legal issues.
The terms of service for such sites is telling - below is an example I made up. It is a compilation of a few different organizations providing these services. I do not want to disparage a specific site or organization, so I will not refer to them by name.
Let’s call this hypothetical “[AICounsel]” (as of this writing, I could not find any company called [AICounsel], it is possible one could later be made with that name - this hypo is intended as a fictional company and any similarity to any real entity is merely coincidental).
“[AICounsel] provides a platform for self-help and not to provide legal services. Such platform and information along with the content on our website related to legal matters is provided for your private use and does not constitute legal services or advice. [AICounsel] does not review any information you provide to us for legal accuracy or sufficiency, [AICounsel] does not draw legal conclusions, does not provide opinions about your selection of forms, and does not apply the law to the facts of your situation.
[AICounsel] provides access to automated software solutions to individuals who wish to prepare their own legal documents and correspondence. If you need legal advice for a specific problem, you should consult with an attorney licensed in your state. [AICounsel] is not a law firm, please note that any communications between you and [AICounsel] may not be protected under the attorney-client privilege.”
With each of the agreements I reviewed, I could see that attorneys wrote them to ensure compliance with ethics rules and laws prohibiting unauthorized practice of law (UPL). For example, only attorneys can advise a person about using a particular form over another form whereas anyone can be a mere scrivener and help you fill in your name on a form you choose.
So what are the results?
These automated systems are taking at least some money and providing no real product or service in addition to what the defendant could have done on his own with the exact same results; there is no value add. They are taking advantage of the grossly overburdened Court systems and betting on the Judges simply dismissing the case or prosecutors using nolle prosequi (abandoning the claim) in triage.
At the end of the day, automating some portions of the practice of law will be beneficial; however, it appears that these automatic legal services to fight traffic tickets, and similar types of cases, are providing no real value to their customers - and that, I find, is problematic.