Free Robot Lawyer sounds like a sketch left on the "Saturday Night Live" cutting-room floor, but it's a very real thing, one that's helping people who can't afford an attorney to represent themselves in common legal issues.
DoNotPay isn't an animatronic being that actually walks into court for you – yet. It's an online tool developed by a Stanford student that, thanks to an upgrade that goes live today, can help users address more than 1,000 legal matters free of charge.
According to Mashable, some of the bot's capabilities include helping you contest parking tickets, filing consumer complaints or reporting harassment in the workplace. It can even assist refugees applying for political asylum.
"The expansion is into consumer rights, from fighting your landlord to getting a refund when something isn't delivered on time," says DoNotPay creator Joshua Browder, who created the service to fight his own parking tickets. "I think businesses should be forced to treat consumers better, and consumer-rights bots will hopefully change that."
The interface is an instant-messaging app into which users enter a legal problem and answer questions about it. DoNotPay then crafts a legal form such as a claims letter or cease-and-desist notice, or it refers you to additional legal aid. It's powered by IBM's Watson technology.
The cost savings can amount to thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees. According to Business Insider UK, in 2016, DoNotPay successfullly appealed £2 million in parking tickets.
Browder posted a demo of the service on YouTube on Monday:
His aim is to allow those who can't afford traditional legal representation to obtain just recourse. "I think the world is such an unfair place," said Browder. "Credit card companies charge the poor more for the same thing. Employers don't respect the right to maternity leave. Half of all parking tickets are dismissed in New York. Previously, the main way to correct this unfairness was to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars to copy and paste a document. I hope DoNotPay gives more people a way to stand up for their rights."