Parking tickets are a bummer. Let's assume you're a good person and not parking in front of fire hydrants or crosswalks: There are probably many reasons why you shouldn't pay your parking ticket. In New York, for instance, cops gave millions of dollars of tickets for parking in spaces that were technically legal. But contesting tickets is both annoyingly time-consuming and requires some skills, and lawyers are expensive. But what if you could hire a robot lawyer for cheap? Your friends who are still paying their law school student debt might protest, but there is a new legal chatbot that can get you out of your fees..
The app is called, somewhat unambiguously, DoNotPay, and it dispenses legal advice. Sign up, type in your legal question, and the artificial-intelligence lawyer will walk you through the process of appealing your ticket, just like a real lawyer, only without the too-firm handshake, the BMW, and the big legal bill. Right now, the lawyerbot can do two things—help appeal a ticket in the U.K., or in New York, and help you get compensation for a delayed flight.
The robots are coming for all our jobs, and the Internet is destroying all kinds of middlemen. And while nobody will lament the obviation of lawyers, there are actually people whose job is to contest parking tickets, although like most jobs that can be done by machines, it is thankless and repetitive.
The chatbot lawyer, created by 19-year-old Londoner Joshua Browder, has so far gotten 160,000 tickets dismissed in the U.K. and New York in just 21 months. "The process for appealing the fines is relatively formulaic and perfectly suits AI," writes the Guardian’s Samuel Gibbs. The bot even produces the documents needed for your appeal.
Browder isn’t the only one looking to replace lawyers with apps. Legalswipe is a free app that "informs people of their rights during interactions with police." And it doesn’t just offer smart advice—the app actually gets involved while the police are harassing you.
Legalswipe was built by Christien Levien, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, who says he was assaulted by police when he was a teen. The app is meant to be used while you are interacting with the police and offers fast advice, tells you the exact wording to use in a situation, can record audio and video and save it to Dropbox so it’s available if the cop steals your phone, and it’ll even broadcast your location to your emergency contacts.
Lawyers are expensive, so most people only see one when they’re issued a public defender, which is far from ideal. There are also plenty of other situations where you need legal advice but are unlikely to hire a lawyer thanks to cost—situations like claiming against parking fines or checking contracts. In fact, contracts are another field that’s perfect for AI, and at least one startup, called Beagle, will read through any length of contract, including anything in the fine print, and highlight what you need to know, giving you a visual summary.
Browder sees DoNotPay as a way to protect regular people. "I think the people getting parking tickets are the most vulnerable in society," he told VentureBeat. "These people aren’t looking to break the law. I think they’re being exploited as a revenue source by the local government."
His next project takes this even further, helping refugees apply for asylum. This is exactly what the Internet is good at, taking services and products that are kept deliberately opaque and expensive, like car dealerships for example, and opening them up so that people can make their own decisions.