“Robot lawyer” DoNotPay is headed back to court – and not to prove its merits as a legally inclined chatbot. It’s being sued for practicing law in California without a license.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month but only released publicly late last week, DoNotPay customer Jonathan Faridian claimed that his experience with DoNotPay was anything but legally competent.
“Unfortunately for its customers, DoNotPay is not actually a robot, a lawyer, nor a law firm. DoNotPay does not have a law degree, is not barred in any jurisdiction, and is not supervised by any lawyer,” Faridian’s lawyers wrote in their suit.
The suit claims that Faridian was a paying DoNotPay customer, and used the site to draft demand letters, an independent contractor agreement, a pair of LLC operating agreements, and several court filings.
Faridian’s lawyers say he “believed he was purchasing legal documents and services that would be fit for use from a lawyer that was competent to provide them,” but that’s not what he allegedly received.
Instead, demand letters weren’t delivered, and one that was returned to his home address was “an otherwise-blank piece of paper with his name printed on it.” The delays, his lawyers said, may result in his claims being time barred.
Other documents were similarly a mess, the lawsuit claims, with one agency agreement containing inaccurately printed names and other errors that rendered the document “so poorly or inaccurately drafted that he could not even use them.”
“In the end, Faridian would not have paid to use DoNotPay’s services had he known that DoNotPay was not actually a lawyer,” his lawyers argued.
The complaint included some other mentions of unhappy customers, such as one who had their “not at fault” plea changed by DoNotPay, resulting in them having to pay a fine they were trying to fight. Another DoNotPay customer alleged the company never responded to the summons he was trying to fight, leading to additional penalties.
Faridian’s lawyers are seeking a class action suit that would include all paying DoNotPay customers in the state of California. The suit is asking for “restitution of all amounts … paid to [DoNotPay] for its services” and other financial recompense.
DoNotPay has 30 days from the date it was served a summons issued March 9 to respond to the complaint, and a case management session is scheduled for early August.
The company sent us a statement: “DoNotPay respectfully denies the false allegations. The named plaintiff has submitted dozens of successful cases to DoNotPay and the cases highlighted in this lawsuit are meritless. Furthermore, the case is being filed by a lawyer who has personally been paid hundreds of millions from class actions, so it’s unsurprising that he would accuse an AI of ‘unauthorized practice of law.’ We will defend ourselves vigorously.”
Park your robo-lawyer here
AI language models like the one behind DoNotPay have become the hot new thing in tech recently. DoNotPay, founded in 2015 for the sole purpose of fighting parking tickets, has tried to ride that wave by proposing stunts like having a defendant use earbuds in court so the AI bot can listen and respond with legal arguments for them to regurgitate in real time.
DoNotPay only managed to get its “world’s first robot lawyer” to the concept stage, however. In late January, DoNotPay founder Joshua Browder claimed he was threatened with jail time by the California State Bar if DoNotPay tried to act as a lawyer in the courtroom.
A cursory cast around the internet will return plenty of stories and video essays claiming DoNotPay doesn’t keep up with timely deliveries (an issue serious enough to merit a link to its late delivery refunds page on its main site).
For all its customer-level trouble, DoNotPay’s biggest issue may not be the lawsuit – it could be the Federal Trade Commission, which last month said it planned to crack down on AI hype.
FTC lawyer Michael Atleson said in an advisory that the FTC is in familiar territory when it comes to misleading marketing terms and their abuse – even if the industry has changed.
“Marketers should know that – for FTC enforcement purposes – false or unsubstantiated claims about a product’s efficacy are our bread and butter,” said Atleson. Perhaps it’s time for DoNotPay to ask itself how to draft a proper response to the feds before they come knocking. ®