DoNotPay and Representing Yourself in the Digital Age
At IAALS, much of our work centers around increasing access to civil justice—especially for those who are navigating our legal system without the assistance of a lawyer. As more and more litigants represent themselves, by choice or necessity, the need for a broader infrastructure to support them is essential, both inside and outside the court. IAALS’ Court Compass project is leading the charge in that arena; by bringing self-represented litigants together with court stakeholders in states across the country, we are further understanding the problems faced on both sides—and solutions.
Technology is at the core of many advancements in this area, with new apps and programs emerging in the market frequently. A new app gaining a lot of attention recently is DoNotPay, which uses IBM Watson-powered AI to assist plaintiffs with small claims matters. The application uses a Chatbot to ask questions about potential claims, such as the amount of recovery desired and the reason for filing the suit, and completes the appropriate paperwork for the user to mail into the courthouse. DoNotPay will also provide the user with a script to read in court if they are required to attend a hearing in person. DoNotPay reports that it has helped people avoid over $16 million in parking fees, and even assisted a woman in filing a successful claim against Equifax after her data was stolen during a security breach in early 2018. When Equifax sent a lawyer to appeal the claim, the woman successfully used DoNotPay to assist her a second time, winning the appeal and forcing Equifax to compensate her for her loss.
However, as with all new technology, the jury is still out on its full impact. While boasting the ability to “sue anyone with the press of a button,” some lawyers and legal technologists argue that additional testing and improvements may be needed to fully realize the app’s promise. Opening new pathways to justice is admirable, but it must be done carefully so that users are not exposed to additional risks. In a crowded field of legal tech, quality should be at the heart of each advancement—not just quantity.