I had another idea for a blogpost in mind at this stage of the week, but between travel and this story, this was the thing that had to be acknowledged today. Yesterday’s big technology news for lawyers (sort of lost in the Apple event revealing a brand new version of what will likely become Ted Cruz’s new favorite device for viewing images he likes) is this story.
I’ve written a little bit in the past about the leading chatbot – DoNotPay. This story at The Washington Post details what will (I’m guessing) be something of a watershed moment in the development of the functionality of chatbots and what they can, and truly will, mean for lawyering in the near future.
In the wake of the Equifax data breach, the makers of DoNotPay launched a chatbot yesterday to allow people with just a few simple clicks to file suit in the small claims court in their home jurisdiction against Equifax over the data breach.
I usually like to think that I can add my own profound insight on an issue to make it worth reading over and above the underlying story. Today though I’m going to primarily just point readers to the source material and then ask you to allow your own minds to ponder the possibilities this raises. The Washington Post story was written at a time when the chatbot would only be available for suits in California and New York, but it was quickly modified to render availability nationwide, as explained in this Yahoo! article.
Once you’ve done that, check back in with me for just a moment or two. I’ll wait right here.
Ok. First, undoubtedly a lot of the people that will use this chatbot to file this suit would otherwise never take on this kind of matter at all. For many others, if they pursued it at all, they wouldn’t ever hire a lawyer and would try to handle it themselves . To that end, this is a net win in terms of access to justice (at least for everyone except Equifax). (To the extent that these kinds of cases might get resolved before any class action suits that have already been filed and will be filed, they certainly might not be a net win for such class action lawyers.)
Second, the continuing development of chatbots in this direction will still leave plenty of work for lawyers (and create some work for lawyers that might not otherwise exist) – and not just in the form of lawyers who, for example, will show up to represent Equifax in thousands of small claims suits.
Part of this is because of the inherent differences that still exist from jurisdiction to jurisdiction over access to and proceedings in small claims court.
As one example, here in Tennessee our civil small claims court is called General Sessions Court. There are a number of ways that it works differently from the general features described in the articles as to other states small claims courts. We have a jurisdictional limit of under $25,000. In our general sessions courts, you certainly are entitled to have a lawyer represent you in that court and, in fact, if you are a corporate or business entity of any kind seeking to pursue suit or defend suit, you have to be represented by an attorney. Further, both parties to a general sessions judgment (even the prevailing party) have an absolute right to appeal the outcome and, if they do, it goes up to our regular state trial level court for de novo proceedings. Thus, in a way, nothing that happens in our General Sessions court matters unless everyone involved agrees it mattered.
In addition to simply demonstrating how fast things are moving on these fronts, this evolution of the use of the DoNotPay bot also adds another wrinkle about how an attorney could at some point co-opt such technologies in situations where they may have a potential client with a looming timing issue in the form of a statute of limitations about to expire. Specifically, it is not difficult to imagine a near future in which this kind of chatbot could permit the filing of suits involving other issues where a lawyer could point a brand new client -with a time sensitive matter- toward such a chatbot to get a suit filed before a statute expires and then come in, take over, and amend pleadings once the lawyer has more time to get involved.