The artificial intelligence tech company that claims its services would “fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button” is facing a class action lawsuit of its own over what one California man calls its “substandard” offerings.
DoNotPay — which offers online, AI-generated legal forms and documents for people looking to avoid hiring a lawyer — made headlines when it launched in 2015, and again earlier this year when its human founder Joshua Browder planned to have the first “robot lawyer” argue a traffic case before a judge in an actual courtroom.
Now, plaintiff Jonathan Faridian is leading a class action lawsuit against the service, alleging that it violates California rules governing the practice of law.
“In California, practicing law without a license is prohibited by the State Bar Act, which prohibits persons from holding themselves out as lawyers in California or practicing law in the state of California while not being admitted to the California bar (or otherwise authorized to practice),” the complaint says (citations omitted). “Despite this prohibition, DoNotPay’s Robot Lawyer provided and continues to provide unauthorized legal services to thousands of customers throughout the country.”
The complaint — presumably written by flesh-and-blood lawyers from the international law firm Edelson PC — included multiple scathing rebukes of DoNotPay.
“Unfortunately for its customers, DoNotPay is not actually a robot, a lawyer, nor a law firm,” the complaint says. “DoNotPay does not have a law degree, is not barred in any jurisdiction, and is not supervised by any lawyer. DoNotPay is merely a website with a repository of — unfortunately, substandard — legal documents that at best fills in a legal adlib based on information input by customers.”
According to the lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, states nationwide regulate the practice of law in order to protect consumers, and DoNotPay undermines that policy.
“Individuals seeking legal services most often do not fully understand the law or the implications of the legal documents or processes that they are looking to DoNotPay for help with,” the complaint says, later adding: “Providing legal services to the public, without being a lawyer or even supervised by a lawyer is reckless and dangerous.”
Faridian says that he “believed he was purchasing legal documents and services that would be fit for use from a lawyer that was competent to provide them,” the complaint says. He apparently used the service to draft demand letters, an independent contractor agreement, a small claims court filing, two LLC operating agreements, and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission job discrimination complaint.
“The services DoNotPay provided to Faridian were not provided by a law firm, lawyer, or by a person supervised by a lawyer or firm,” the lawsuit says. “The services DoNotPay provided Faridian were substandard and poorly done.”
The demand letters, for example, allegedly “never even made it to his intended recipient,” and were actually returned undelivered to Faridian’s home, the complaint says. One of the letters was apparently an “otherwise-blank piece of paper with his name printed on it.” Because of this delay, he alleges, Faridian’s claims may be time-barred.
A draft business agreement allegedly used language that “did not seem to apply to his business” and misspelled the names of the parties, according to the complaint.
“In the end, Faridian would not have paid to use DoNotPay’s services had he known that DoNotPay was not actually a lawyer,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit also addresses Browder’s efforts to use a so-called “robot lawyer,” calling it a “stunt in which it sought to actively represent a client in court using AI.” Browder apparently walked back that plan — in which AI would respond in real-time to in-court arguments and provide responses through headphones — after complaints from multiple state bars.
Browder, for his part, took to Twitter to respond to the lawsuit. He didn’t seem bothered.
“Bad news!” a seemingly unbothered Browder wrote. “Jay Edelson, America’s richest class action lawyer, is suing my startup @DoNotPay in California. Mr. Edelson, who has made billions suing companies, is attacking us for ‘unauthorized practice of law’ and seeking a court order ending any A.I product.”
Browder also takes aim at Faridian, saying that Edelson is using him to “play the role of the ‘injured consumer.'”
Faridian, Browder alleges, graduated law school and “has had dozens of successful consumer rights cases with DoNotPay, including canceling subscriptions, which he conveniently leaves out of the lawsuit.”
He also said that Faridian’s claim that he believed DoNotPay was a real lawyer “seems a bit far fetched for someone who is qualified in the law.”
Bad news! Jay Edelson, America’s richest class action lawyer, is suing my startup @DoNotPay in California. Mr Edelson, who has made billions suing companies, is attacking us for “unauthorized practice of law” and seeking a court order ending any A.I product.
Here’s my response: pic.twitter.com/6PvFVW65rB
— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) March 9, 2023
On the homepage of the company’s website, it states that “DoNotPay is not a law firm and is not licensed to practice law. DoNotPay provides a platform for legal information and self-help.”
The complaint seeks a declaration that DoNotPay’s conduct is unlawful, an injunction barring it from operating, and an undetermined amount of financial awards.
Read the complaint here.
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