Last year, Legal Week Intelligence, in association with Fulcrum GT, profiled 20 innovators driving change in the legal sector. We focused on what inspired these figures to shift their views and how this bred innovation. In 2017, we look at the innovations themselves.
The Top 20 Legal IT Innovations report aims to get to the heart of what innovation means by illustrating how new ways of doing things, large or small, local or global, have shaken up a sector often characterised as slow moving and resistant to change.
When he was 18, Josh Browder (pictured) learned to drive. “I was really terrible and began to receive a lot of parking tickets. After the fourth ticket, my parents told me I had to pay them myself. Since I couldn’t afford to, I had to figure out other ways to get the tickets dismissed.”
In trawling through government documents, he looked for reasons why UK parking tickets should be cancelled. He identified 12 common reasons – from signage (i.e. a tree covering the No Parking sign) to the ticket being issued before the car was bought or after it was sold, or an emergency, such as visiting a hospital.
“I became a sort of guru,” says Browder. “All my friends and family in north London were asking for help with their parking tickets.” So he decided to start a website to help others. In August 2015, after doing a Freedom of Information request to find out the main reasons, he listed the top 12 on his new website: DoNotPay – The World’s First Robot Lawyer.
There was no marketing or advertising. “More friends started using it – the local community is very tight-knit so their friends started using it too.” Huge word of mouth led to social media growth. Several days later, a Huffington Post blogger used it successfully and wrote a piece about her experience. It went viral. “Every media station and TV network picked up on this new amazing app that gets you out of your parking ticket,” says Browder.
Parking tickets were personal. But I wanted to automate other legal services for consumers
DoNotPay became an overnight success as tens of thousands of users signed up. “It was the most incredible thing: I was just a student, I didn’t intend for it to take off,” he says. But there was a problem: because the site was only basic, demand vastly exceeded available bandwidth. It kept crashing. “The first version of the website made people feel sick, it had a moving background of maps,” says Browder.
Remodeled with a fresh design on a bigger site, Browder had a vision. “Parking tickets were personal,” he explains. “But I wanted to automate other legal services for consumers.” He started with delayed flights – fighting the airlines – before moving on to PPI, which he describes as “an exploitative industry because lawyers are taking huge commissions,” and fighting landlords for not repairing property.
Charities approached him to help address the homelessness and refugee problem that he describes as his “first true social good expansion”. Centrepoint, in the UK, assisted him with a site that allows people to check if they are eligible for government housing and then make an application.
“That’s been really successful too,” says Browder, who is now in his second year studying Computer Science and Economics at Stanford. In between his studies, lawyers informally advise him, pro bono. He has rolled out the parking concept in New York and Seattle, and has several landlord tools operating in California.
His future plans? “I’m designing a universal search engine that will work… I’ve figured out a way to automate the automation. In a few years, I imagine you go to this website, type in your legal issue and it just pulls up the documents to solve it. This will work with every kind of low-level consumer law you could possibly imagine. It’s really exciting.”
Browder has been funded by Highland Capital, and IBM has forged a strategic partnership, allowing him to use Watson – for free. He also has an army of volunteers. “I want to make this into a sustainable organisation with true employees. I have a really exciting roll out across the US, but that’s still under wraps.” Watch this space.