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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: October 2023 | Voting & Elections

Adventures in the Law: Pinocchio as Tragedy

Norm Tabler

Adventures in the Law: Pinocchio as Tragedy

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Imagine the story of Pinocchio, but with a sad ending. That’s essentially the tale told by Jonathan Faridian’s class action complaint.

Pinocchio, you will recall, was a wooden puppet (technically, a marionette) whose father (technically, creator) was kindly old woodcutter Geppetto. Geppetto yearned for a son—a real boy. Happily, by the end of the story, Geppetto’s wish comes true: Pinocchio becomes a real boy!

Sadly, Jonathan’s story did not have a happy ending. Jonathan answered an ad offering the services of a “robot lawyer.” Alas, to Jonathan’s shock, the robot was not a real lawyer. It was a robot! How could he have possibly known? And Jonathan was no Geppetto. No matter how much he wished the robot were a real lawyer, it remained a robot.

You can read Jonathan’s sad reversal of the Pinocchio story in the complaint he filed in California Superior Court, San Francisco County. But be advised: You should have a full box of tissues at hand.

Jonathan’s complaint tells this heartbreaking story: He read about a company called DoNotPay. For a bimonthly subscription fee of $36, the company promised to provide an app with a chatbot utilizing artificial intelligence to provide legal services. The company bills the chatbot as “The World’s First Robot Lawyer.”

The app was originally designed to contest parking tickets. But according to DoNotPay, the robot lawyer can now perform a range of legal tasks and has been used for cancellation of subscriptions, seeking refunds from hotels and airlines, asserting claims from Equifax after a security breach, and applying for visas and green cards.

Lured by DoNotPay’s siren song of low-cost legal services provided by a robot, Jonathan signed up and paid the subscription fee. He assigned the robot lawyer various legal tasks, including drafting demand letters, an independent contractor agreement, LLC operating agreements, and an EEOC job discrimination complaint.

Alas, to Jonathan’s shock, the work of the robot lawyer proved to be “substandard and poorly done”—so much so that Jonathan found it unusable.

This sad experience caused Jonathan to look more closely into the matter. What he found shocked—shocked!—him. He had believed that he was purchasing services and documents from a “real lawyer!”(Compl., para. 31) How could he possibly have known that a robot lawyer was not a real lawyer? Or that the robot wasn’t supervised by a real lawyer or law firm?   

It gets worse. Not only was the robot not a real lawyer; it didn’t even have a law degree! (Compl., para. 2) How could Jonathan have known that the robot had not graduated from an accredited robot law school? Nor had the robot been admitted to the California bar! (Id.) It was practicing law without a license! Who knew?

Jonathan wondered whether his bitter experience with the robot lawyer was unique. His in-depth research uncovered not one but two—two!--negative on-line reviews of the robot lawyer. One reviewer reported that his parking fines increased because the robot failed to respond properly. (Compl., para. 25) A second reviewer reported that instead of fighting her parking ticket, the robot admitted fault, causing her to have to pay the fine. (Compl., para. 26)

Obviously, if the robot lawyer had mishandled the parking tickets of two citizens, as well as providing substandard services to Jonathan, the only remedy was a class action. That is why Jonathan filed a class action complaint on behalf of all the Californians who hired the robot lawyer, believing it was a real lawyer, only to find out that a robot is not a real lawyer.

Burned by his bitter experience with the robot lawyer, Jonathan has engaged the services of human lawyers to represent him in this litigation.

The case is Faridian v. DoNotPay, Inc. Calif. Super. Ct., San Francisco County.