My Bot Will See You in Court

Student-written program makes challenging a traffic ticket easier.

May/June 2016

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My Bot Will See You in Court

Illustration: Mark Matcho

You don’t forget your first ticket. For Josh Browder, ’19, however, the slip of paper left on his windshield was more than a hassle and a $100 fine. It was a call to action.

While filling out the forms to appeal his case, Browder realized how repetitive the paperwork was. When he found out how much traffic lawyers were charging people to help them with it—prices that struck him as borderline predatory—he figured he could write a program to do the work, for free. 

“There are lots of unfair parking tickets issued,” says Browder, “but the only people worse than the officers issuing the tickets are the lawyers.”

The result is a program that functions like a chat window, through which Browder’s robot “lawyer” asks the user a variety of questions about the circumstances of his or her ticket. Based on those answers, the bot determines the person’s best argument for challenging the ticket, and populates a blank appeal form with the right wording. And there are lots of reasons a ticket can get thrown out, as Browder explains: “For example, if there’s a mistake on the ticket—if [the officer] say[s] the car is red instead of gray—then the ticket is invalid.”

What began as a tool for family and friends has taken off in a big way: Browder’s bot has successfully appealed more than $3 million worth of parking tickets in his native U.K. He’s tweaking a new version to be compatible with laws in New York City and may expand to other parts of the United States next.

The success of the ticket bot inspired Browder to think how else this technology might be used to help people navigate the legal system. In fact, he’s already at work on a new project, collaborating with human rights lawyers in the U.K. to develop a program for generating Syrian refugees’ asylum applications.

“I realized, after doing this, that this is much bigger than parking tickets, and I’m expanding.”

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