Technically, Joshua Browder isn’t a lawyer. But that’s of little material difference to users who log on to DoNotPay, a free computer app that the London native developed.
Quickly worked up in the wake of the Equifax breach, DoNotPay is helping victims of the breach file lawsuits against the credit rating company. All you have to do is open the app, answer a series of questions, print the form that it spits out at the end, and file it with the local court.
“At the time people said ‘you’re completely crazy.’ A lot of people came out against it,” Browder, who is 21, told MONEY about his app’s development. “But then all of a sudden people started winning and you started to see these $8,000, $9,000, $10,000 judgments.” Browder said that he knows of at least 50 cases that have prevailed in initial judgments.
Helping real people win real money
“I just went online and searched for who was suing Equifax, and I came across this DoNotPay, and it made it pretty easy to do very quickly,” said Darrow Boggiano, who won a $9,100 judgment from the company in San Francisco. “It motivates you to actually file the case,” she said.
After the judgment was appealed, court records show Boggiano reached a settlement with the company for an undisclosed amount. She plans to buy ID theft protection services with the money.
Christina Brandt Bernstein, also in San Francisco, won a $7,400 judgment against Equifax. “It definitely helped streamline the process of filing the case with minimal research on my side as far as figuring out the right statutes and laws to file the case under,” she said of DoNotPay. which she used to help prepare the paperwork. Bernstein is waiting for more information about an appeal that the company filed on her case.
The DoNotPay app is just one iteration of a project that Browder has been working on for years now: how to use technology to cut out middleman attorneys and keep more money in people’s hands as they navigate the legal system. Or in the Equifax cases, potentially win people money.
The whole project started out in London, just as Browder learned how to drive. As he describes it, he ended up getting more parking tickets than he could afford. “I became like a local expert at figuring out how to get out of them,” he said. Using his computer programming skills, he decided to pay the knowledge forward and make it easier for other Londoners to beat their parking tickets. DoNotPay was born. In 2016, after he moved to California to attend Stanford University, Browder began working with attorneys to bring the parking ticket app stateside. It was a huge success, saving motorists millions.
A growing — and controversial — team
Today, the DoNotPay team consists of Browder, a full-time designer, and a full-time attorney who makes sure that the app’s output is legally valid.
The team’s work, and the very premise that technology can automate some of the most menial of legal tasks, has attracted praise. “For lawyers who make their bread and butter on ‘mill’ types of business (think demand letters) this is very bad news, particularly if word of this technology reaches a critical mass,” attorney Jonathan R. Tung wrote in a widely shared post for legal blog FindLaw.
But others have been critical. For Jon Tobin, an attorney who has written about DoNotPay, the fact that people have won cases against Equifax using Browder’s technology is “interesting,” yet there are too many unknowns for him to endorse it. Why did some cases win and others lose? How many winners might have consulted attorneys before going into court? (Small claims courts generally don’t allow attorneys to represent clients until the appeals phase.)
Some of those questions are hard to answer. The app was only set up to help users file cases in California and New York. “Because of all the pushback, I got scared and I wanted to try it with just a few jurisdictions,” explained Browder. Small claims cases are filed at the county level, where damages are typically $10,000 or less, and most of those courts have filings and documents that can only be viewed in person, which makes cases difficult to track comprehensively. Between California and New York, that’s 120 separate county courts that would need to be studied one by one. In New York City, at least three self-represented people have won unspecified small claims judgments against Equifax that are now being appealed by corporate lawyers, according to court records. Many more cases are still pending.
Next up: Taking on the airlines
Next up for Browder and DoNotPay is a newly launched app that takes what he learned from Equifax and applies it to the travel industry. When users buy plane tickets, his app tracks the fare. If the price drops within 24 hours, DoNotPay automatically rebooks at the lower price, taking advantage of a regulation that allows flyers to cancel any flight within a day of purchase.
“Say that a flight costs you $400, and subsequently the price drops to $200, which happens all the time,” he said. “You’ll automatically be refunded back $200, wherever you booked.” It sounds too good to be true, but the wildest thing is that it works. Browder calls his work an effort to “democratize” the legal process, and also to hold large corporations accountable.
“I’ve already made enemies in the credit and parking ticket industries,” he laughed, “I’m excited for airlines now.”