An Edinburgh-based legal tech start-up is looking for law firms and social sector organisations that want to put into action a new generation of chat bots aimed at helping clients and improving access to justice.
Legal bot company co-founder, Srini Janarthanam’s baby is called Chatomate and it is only a few months old after launching this April. However, the company has already developed several experimental legal chat bots, initially with a focus on helping the general public with legal matters, such as making small claims or interacting with charities.
Janarthanam explains: ‘We saw how Facebook was encouraging companies to design chat bots to engage with customers on their site.’
‘Around the same time we attended an event in Glasgow organised by Legal Hackers’ Scotland Chapter. There we designed a chat bot that would help people to make a small claim.’
Janarthanam, who was a research associate at Heriot-Watt University’s Interaction Lab and a post-grad researcher at Edinburgh University with a focus on dialogue systems, says that although he had no legal experience there were lawyers at hand at the Legal Hackers event who helped to break down the process of making a claim.
Soon enough a chat bot, or ‘process bot’ as he calls them, was created that would guide a person to complete a form and issue a small claim, all without the need for input from a lawyer and all executed through an on-screen chat dialogue. (See video below or follow the link, for the example of Julie, which is an early demonstration model of a chat bot that can help people make small claims).
As he explored further he says he also noticed that many people were stuck in a legal limbo because they did not understand the process of making a claim, but going to a lawyer for a small claim was both unnecessary and expensive. The end result was that people who perhaps should have done so, didn’t make a legal claim they were entitled to.
Cue: legal chat bots accessible on the internet for the general public.
The bots Janarthanam has designed are also fairly sophisticated and can respond to questions and explain legal terms that clients may not understand. For example, the bot can help explain what a ‘respondent’ is when asked, which allows the client to stay with the bot rather than feel discouraged by the jargon.
As with the work by parking fine bot developer Joshua Browder, who hit the headlines earlier this year, when the end goal of a chat bot is to complete a form that is then used to make a legal claim of some type, then the technology is incredibly useful.
We could also see ‘process bots’ acting as a triage system to help law firms better understand what their potential clients are looking for, while not spending many hours of junior lawyer time talking to people on the phone, or stuck in email conversations.
In short, ‘process bots’ could fast-track clients to the right people inside a law firm or social sector charity/organisation, while also redirecting people to other routes when those needs are best met without a lawyer’s input.
Janarthanam also points out that legal bots also allow a law firm, or charity, to educate their clients through conversation with the bot. He points out that many social sector and government websites are either difficult to navigate or over-filled with too much information. People who are not used to the jargon or legalese, or simply don’t have the willpower to trawl through dozens of pages of advice and regulation, simply give up and their needs then are not met.
In short, legal bots can help overcome the ‘information gap’ that exists in most specialised segments of the economy and especially in the law.
Janarthanam has been talking to several parties, both law firms and charitable sector groups, about developing chat bots for them. But, if anyone would like to know more about legal chat bots, or ‘process bots’ and how they may be of help to their organisation, you can contact Janarthanam at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If anyone is not already aware of the various Legal Hackers Chapters around the world then please have a look at the main site, which gives details of chapters in many major cities and regions that you can join. They are doing great work in answering the question: ‘Can we create technologies that solves legal issues?’