Today, the UK Government’s National Health Service (NHS) announced that citizens will be able to get health ‘advice’ via the Amazon Alexa home voice system – in effect an AI system that is learning on the job. And this got Artificial Lawyer thinking: what if governments around the world did this for legal?
Now, the idea of using voice systems to provide legal advice is not new – it’s been a mainstay of hackathons the world over. We have also seen legal bot developers such as LawDroid build A2J versions of voice systems. And we have seen universities and law schools in the US, such as Suffolk Law, get to work on the foundations of what could become such systems by identifying key legal questions that consumers ask online.
But, what if this idea was picked up and developed on a national scale, for example, by the UK’s Ministry of Justice, or the US Department of Justice?
Why Do This?
The NHS is inundated by demands for healthcare advice. Over the years they have developed telephone services for non-emergencies and also an extensive ‘wiki’ online system to help people self-diagnose and choose to do the best thing health-wise.
The demands on the NHS, for doctors in General Practices, to hospitals, is never going to reduce. The population is growing and also getting older. Budgets are tight and often what people want is simply ‘information’ and ‘guidance’.
It seems sensible then to use Alexa in this way to find the right information. Also, people like to talk to someone, or ‘something’. In this case, and for now, all Alexa is doing is leading people to the right parts of the NHS website to get info. But, this is stage one – there is much more potentially to come in the future if this works, one would guess.
If this can help provide some reassurance and/or improve the triage of needs, then this is a good step. Naturally there are issues related to delivering the wrong info, and retention of patient data, but the NHS is no doubt focused on these – or we hope so.
Luckily for humanity, legal needs are not so rampant as health issues. But, they are still growing and will likely never decrease.
If funding could be found to provide a Legal Alexa with an NHS-approach, i.e. free at the point of use to all who want to use it, then this could also go some way to helping.
What Would it Look Like?
There would be all the basic info on legal processes and law that one would expect. Perhaps a way of walking people through form filling for all standard legal documents that connect to things like employment and divorce, for example. Maybe it could even help initiate a small claims process, like DoNotPay does in the US?
There would be a plain text website version of all of this, for those who do not wish to use Alexa alone.
It would be free to access, as with the NHS.
And, like Alexa, it would learn and iterate and improve.
It would not give ‘actual legal advice’ – as that would make it a law firm or an ABS, and that would be a barrier. But, there is plenty it could do before it got into hot water.
Would People Use It?
People use the NHS website and call-centres in huge numbers. Clearly people can accept info from people who are not doctors sitting in front of them. People can appreciate a triage system. They can also accept that factual info in a clear format can be useful in itself.
The same likely would be the case for legal. Add in some form filling and digital form sending abilities and we may have something very useful to the country as a whole. After all, as various surveys have shown, 70%-plus of SMEs never go near a lawyer for fear of the ‘taxi meter’ and a similar or higher number of individuals also avoid lawyers for the same reason.
If it gave clear, and useful info; guided people to complete legal forms and helped them to send those forms to the right places; led people to the right places, e.g. small claims courts; and perhaps even kept them updated on the progress of their cases, people would use it.
Would It Cost A Lot?
Cost will be a challenge. This is clearly an upfront expenditure strategy, with the hope that it later reduces the cost burden on the courts.
But, surely something like this is the way forward? Even if it simply soaked up admin work and made litigants better informed so cases moved more swiftly that would be a benefit. And, if it helped to increase access to justice, that would be another win.
We have to be realistic, in the current climate spending on the ‘justice sector’ is not a big priority for governments around the world. But, when one considers the billions spent each year keeping the status quo running, then surely Alexa is worth looking at, especially if the NHS in the UK thinks it’s worthwhile?
What do you think?