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Within the context of legal firms and services, the idea of ‘bots’ has usually been framed around the idea of ‘robot lawyers’ or within the wider trend of Artificial Intelligence, and the potential impact it will have on the legal industry. While AI and the automation it is bringing to more routine legal processes is game-changing, the elevation of chatbot interfaces with other sophisticated automation can distort the real value and current potential of chatbots.

What is a chatbot?

Firstly, let’s define a chatbot. In general, it is a facility which users can interact with using natural language (a “conversational user interface”) usually via a messaging platform to help somebody find items, discover information or complete simple transactions. Billy Bot, for example, is a chatbot. While this has a lot of potential for making legal knowledge more accessible to the public, it also has the potential for in-house legal teams to use within their companies with their colleagues.

There is a currently a lot of interest in deploying chatbots within the enterprise, and many consultancies, agencies and vendors are offering the possibility to build a chatbot. There are a variety of reasons for this including:

  • the emergence of development frameworks to make it easier to build a chatbot; 
  • the growth of messaging platforms within the enterprise such as Skype for Business, Workplace by Facebook and Slack; and
  • the media hype over AI.

There is also the potential growth of voice-activated chatbots, with Amazon offering a new version of Alexa aimed at businesses. The fact that the chatbot interface is so easy to use and works better on mobile is also another factor.

What are enterprise chatbots being used for?

Within the enterprise chatbots are tending to be used for relatively simple use cases such as:

  • Locate people information or identify experts
  • Perform simple searches for documents and “how to” information
  • Indicate how to carry out processes in a simple, step-by-step way
  • Perform simple tasks such as booking annual leave or a meeting room
  • Retrieving simple information pertinent to the individual such as finding out how much annual leave they have left.

At BUPA a chatbot called Cyan was employed to answer simple questions within Skype for Business about an office move, and then about the new building once they’ve moved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular question was about the guest Wi-Fi code. 

Can in-house legal teams use chatbots?

While these services and interactions might sound relatively straightforward there could be examples where a chatbot deployed to other employees could be used to drive efficiencies for the in-house legal team. For example, a chatbot might:

  • Help users locate the right in-house specialist, particularly where there are large global in-house teams, or where the bot could include other risk and compliance-related roles
  • Navigate users to legal resources, knowledge and content, with the ability to answer the most common questions, or point them to an expert if their query or subject is not covered by content
  • Act as a front end to ask simple questions in order to gather data which could then be used for either automated document or contract creation
  • Act as a place to ask questions about a particular area where compliance is necessary, for example on cyber-crime, allowing in-house teams to help reduce risks and drive user education.

Conclusion

Inevitably there is still a “watch this space” element in all areas to do with chatbots and the wider subject of automation and AI, as products mature and organisations experiment. However, given that chatbots are now actively being deployed, in-house legal teams should be starting to consider how they can use chatbots to help their internal customers and their organisations.

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