When we wrote our knowledge article about “law bots” we covered several examples of start-ups, such as LawBot, Do Not Pay and Billy Bot.
As with many emerging technologies and start-ups, the path hasn't always been smooth – LawBot is no longer active, for example, although its founders are working on a different legal artificial intelligence (AI) related project. Meanwhile, Billy Bot appears to offer a light-hearted (but nice) interface to connect the public to barristers and mediators. He’ll also make you a virtual coffee.
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 AI and the potential impact it will have on the legal industry. While AI and the automation it brings to routine legal processes is game-changing, the way chatbots interface with other sophisticated automation technology can distort their real value and potential.
What is a chatbot?
Firstly, let’s define a chatbot. In general, it's a facility that users can interact with using natural language (a “conversational user interface”), usually via a messaging platform to help them find items, discover information or complete simple transactions. Billy Bot, for example, is a chatbot. While this has great potential for making legal knowledge more accessible to the public, it also has the potential for in-house legal teams to use internally with colleagues.
There's currently a lot of interest in deploying chatbots within enterprises, with many consultancies, agencies and vendors developing chatbot build offerings. Driving this trend are:
- The emergence of development frameworks that 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's 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 another factor.
What are enterprise chatbots being used for?
Within the enterprise, chatbots are generally used to:
- Access information about people or identify experts;
- Perform simple searches for documents and “how to” information;
- Show how to carry out processes in a simple, step-by-step way;
- Perform self-service tasks such as booking annual leave or a meeting room; and
- Retrieve simple information pertinent to an individual, such as 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 relocation, and then about the new building once they’d moved in. 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 among employees could 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 existing content;
- Act as a front end and ask simple questions to gather data, which could then be used for either automated document or contract creation; and
- 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.
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 them to help their internal customers and their organisations.