While they may conjure up images of hostile robots terminating injustice in a futuristic world, law bots are, in fact, helping many people access justice.
Some law firms and law departments may see this as a threat, however, by deploying law bots effectively, law firms can make their legal services more accessible – and therefore more profitable and law departments can use their lawyers' time more efficiently on the more important and novel issues rather thank taking it up on repetitive low value added queries.
Getting to the bottom of bots
A bot, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is:
"an autonomous program on a network (especially the Internet) which can interact with systems or users..."
Bots have been around for decades, most recognisably in computer games. More recently, they’ve taken the form of chat bots. These chat bots are able to respond to queries just as a human would. They make you feel you’re dealing with a human advisor when in fact you’re conversing with an intelligent application using powerful hardware (such as IBM Watson). Chat bots are gainfully employed on social media, networking and messaging sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Telegram where they allow organisations to process service requests through online platforms familiar to their customers.
What are law bots?Law bots are simply chat bots with a legal application. Used increasingly these days, they can alleviate pressure on customer service requests and/or provide people with free basic legal advice, including increasingly within businesses in place of employees talking to the legal or HR departments. They’re useful in situations where there’s a high volume of enquirers which artificial intelligence (AI) can respond to automatically or divert to the most appropriate resource. Deployed on global online platforms, law bots can be made available to billions of people around the world, allowing them to use services as if they were messaging a friend.
How are law bots being used?Start-ups such as DoNotPay and LawBot are great examples of law bots giving people access to justice.
DoNotPay helps people process emergency housing applications and appeal against parking fines. So successful has the business been in these areas that it has now introduced a range of documents populated via bot conversations.
LawBot, meanwhile, supports victims of crime by providing a preliminary assessment of their situation. From here, it provides information about the options available to users.
Another law bot, Billy Bot, helps barristers' clerks deal with questions they receive from the public, which take up time but may not represent a lead. Enquirers contact Billy Bot via LinkedIn, then get referred to appropriate legal resources or receive information drawn from contributions of around 350 barristers' offices.
What is the future for law bots?
A recent UK-wide survey conducted by Unisend found that 69% of consumers would use a chat bot before engaging with a human, the main attraction being immediate availability of the information. Indeed, the survey suggested that respondents were generally positive about the impact of chat bots.
Currently, the aim of law bots tends to be to triage a user's query and point them in the right direction. This enables law firms to:
- Cut the cost of handling customer service enquiries; and
- Offer a 24/7 service.
No longer do humans need to man a phone all night to respond to customer queries or quote requests. Law bots can triage queries at any time, allowing lawyers to look at overnight queries in the morning. Lawyers will also be able to review conversations between bots and clients to ascertain further details.
Future applications for law bots could include research, where a lawyer can taper findings via a 'conversation' with the research bot. Requests for quotes on legal services could follow this route, especially if quotes are pre-determined by a set of qualifying questions.
Customer due diligence queries could also be dealt with in this way. When new clients are instructed, the law bot could have a 'chat' with the new client and determine which documents the firm will need from them.
Courts too, could use law bots to answer or divert queries, freeing up more time to progress claims or cases.
Although predominantly used on online messaging platforms, law bots are likely to move from messaging to voice. They could potentially allow users to use Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa to ask legal questions or draft documents.
The winner of a recent Legal Hackathon in London, Wavelength Law, combined Alexa with AI to help an ordinary person identify, understand and resolve typical legal issues. Designed for ease of use, the interface made the user feel they were speaking with a knowledgeable friend.
When you bear in mind that the Competition and Markets Authority's research into the legal sector in 2016 indicated that up to 70% of potential legal needs are unmet then you can see the potential benefits servicing consumer and small business legal needs.
When you read that the many legal teams claim to be overstretched due to the volume of repetitive low value work that they have to do - then you might see a solution to a problem, as some law departments already are.
Law bots will transform the way law firms and law departments deal with customer or client queries. They can accelerate quote processes, direct clients to the right lawyers within the firm or department, make sure clients get the right information and streamline the instruction process.
Law bot trendsetters are giving people free legal advice via messaging on online platforms they use regularly. They’ll never fully replace human lawyers, however we can use law bots to improve both the services we provide to our clients and our organisation’s bottom lines.