It’s more than likely that you’ve already talked with one while making a simple online inquiry or for general tech or product support, but, thanks to advances in technology, machine learning, and applying the Turing test, you probably have not realized it. For most consumers, without realizing it and without much fanfare, dealing with chatbots has become a daily occurrence. Still, rather than just telling you where your order is or directing your inquiry to the proper channels, these automated programs are now moving into areas that are highly customized in nature; one of those areas is today’s term, legal chatbot.
Though a singular concept, the term itself comprises 3 terms. First and foremost is legal, which comes either from the Old French légal or directly from the Latin legalis, denoting that something is “of or pertaining to the law”, and first recorded in English in a translation of the pseudoaristotelian Secreta Secretorum (Secret of Secrets) by Johannis de Caritate around 1484: “the strength called legal… is sown in originals.” From the verb chatter, earlier cheateren, meaning ‘to make quick, shrill sound (like a bird), or (for a person) to gossip’, but from an unknown source, our shortened form, chat, implying ‘a pleasant, informal talk’, can first be found in Ralph Robinson’s English translation of Sir Thomas More’s Latin Utopia, where he breaks down communication, writing that: “I must comment with my wife, chat with my children, and talk with my servants.” Finally, a shortening of the term robot, which – believe it or not – is actually derived from an Old Church Slavonic term for ‘servitude’ (rabota), our word bot, meaning an automated program designed to behave like a human, can be traced back to the beginning of the Internet: a January 23, 1990 post entitled, Bot-haters Unite!, in alt.mud (Usenet newsgroup) which begins by saying: “The following consists of a general flame against bots.”
Putting all these separate terms together, we’ve got an automated program that, in plain/simple language, talks to people about legal issues. While applications like this definitely have the potential to change the current legal services landscape, don’t be in too much of a hurry to get rid of your human lawyer just yet. As we have all experienced at one time or another, chatbots are good for basic/general tasks; yet when more than this is required – or when the details become too technical or specific – it is always best to deal with an actual human who can better understand an individual’s need.
That being said, as an extensive, yet practical, piece on Thread readily notes, legal chatbots are not meant to replace lawyers; instead, they can serve in a variety of legal office functions, such as generating forms, scheduling appointments, or finding out basic case details, as well as be a viable alternative to those who are unwilling or unable to afford traditional legal services. In other words, for the legal industry, legal chatbots will likely provide a viable way for companies to cut costs, increase the flow of information, and assist a greater number of clients.