Business & Practice

Perspective: ‘Chat Bots’ Provide Opportunity to the Legal Profession

April 28, 2016, 2:49 PM

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is an assistant general counsel for Microsoft-based in Chicago.

By Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation

Earlier this month I attended my company’s Envision Conference in New Orleans and listened to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella talk about a new “Conversations as a Platform” strategy during his keynote. Central to this strategy is the idea that smart personal digital assistants known as “bots” or “chat bots” — which will be powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning — can directly interact with you on your device in a rich experience via text, voice or video to help you achieve more. Think of these bots as the Siri, Cortana or Google Now digital assistants that may reside on your smartphones – but on steroids. As an example a bot will be able to make travel plans for you or order lunch for you — without you having to navigate through different apps or a search engine. Other leading technology companies like Facebook are also beginning to embrace this focus on bots.

Let’s explore what this bot-driven transformation may mean for the delivery of legal services and some of the legal issues that lawyers may need to help address when bots are used.

From an in-house legal perspective bots provide an exciting opportunity for legal departments to continue to re-engineer their legal support responsibilities. Our Microsoft legal team constantly explores ways in which we can “de-lawyer” or “stop doing” some of the more routine or low risk aspects of our work so that our legal professionals have more time to spend on higher value legal support for our business clients. For instance, while we provide our business clients with various internal self-help tools via our cloud computing solution known as Microsoft Office 365, deploying bots as a personal concierge-like service for our business clients to interact with and utilize those resources can provide a more meaningful and rich experience — and may motivate our business clients to utilize those resources with greater frequency.

Bots may also reinvent how non-profit legal assistance organizations and our judicial system provide legal resources to citizens. Imagine a bot providing personalized assistance to enable individuals to navigate through the intricacies of local court procedures or to help someone, who cannot afford a lawyer, file the appropriate legal documentation to seek expungement of a prior conviction on his/her own. Using bots in this fashion coupled with easy-to-use and readily accessible communication platforms like Skype — which can translate foreign languages to better serve our growing diverse population — offers compelling opportunities to reimagine legal aid.

As bots are increasingly embraced and deployed by organizations, they will need thoughtful guidance from attorneys in key areas such as the following:

Data Privacy : For bots to become more “intelligent” and useful to us, it is critical that they have appropriate access to data and the ability to use data. As a result, the data privacy considerations in connection with bots are paramount.

Cybersecurity : The rise of bots and the corresponding need for bots to collect and decipher massive amounts of data may increase both the surface area for and the likelihood of potential cyberattacks.

Liability : What happens if bots dispense inaccurate or offensive information that results in harm to others? Determining how liability should be apportioned in such situations and the types of online agreements that may need to be established with suitable limitation of liability provisions will require special attention.

Intellectual Property : To what extent will the new technology associated with bots be subject to intellectual property protection such as patents? If this technology is patentable will we see a repeat of patent litigation akin to what we experienced in the smartphone patent space?

Regulatory Framework : If bots do become widely utilized it will be interesting to monitor what bot-related guidelines regulators may develop and whether any industry standards will be created regarding the development of bots.

Attorneys should not worry about being replaced by bots anytime soon. Instead the emergence of bot-focused technology to enable organizations to build deeper connections and offer better service to their customers and other stakeholders will provide attorneys with more opportunities to deliver impactful legal services to their clients.

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