Innovative chambers Clerksroom is building Billy.Bot, a ‘robot junior clerk’ that will do the work of a traditional barristers’ clerk and also provide basic legal information to online users, Legal Futures can reveal.
Named after the clerk in the TV series Silk, the ultimate aim is for the chatbot to point users to free online legal resources and help them decide whether they need legal help and then, if they do, find them a lawyer – either a solicitor or direct access barrister – make appointments and deal with all the tasks a human clerk would.
That is, except for taking a cut of barristers’ earnings.
The plan is for the chatbot to sit on various public-facing websites. The first phase will be limited to him pointing users towards free legal information and, if he has identified that they have a hearing pending, finding out what barrister is available, quote fees and then make the booking.
Clerksroom founder and chief executive Stephen Ward emphasised that at this stage the bot would be working via decision trees and would not be an artificial intelligence application.
If Clerksroom cannot provide a barrister for the particular need, Billy will interface with LinkedIn to identify matches for the user. If he cannot answer a question, Mr Ward said he would do what any junior clerk would do and refer it to a senior clerk – a human clerk within the Clerksroom team.
With full access to Clerksroom’s systems, he will also be able to assist lawyers in selecting the right counsel for their clients.
Mr Ward said that creating a new matter – undertaking a conflict check, adding it to the case management system and creating a diary booking – alone required 167 human actions per new enquiry. With Clerksroom undertaking an average of 1,500 new hearings a month from 4,000 enquiries, Billy would save 250,000 “clicks and keystrokes” per month at launch;
Once the concept has been proven, however, the next stage of the bot’s development will see it move into AI territory, as it becomes more sophisticated in dealing with users, learning from their questions, and triaging their legal needs – like a real junior clerk, it will not venture into providing actual legal advice.
This could include pointing them towards solicitors where appropriate, and at this stage, if users need a solicitor, Clerksroom has struck an agreement to use VWV Approach, the referral network administered by Bristol firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards.
Once launched in the autumn, any answer, booking or service offered by Billy will initially be reviewed by a team member at the outset to build confidence in his ability to work alone.
Mr Ward said he already had one insurer signed up to use Billy, with two “major household names” in the wings. In time, he could be deployed on hundreds of sites, he added.
He continued: “The ultimate aim of Billy is to be able to replicate the skills of a barristers’ clerk and in effect, plant them in firms’ intranet systems and public websites. It’s like a chambers having 1,000 junior clerks working in-house, directing work to barristers.”
Those working with Clerksroom on building Billy include Conscious Solutions, Advanced Legal, Morphsites and Coastline Design.