Chats with Legal Chatbots ~ Episode 2: Billy Bot

Chats with Legal Chatbots - Billy BotThe official line on the Billy Bot website is that:-

If you need a Barrister or Mediator to help you, Billy can help you get a quote.

Billy Bot is a Clerksroom project to build a junior clerk robot. Billy is a cheeky chappie and loves to chat.

So I had a chat with Billy Bot. Here is the transcript:-

Billy Bot: Hi! I’m Billy, a robot junior clerk in training. I can help to get a quote from a barrister or mediator, quickly! Would you like to get a quote from a barrister, mediator, or something else? Click a button for speed!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Hi Billy

Billy Bot: Hi there! How can I help you today?
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Something else

Billy Bot: I can help with setting up a free conference call, putting you in touch with a solicitor, finding a profile on LinkedIn and some other clever stuff. How can I help you?
1. Search LinkedIn
2. Conference call
3. Contact a solicitor
4. Free legal help

Me: Search LinkedIn

N.B. Would I not have been better to just do that via LinkedIn directly rather than via a third party robot?

Billy Bot: Ok let me know whose profile you are trying to find?

Me: Yours

Billy Bot: Sorry but I need a name to search Linkedin?
1. Cancel

Me: Jonathan Maskew

Billy Bot: Okay, one second and I will see if I can find any matches!

Billy Bot: Here is what I could find: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/clerksroom-direct-runners-up-national-disruptive-live-maskew/

N.B. Billy Bot had selected for me one particular article by Jonathan Maskew on LinkedIn out of 24 written by him at the time. I had expected to be taken to his profile rather than to a specific article.

Me: What next?

Billy Bot: I can help with setting up a free conference call, putting you in touch with a solicitor, finding a profile on LinkedIn and some other clever stuff. How can I help you?
1. Search LinkedIn
2. Conference call
3. Contact a solicitor
4. Free legal help

Me: Free legal help

Billy Bot: Law donut is a great resource for legal information. What would you like help with and I can see if law donut has any relevant information for you?

Me: Can a crofting tenant legally buy their croft?

Billy Bot: Okay, one second and I will see if I can find anything useful!

Billy Bot: Sorry but I can’t find any results

N.B A Google search by me of the same question revealed about 22,600 results. The top result was:-

“Since 1976 tenants have been able to buy their crofts. Technically an owner is not a crofter but the landlord of a croft. However, so long as you live on the croft as the owner, the Commission does not expect the croft to be re-let to a new tenant. If you want to buy your house site you will need to employ a solicitor.” [Crofting – Citizens Advice Scotland]

Billy Bot: Do you want me to search again with a new search or put you in touch with someone who can help you?
1. Search law donut again
2. Contact someone

Me: Can you have a servitude right to park a car that is ancillary to a servitude right of access?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. A Google search by me of the same question revealed about 76,100 results. The first page of results all confirmed the answer as yes with reference to Moncrieff v Jamieson.

But in case Billy Bot couldn’t understand Scottish legal terms I tried him with the English equivalent:-

Me: Can you have an easement right to park a car that is ancillary to an easment right of access?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. I had mistakenly spelt easement as “easement” the second time it appeared in my question. But a Google search of the same question revealed about 23,600 results and also corrected my spelling mistake in the process.
Again the top results all confirmed the answer as yes with reference again to Moncrieff v Jamieson.

Giving up on asking legal questions I moved on to test Billy Bot on something else:-

Me: Can we try contacting a solicitor next?

Billy Bot: Ok to put you in touch with a solicitor I just need a couple of bits of information. Could you tell me your name please?

Me: Hercule Poirot

Billy Bot: Ok could I please have your email address?

Me: hercule@poirot.be

Billy Bot: Thanks! Could you please tell me your phone number?

Me: +32 123 456 789

N.B. +32 is the dialling code for Belgium but Billy Bot can’t cope with foreign telephone numbers:-

Billy Bot: Sorry but I need a valid phone number to continue
1. Cancel case

Me: 020 1234 5678

Billy Bot: Ok thanks, and finally if you could provide a brief description of what your enquiry is regarding that would be great.

Me: I have a debt to collect

Billy Bot: One second while I process that for you…

N.B. Over one hour later and Billy Bot still hadn’t processed that for me.
So I said:-

Me: That is taking you a lot longer than one second?!

N.B. Billy Bot then responded quickly and in quadruple:-

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. And so we were back at the beginning with no solicitor to help Hercule recover his debt. Unless someone had e-mailed hercule@poirot.be!

An awful lot of time had been spent chatting to Billy Bot with no perceptible benefit to me.

I know I had tested him on niche areas of Scottish law (crofting law and the law of servitudes) that I happen to specialise in. But then when I tried “easements” a familiar term in the law of England & Wales it still drew a blank.

A search on Google however on all three matters gave me exactly what I was looking for.

I did in another chat ask Billy Bot:-

How do I get a divorce?

He responded with links on Law Donut to Divorce Financial Settlement FAQs and Divorce FAQs.

So if you keep it simple Billy Bot may oblige.

I think Clerksroom have given Billy Bot too many tasks to perform. As a result he is master of none. In his early days Billy Bot was even linked to Domino’s Pizza and you could apparently use him to order a pizza. How successful that functionality was I do not know. But it no longer exists which perhaps tells us something.

I nevertheless tried Billy Bot, in another chat, with a pizza query:-

Me: Can you get me a pizza?

N.B. It looked like he was typing a reply. But after more than 10 minutes of him doing so I asked:-

Me: You’ve been typing for over 10 minutes now and I am still waiting to see what you have typed?!

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Can’t you chat unless I use a button?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: I thought IBM Watson had given you AI to do anything?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Clearly no AI in you is there?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Billy Bot apparently can also switch on the coffee machine in Clerksroom’s offices and make a cup of coffee. I tried this function and he confirmed having made me a cup. If so I hope someone at Clerksroom in Taunton drank it for me as I was sitting in Glasgow (412 miles away) at the time!

Here is our coffee chat:-

Me: I understand you can make coffee. Is that correct?

Billy Bot: Hmmm I love coffee. I can make you a fresh coffee now if you like.

Me: Please do so.

Billy Bot: One coffee on its way!

Me: Thanks. How are you delivering it to me?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Do you do biscuits with the coffee?

Billy Bot: Hmmm I love coffee. I can make you a fresh coffee now if you like.

And so we were back in the circular loop I was by now familiar with when chatting with Billy Bot.

Pizza and coffee are maybe fun gimmicks but the real purpose of Billy Bot is to instruct a lawyer. In that he failed. He told me that my request was being processed but then went silent on me for more than an hour. Perhaps at that stage e-mail contact would take over but he never told me this would be the case so I am none the wiser. Perhaps I should have used a real e-mail account rather than a pretend one.

I did in a separate chat try instructing a Barrister. Billy Bot asked me if I was a lawyer. Here is how the chat went from there:-

Me: Yes I am a lawyer.

Billy Bot: Ok, can I start by taking your e-mail address so I can see if you have used us before?

Me: atticus@finch-law-firm.com

Billy Bot: Thanks, one second while I check if I have your e-mail address in my system already…

Billy Bot: Sorry. We seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties.

Me: So you can’t check my e-mail address?

Billy Bot: I can put you in touch with a barrister, mediator, or a solicitor. Or if you would prefer you can always call one of my collegues on 01823 247 247!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Solicitor

Once more the circle had been resumed without achieving anything.

However, rather than all the questions and answers via a robot surely a simple website contact form would suffice and be more effective? For example:-

In an article in The Times over a year ago it was claimed by Stephen Ward from Clerksroom that:-

Our human clerks tended to take between eight and ten minutes to book a barrister. Now that process is fully automated with Billy Bot, which means we are saving about 200 hours a month.

Hmm… maybe not saving the instructing solicitor’s time. I spent well over an hour attempting a very simple instruction. I may have been unlucky. But a second attempt resulted in Billy Bot experiencing technical difficulties and again failing to complete my attempted instruction. A year ago he was apparently handling up to 100 instructions a day. I assume a year later he will be doing much more than that. Although why anyone is spending their time instructing in this way is beyond me.

But I am happy to stand corrected by those using Billy Bot regularly when instructing Barristers.

My own experience of instructing Advocates (the Scottish equivalent of a Barrister) is that I am only doing so for complex matters where the instruction usually requires to be very detailed. Our Stables (the Scottish equivalent of Chambers) do not yet have a Billy Bot. But I am unsure how a chatbot would fair with (as was the case in my last such instruction) a 1,778 word note with 26 accompanying documents. I simply e-mailed it directly to the Advocate.

Billy Bot (like other chatbots I have encountered) is a very early prototype and he will (like other chatbots) no doubt improve with age. At the moment it seems to me that chatbots are not yet equipped for serious heavy lifting. Clerksroom may disagree and I would welcome their comments.

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