Technology enabling instant access to information anywhere, anytime has enhanced convenience, efficiency and productivity of modern day living. So spoilt have we been by the advancement of technology that patience as a virtue seems to have been gradually vanishing. Speed has become the new mandate for service-oriented operations. The response to a customer’s request not only has to be timely, it has to be instant and available round the clock.

Arguably, the posting of detailed information on the website or the installation of phone answering machines are already in place to handle customers’ enquiries 24/7. However, these services are no longer adequate to satisfy the growing demand for speed. Most people do not have the patience to read the details in the information packages or to wait for a slow and rigidly programmed answering machine to go through a step-by-step guide. They expect to be connected to someone who can answer their queries directly and immediately.

The Law Society handles many enquiries on a daily basis and this takes up a substantial amount of time of our frontline staff. We are exploring how to take advantage of technology to better deal with this aspect of our work. One of the possibilities under study is Chatbots.

Chatbots are computer programmes that can act as “conversational agents”. They interact with real people in real time. The interaction is made possible by parsing text or speech through natural language processing (NLP), along with other artificial intelligence elements such as machine learning, to simulate real conversations with humans.

Chatbots are easy to use. There is no download required and the experience can be personalized over time through machine learning. Further, the conversational interface provides a more user-friendly experience with a human touch, compared to the impersonal experience of email or online forms. Chatbots are also available to offer instant chat service round the clock, particularly useful to those who itch to get an answer to their queries in the middle of the night.

However, Chatbots are not without limitations. The dialogue capability is limited to a very specific set or format of questions that are established by the development team. Multiple questions and variations in accents and languages can all pose a challenge for this tool.

Chatbots are in progress and no doubt, their sophistication will be sharpened with further updates.

In the meantime, Chatbots have been gaining popularity in different sectors, notably, the banking sector. To make it more personalized, Chatbots are given names. Amy (HSBC), Haro and Dori (Hang Seng Bank), Erica (Bank of America) are names that you may have come across in Chatbots launched by banks.

Recently, law firms have also started using Chatbots. An example includes a Chatbot developed by a law firm to interactively guide clients through a conversation to understand some basics about data privacy laws. The Chatbot enables clients to ask questions on a defined subject, before directing them to some fixed price legal advice packages if they need more detailed information. The Chatbot helps answer the more standard questions in relation to specific areas in the practice, freeing up qualified practitioners for more productive work. In addition, it also helps enhance the transparency of the charging rates of law firms, breaking down a major hurdle that inhibits the public from approaching a law firm for legal advice.

We will take into account the advantages and limitations of Chatbots when considering this tool’s relevance to our operation. If we do implement it, we may need to think of a name for the Chatbot. Your suggestions are most welcome!


Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong