Singapore is fast becoming a one-of-a-kind regional legal technology hub in Asia. The country’s judiciary and legal associations recently released a plan to imbed technology in the local legal culture, while Singapore’s Supreme Court has moved to launch paperless electronic proceedings—a trend picking up steam in other courts around the region.
But while local legal professionals hail the efforts, they still see much left to modernize. Jonathan Wong is the founder and CEO of LawGuideSingapore, a nonprofit attorney directory and public legal knowledge website covering criminal, civil and family law. He noted that many Singaporeans still struggle with law-related problems “because the current market for legal information sources and platforms is fragmented.”
“Many people in Singapore probably know more about how to find information on what and where to eat than they do about how to obtain dependable legal advice or assistance if they are in trouble,” he explained.
Looking to make understanding and accessing legal advice as easy as finding local restaurants, LawGuideSingapore recently launched the nation’s first ever legal advice chatbot alongside a newly designed website that leverages social media to better connect with and educate legal consumers. Powered by artificial intelligence, LawGuideSingapore’s Chatbot, which lives on the Facebook Messenger instant messaging platform, is designed to “recognize and respond to common phrases and queries,” Wong explained, adding that “user queries do not need to match our pre-programmed phrases exactly” to elicit answers.
This is because the chatbot, which is initially embedded with criminal and family law guides, is far more than just a simple automated question-and-response platform. Using artificial intelligence capabilities, the chatbot is able to “learn” users’ behavior to better understand how to respond to their inquiries. The end goal is to have a user interaction that is more akin to talking with a human legal expert over Facebook Messenger than a scripted machine.
The launch of the chatbot on a social media instant messaging platform is also no coincidence. The initiative is part of LawGuideSingapore’s broader effort to cater to Singapore’s large base of social media users by posting multimedia content that explains complex law topics in simple and relatable terms on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“LawGuideSingapore adopts a ‘what you need to know—quickly and easily’ mindset to tackle common, but often complex legal issues, making them easily understood by laymen through animations, videos and infographics,” Wong said.
Though its social media focus is relatively new, the organization is already finding some initial success. “Our single-mindedness in focusing on digital content and social media has been validated by our more than 19,000 Facebook followers and monthly unique website visitors in excess of 10,000, which has enabled us to reach about 150,000 people who are looking for legal information and answers to law-related questions on average every week,” Wong noted.
But LawGuideSingapore, which is self-funded by its founding members, doesn’t want to be the only legal organization in the country using novel means to connect to local legal consumers.
“What we see is an opportunity for lawyers and law firms to use digital and media content to reach out to and differentiate themselves to potential clients,” Wong said. “And a number of law firms have already approached us to help them on this.”