Access to justice through digital innovation

Making plain-English legal information about renting, working and prisons more accessible through artificial intelligence chatbots.

About the project

This project will make information on tenancy law, employment law and the law related to prisoners more accessible to the 2 million New Zealanders who use Facebook each day. The grant is for the development of three ‘chatbots’, subject-area digital assistants that will be accessed for free via Facebook Messenger.

The three chatbots to be developed are:

·       ‘RentBot’- to answer questions about tenancy law, and the legal rights and obligations of renters and landlords.

·       ‘WorkBot’ ­– to answer questions about employment law – being employed, working conditions, rights and protections for employees, and how to resolve disputes.

·       ‘LagBot’ – to answer questions about prisons – going in, being in and being released. It is designed for whānau and wider community prison staff, advocates of prisoners and organisations who work with people inside prison or who are being released from prison.

The chatbots have the potential to reach a very large portion of the population. Over 2.9 million New Zealanders use Facebook – that’s 90% of people aged 15 or older. And 2.3 million of those Kiwis check Facebook every day. Anyone with a Facebook account will be able to access a Facebook Messenger-based chatbot immediately and for free. The developers hope the chatbots will remove barriers to access and provide legal information to ‘hard to reach’ populations.

The grant also supports legal research and legal writing work for the Community Law Manual – a comprehensive plain-English guide to New Zealand law. The manual is available for free online through the Community Law Centres website and as a 900-page book, and is updated yearly (or more frequently if possible). It is used by about 70,000 people per month, and is an invaluable free resource for New Zealanders who are not able to afford a private lawyer and don’t have access to legal aid.

The Community Law Manual is well respected for being independent, trustworthy and legally accurate. It is also a primary legal resource for hundreds of small-to-large community organisations and service providers.

The content of the manual will be used along with publications such as ‘Lag Law’ as the base information for the chatbots.

"Artificial intelligence is playing a growing role in our lives, and this grant will let us leverage this emerging technology to make legal information much more accessible to the whole community."
Geoffrey Roberts, Manager, Wellington Community Law Centre

Grant amount

$492,000 over 3 years

About Community Law Centres o Aotearoa

Community Law Centres o Aotearoa is a network of 24 community law centres providing free legal help and advice in over 140 locations in New Zealand. Community Law Centres’ main clients come from the bottom two socio-economic deciles in New Zealand – around 800,000 people.

Visit: http://communitylaw.org.nz/

Visit: http://communitylaw.org.nz/legal-information/browse-all-topics/ to access the free and full Community Law Manual online

Contact point for this project:

Geoffrey Roberts, Manager, Wellington Community Law Centre.

See weblink for contact details: http://www.wclc.org.nz/