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Microsoft Helps Develop an AI-Powered Bridge to Legal Aid

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Microsoft Helps Develop an AI-Powered Bridge to Legal Aid

"A new legal aid tool developed with the help of Microsoft officially has a brain. According to an entry posted to the company’s blog last Thursday, work on the artificial intelligence powering the aptly named Legal Navigator has been completed.

The tool, which is in the process of being rolled out, was developed in partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net, Pew Charitable Trusts and Avanade to help plug a gap between people with limited resources and the know-how needed to navigate basic legal proceedings. Legal Navigator can’t offer advice—that’s still the exclusive domain of human attorneys—but it will be able to walk a user step-by-step through the red tape of executing, say, a divorce.

“All those types of things are very helpful to someone who can’t afford a lawyer because they don’t know where to start,” said Dave Heiner, strategic policy advisor at Microsoft.
The tool was originally conceived with more of a hard-coded linear approach in mind. In other words, Question A would automatically trigger a response containing Answer B. But advances such as natural language processing convinced Microsoft that an AI-based approach was the way to go. Users will have the option of browsing the system by clicking on topics like “Family Law” or engaging with a chatbot-inspired interface.

“The goal is to enable people to interact with the system in a natural way, so not just keywords but typing in a query and having the system understand the meaning about the query,” Heiner said.

Even if a machine is fluent in Legalese, the average person tends not to throw around words like “briefs” or “protective order.” The Navigator has to be able to intuit the true meaning behind a request even if it isn’t search engine-friendly.
So the Legal Navigator team worked with lawyers, law students, and court systems to evaluate real legal aid questions and link them to the appropriate responses. For example, if a user says “I’m afraid that my boyfriend is going to hurt me and my children,” the machine would ideally generate instructions for obtaining a protective order without the phrase “protective order” ever having to be uttered (or typed).

“The idea is [the users] don’t even have to know that they have a legal problem,” said Glenn Rawdon, program counsel for technology at the Legal Services Corporation..."

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