The Law in Plain Language
We hope that our tool will be especially helpful to those who are involved in court cases but don’t have the financial resources to hire lawyers.
An innovative tool that uses machine learning and AI technologies has been developed by students to cut through legal jargon and convoluted sentences and make the law more comprehensible to the general public.
Decoding Law is a browser plug-in that has a chatbot for submitting questions about which laws might apply to specific situations, and an ability to explain legal terms in more understandable language. It is also nearly at the stage where it can break down sentence structures and help people understand more clearly how the law might apply to their situation.
For example, users could ask the chatbot whether they are allowed to play mahjong in a public place, and the chatbot would scour its database of Hong Kong laws and cases to provide a relevant section of the law and other verified online sources in a pop-up box. Users could then hover over legal terms to get their specific legal meaning as defined in the legislation, which may be different from the ordinary dictionary meaning. An example would be the definition of “gaming” in the Gambling Ordinance (Cap. 148), which means “the playing of or at any game for winnings in money or other property”. The final stage would break down the sentence structures to see if any specific law might apply in this case.
The browser plug-in was developed by third-year Bachelor of Business Administration (Law) and Bachelor of Laws (BBA[Law]&LLB) students Alison Pui-wun Li, Edelweiss Yuet-yi Kwok and Sally Man-ki Yiu, in collaboration with two law students from The Chinese University of Hong Kong and four Hong Kong-based IT experts, with the aim of improving access to justice and helping litigants.
“As law students, we have to read a lot of legislation and we understand how difficult it can be to understand. For the lay person, it is even more difficult,” Sally said. “We hope that our tool will be especially helpful to those who are involved in court cases but don’t have the financial resources to hire lawyers.”
The non-profit browser plug-in has not gone live yet. Previously the team has talked to the Department of Justice(DoJ), which was interested in seeing how it could be included in its e-legislation initiative. Although there is no concrete collaboration plan at this stage, they hope there would be a possibility to collaborate in the near future.
“We are at the beginning of the process but we may open the browser plug-in to our classmates to use and improve the accuracy of the machine learning function. Before we promote this further, we need to do a lot of vetting and ensure the information is accurate,” Edelweiss said.
So far the signs of success are encouraging: Decoding Law won in Hong Kong’s very first LegalTech and RegTech Hackathon held in February 2018, and won again at the first ever Global Legal Hackathon held in New York City in April 2018, beating out teams that mostly comprised legal and tech professionals. The Global Legal Hackathon is a legal tech development competition that attracted participants from across 6 continents and over 40 cities. From among the 14 finalists, who had to present live prototypes of their solution to the event's judges, four winning teams were selected, two of which developed solutions to serve the private sector, and two for the public sector. Decoding Law won in the public service (access to justice) category, and the other three winners were from the United States and Hungary.