Chrissie Lightfoot, founder of Robot Lawyer Lisa sat down with Propteq founder Brian Brosnan to talk about how AI is driving transformational change in property and legal services.

Brian: What is Robot Lawyer LISA?

Chrissie: Robot lawyer LISA is the world’s first impartial AI lawyer. It is a hybrid human and machine system that enables two lay parties to create a legally binding contract.

We’ve knowledge-engineered a superior AI-based document, before we ask a number of queries supported by information, knowledge and experience from human lawyers which users read and consider before responding to the questions. These answers then create a bespoke agreement to get the users to a middle ground as quickly and cost effectively as possible as they navigate the legal and commercial nuances involved.

Brian: Explain how it’s impartial.

Chrissie: A landlord and a tenant (two lay people), assuming the landlord initiates a business (or residential) lease will build the initial lease document using our tool. As they work through it, they are given support, proper notes, legal and commercial knowledge and intelligence. They receive help on how to decide how to answer questions. It’s impartial because the person that you’re sending it to on the other side  also comes into the system and uses LISA and goes through the same process themselves so they get to see exactly what you as the initiator also had put into the system. As the receiver you can alter anything.  You may disagree and amend anything. For example you can alter in the initial draft that the initiator wants the lease to last three years by changing it to one year.

Or anything that two lay people would need to negotiate over where traditionally they would each have to take advice from two independent  human lawyers. There’s no other system out there at the moment where two lay people can actually create it with the legal veil lifted so that the advice is totally transparent to each lay party. For example, if you’re a landlord you can  understand what the tenant would be told if a human lawyer was advising the tenant and vice versa. It’s impartial as it gets both users to that middle ground, and therefore agreement, much quicker. It’s far more cost-effective. A major issue is the time that it takes to get to an agreement. Sometimes disingenuous solicitors actually take longer because they know they are racking up more fees the longer it takes. Especially if it’s arguing basic terms that the other side is quite happy to agree to if you understand fully the legal and commercial implications.

Brian: How did Robot Lawyer LISA begin?

Chrissie: I qualified as a solicitor nine years ago. Prior to that I was a business woman, entrepreneur and a buyer of legal services. I knew that there could be a better way for the public and businesses to be served by lawyers online. I could see that the use of AI and automation would be a great solution for this part of the legal buyer market. A lot of people have been excluded by traditional law firms and lawyers. And that’s simply because in a lot of ways it hasn’t been cost-effective for lawyers and law firms to deliver these kind of new services because the technology didn’t exist or maybe a potentially new business model may not have been possible because of the law firms existing governance structure.

As a business person or non-lawyer, access to legal services has been pretty diabolical. I always thought that the technology could be a great solution if you could provide the right service via the right channel at reduced fees. Take a commercial lease, which may cost anywhere from £2,000 to £20,000 or much more. Why not bring that down to a sensible price point or include it as part of a customer benefit package or employee benefit package. In the next 10 years 60% of people aged 20 to 40 are going to be renting. Those on the lowest salaries, for example earning £26,000 (the average salary in the UK currently), only have £300 left as disposable income. How are they ever going to afford getting a quality lease or any legal document drafted for that matter  if traditional law firms charge £100 to £1,000 an hour?

So, the idea came about in seeing the uniqueness about using technology smartly and impartially. Many suppliers in the legal tech market are selling mainly to the lawyers and the law firms. And what the law firm’s are really doing is just extending or promulgating their existing business model. Which means that they’re really just servicing their existing clients at the same price point. Only one in ten people and businesses right now in the UK actually do use a human solicitor. For the other 90%, we’ve actually developed LISA. If I’m stood in their shoes, if I was a buyer, I asked myself “how would I want this service? Where would I get it? Also, how do I really solve the problem of getting the time down that it takes to get a legal document drafted between two parties?”. You can easily solve this from one side unilaterally which is what many legal tech solutions do, by removing or reducing the need for a lawyer on one side. The problem is you can’t just get rid of one lawyer, you need to get rid of both. So, that’s what we did, by using LISA as this impartial, unbiased, objective, nuanced kind of service. It is needed. The public obviously see the benefits of these kind of tools in contracts. They want it. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time that the kinds of legal documents LISA helps create will become more complex whilst mainstream in the legal ecosystem for both the public and businesses to use.

Brian: Who is your target market?

Chrissie: The property tools such as the business or residential lease are aimed at members of the public. We’ve also developed a Lodger Agreement tool, for circumstances where if you want to rent out a room to students or employees on the move or maybe short stay visitors who don’t want to engage in a proper short term tenancy. We’ve developed the kinds of contract tools that actually match how people are going to be living and working in the next decade. According to PWC up to 20% of the population by 2025 will be self-employed. We believe they will be interested in our NDA and some of the property tools as a result of this. Since 2009 the amount of people lodging has actually doubled and is projected to increase more over the next decade. There are 5 million properties owned by private landlords here in the UK. At the moment, they are going to solicitors who charge every time there’s a lease turnaround. And the lengths of those leases are getting shorter. When people do need to move, we want to make it quick, easy, painless and affordable.

This self-employment trend and how people live in rental kinds of accommodations is going to increase. Our clients include big companies that provide the LISA contract tools to their customers and employees. For example, companies in the property verticals, banking, accountancy, insurance and even retail. LISA’s legal contract tools provide a value add for the company which is beneficial to them with regard to customer loyalty, acquisition and differentiation.

The NDA has been available since April 2017 and the suite of three property tools has just launched. We have some large corporate clients about to trial LISA’s tools which we are not able to disclose currently because they do not wish us to; understandably they do not want to share the fact that our product provides competitive advantage. It’s a compelling proposition and value add to say to their clients or employees, “if you stay with us (or come to us) we can save you thousands or tens of thousands pounds of legal costs this year.”

Brian: Do you experience any resistance to the idea of robots replacing lawyers?

Chrissie: One issue is regulatory. People are used to using human lawyers and traditional law firms. They are using them because they are regulated and can also sit under the comfort of the insurance blanket provided in relation to ‘risk’. But we aka Robot Lawyer LISA’s service and products actually step outside of the regulation as LISA does not need to be regulated. We are very explicit in explaining what, why and how LISA works, so the people/users understand what their responsibility and accountabilities are and which are ours. I have met with the Legal Services Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society. I explained exactly how LISA works and all of them say, “Well, yes, you do sit outside the regulative framework anyway because A) LISA is not a law firm and B) LISA is not a human lawyer giving the advice and/or drafting the document.”

And also, the main reason is that the contract tools that we’ve created are what are classed (regarded) as non-reserved activities here in the UK. And that’s quite a special position. You don’t actually have to be a qualified solicitor to carry out the kind of legal work or legal advice which is non-reserved. An example of that is probably when you’ve got really good HR advisors in companies.  Some of these HR specialists know as much about employment law and can give advice to their employer and/or employees instead of either party needing to go off and engage in the time and expense incurred with human lawyers specialising in employment law. So, in that respect, we do have to explain and get over that barrier of understanding by the public and/or businesses.

In relation to the ‘risk’ element, that is, insurance blanket, here at AI Tech Support Ltd (the legal entity which Robot Lawyer LISA trades under) the company is insured therefore so too are the products that the users use. Furthermore, the human lawyers that we have used for the “brain dumps” with the NDA and the suite of property products are practicing solicitors with 30 years of experience; they are qualified here in the UK, regulated under the SRA and certified by the Law Society. They too are insured because they hold their practicing certificate and must have insurance to practice law anyway. They are also based within a law firm which is also regulated and insured.

In a recent survey, a third of the people surveyed said that they are happy using technology in the first instance without going to a human for any top-up support or advice. So, in that respect, that’s why people are already using LISA and will continue to do so because they are comfortable in trusting the machine.

The second third say, “we will use the technology in the first instance but we want to see a human too.” So, we at LISA, made it easier for these types of users to access human lawyers also. We provide the user with the choice as to whether they need or want to contact a human lawyer for additional support.

And then there’s the last third of course that say, “well, we will wait and see, we don’t trust ‘the machine’, we’re not at all comfortable with it, yet, we still want to do things in the ordinary / traditional way aka we will only use a human lawyer and are quite prepared to go and pay X amount per hour or per contract.” We make it easy for the user to be in control of the machine and/or human touch points. We provide for all three types of user on the Robot Lawyer LISA website right now.

Brian: Okay. Do lawyers use LISA at all? If so, fee earners or in-house counsel?

Chrissie: Yes, fee-earners that own their own law firms and in-house counsel have been using the NDA for a) their personal use and b) within their businesses for business use. Lawyers who have been a party to the other side where the users of LISA have chosen to then go to a human lawyer have also used LISA. We’ve made it easy for LISA’s users to choose to go to a local solicitor. What is beginning to happen is users of LISA are starting to instruct local solicitors even where they have never used a human solicitor at all in the past. The way LISA works is that the initiator and the receiver (landlord and tenant, or householder and lodger) each receive a draft of the initial document created by the initiator and a full guidance note. So, the initial draft(s) could, at this stage, be taken to a human solicitor by each party. So, LISA is actually creating two new sets of potential legal work for solicitors here in the UK and we see that’s only going to expand. LISA’s users will start using human solicitors. LISA obviously reduces a significant amount of time and cost involved for the user because if they’ve created an initial document they are 95% happy with, that means they only need to use a human lawyer to do the top up kind of work for an hour or two or three at the human lawyer’s normal rate/fee. Rather than spend £10,000 trying to get it to a point where it’s 95% right, they might only need to spend £500 with that human solicitor to get it to 100%.

Brian: What are the benefits for lawyers?

Chrissie: It’s about hugely reducing the time involved on initial interviewing, advice and drafting. Systems like LISA free up human resource which can be redeployed in other essential areas of the business such as business development, client relationships or marketing etc and the highly complex strategic legal stuff and high value deal work that most human lawyers prefer to engage in and be paid extraordinarily well for. The human lawyers can therefore focus on the matters that a machine cannot do, yet.

Brian: Who should be interested in Robot Lawyer Lisa?

Chrissie: Anyone in business and life (consumers) who want to save themselves a load of time and thousands of pounds in accessing quality legal advice and creating quality legal documents themselves. Accordingly, heads of product development, heads of customer development strategists, heads of strategy and/or innovation, within property related companies, professional services such as banking, insurance, accountancy, retail companies and more should be (and already are) interested in LISA and what she offers of benefit. Because these are the people and kinds of companies that are tasked with coming up with current and future (added value) products that their customers, members or employees (that is, “anyone in business and life”) need and want now, and in the future.

For example, an estate agent, whether traditional or online, may wish to have their actual employee estate agents use LISA to speed up the process of getting a property rented out much faster than it traditionally takes by taking on the traditional role of a human lawyer (the employee now being empowered by LISA’s hybrid human and machine system). These employees will use LISA to initiate and draft a lease on behalf of their client landlord.

Brian: For people interested in contacting you, how can they get in touch?

Chrissie:  Full details on everything about LISA and her contract tools are available at www.robotlawyerlisa.com

I can be reached by email at chrissie@aitechsupport.co.uk

Finally I’m co-hosting a session on AI at Propteq Europe, the annual Property Technology & Innovation Summit in London on 15 Feb.

See you there!