The northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai is using artificial intelligence to expand access to legal services—an example of how legal tech is transforming the practice of law across China.
Last week, local governments in Qinghai made robots capable of answering 50,000 legal questions available to the public, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. These robots aim to help local residents in remote areas—many who are herdsmen and ethnic Tibetans—with legal issues in matrimonial, employment, consumer rights, traffic accidents, housing disputes and personal finance. The robots can also provide people with information on law firms, notary organizations and forensic appraisals.
Located on the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai, like neighboring Xinjiang and Tibet, is largely rural and legal resources in the region are extremely limited. Liu Bolin, an official at the provincial justice department, told Xinhua that 75 percent of all the lawyers in the province are based in the provincial capital of Xining and in the city of Haidong. Eleven counties have no lawyers at all, he said.
Qinghai’s robot lawyers are not the first to use AI to provide public legal services in China. In May, the government-run China Legal Aid Foundation installed similar robots in Beijing to help local residents with legal issues.
Last year, the local government in southwest China’s Yunnan province launched a virtual law firm made up of robot lawyers capable of handling 10,000 legal inquiries daily. The firm’s services operate 24/7 and are available to the public for free, according to Xinhua. They also are geared toward residents in rural areas and small townships where lawyer resources are scarce.
Private legal practices have also seized upon opportunities to use technology. In 2016, Beijing-based Wusong Tech, a legal tech startup spun off from litigation boutique TianTong, launched Fa Xiaotao, a mobile app aimed to help small business owners and their lawyers analyze disputes and search for related judgments. Fa Xiaotao is backed by AI technology provided by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.