Osgoode students, alumni help build accessible legal chatbot

robot with digital display
3d rendering robot working with digital display

Osgoode Hall Law School students Ryan Boros and Elias Tung have spent the summer, when many of their peers take a break from academic pursuits, working on the recently launched Law Newbie – an online chatbot that makes criminal law research accessible to the public.

The free application was developed by Toronto criminal lawyer Jordan Donich with support from recent Osgoode graduate Camille Melo, who now articles with Collett Read LLP, but previously spent the summer of 2022 conducting initial research for Law Newbie. Boros and Tung, each in their third and second years of studies, joined the project to refine the app leading up to and after its launch.

The encyclopedic resource enables users to access details about criminal code offences and potential defence strategies simply by asking the chatbot questions.

“The whole thing has been built with a lot of effort and it’s very intuitive,” said Boros.

“I feel like it’s given me a much stronger idea of the core concepts of criminal law and the finer points,” he added. “The other benefit for me going forward is it’s inspired me to take more technology focused courses next year.”

One of them will be Osgoode’s Engineering the Law course, taught by adjunct faculty member Al Hounsell, who serves as the Toronto-based director of strategic innovation and legal design for the multi-national law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP.

Among other things, the Osgoode course introduces students to how client needs have pushed the boundaries of legal service delivery to include elements of data, computer technology and artificial intelligence (AI), according to the course description. It also gives students the practical skills to break down contracts and legislation into decision trees, to develop markups and workflows for contract development and negotiations, to attain basic experience with common legal technology applications, and to apply design thinking methodology to legal problems.

Ryan Boros and Elias Tung sit in front of Osgoode Hall Law School Ignat Kaneff Building sign.
Ryan Boros and Elias Tung

Tung, who is leaning towards a career in family law, said his work with Law Newbie has helped spark an interest in working at the intersection of family law and criminal law.

“We’re just trying to make the information as accessible as possible,” he said of the project. “There’s definitely a need for criminal law resources like this because a lot of people don’t understand the criminal code – and it’s also important to understand your rights.

“I feel very fortunate,” he added, “because not a lot of people have the opportunity to do this kind of work.”

Melo said the research and writing that she did for Law Newbie last summer gave her a more solid grounding in criminal law.

“I really liked the research component of it and it was good to know as an up and coming criminal lawyer,” she noted. “I really enjoyed working on an access-to-justice initiative like this, too.”

Donich said he is currently experimenting with integrating AI into the chatbot, but is still determining its effectiveness.

“I am manually programming it now,” he said, “and Camille, Ryan and Elias’s brains have been irreplaceable. They’ve all said they wish they had had this experience with technology earlier in law school – and lawyers who are my age are saying the same thing.”

He said he is planning to hire another student to work on the project part-time beginning in the fall.

Along with his work in criminal law, civil litigation and professional regulation, Donich also specializes in cybersecurity and internet-related crime.

“Technology is changing the legal profession, faster than we have anticipated,” he said. “Lawyers and law students need to be part of the change to ensure any innovation improves our client experience and continues to serve the public interest.”