Businesses are increasingly deploying chatbots to streamline customer service and internal processes. Some studies expect that by 2020 more than 85% of customer interactions will be handled by chatbots instead of human employees. The legality of something is seldom black and white and chatbots are no exception as any given situation is unique and the courts will always look to obtain the entire picture. Below we will define the legality of chatbots and outline their varied uses as well as provide a basic overview of the legal requirements of a contract so that you may better analyze your specific situation. Please remember that none of this would constitute legal advice as that can only ever be obtained by an attorney.

What is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence that you interact with via a chat interface. It is a program designed to interact with you to provide you information within certain parameters set by the programmer. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.)

Nowadays, chatbots are quickly developing in the legal field. But, how do you know what’s acceptable as a contractual agreement when it comes to chatbots?

What is a Contract?

A contract is a legally enforceable agreement that meets certain specified legal requirements between two or more parties in which each party agrees to give and receive something of legal value.

Basic Contract Requirements:

  1. Offer – Simple. This is what is being offered in the contract. (i.e. a service, an item, etc.)
  2. Acceptance – For a contract to exist the two parties must accept the terms of the contract.
  3. Consideration – Essentially, this would be the terms of the contract itself.
  4. Legality of Subject Matter – A contract can never legally exist if it pertains to something illegal such as theft or some other crime.
  5. Contractual Capacity – The capacity of the parties to enter into a contract. For example someone who is underage has no capacity to enter into a contact and thus the contract would be invalid.
  6. Contractual Intent- This is a bit more subjective but it refers to the intent of the parties to enter into a contract. If it can be shown in court that one of the parties never had a contractual intent then the contract is invalid.

A discussion on whether or not chatbots may enter into a contract would be centered on the contractual capacity they may or may not have. As stated above, the most typical examples of capacity, or rather, the lack of capacity, deal with age of the party but other examples include the person’s mental conditions and such. Legal chatbots are mere technological programs, and this is something that you should be weary and aware of when seeking legal counsel.

Additionally, I would advise to always seek legal counsel from an actual attorney before relying on what you may think is a valid contract established via a chatbot.

Chatbots may make customer services immediately expansible as they bring the ability to handle multiple interactions simultaneously, without the need to employ extra staff. They can be accessible and informative, but they can potentially direct users to incorrect information and mislead users into thinking there’s a real-life attorney sitting on the other side of the chat.

When providing information that can be viewed as advice, things can become more problematic and cause more legal issues down the road. As the service becomes more interactive, it can start to look more like it’s providing specific advice. At some point, the interaction could be so pervasive that it would seem the same as speaking with an attorney. At that point, in my opinion, they’ve crossed the line and are now giving legal counsel which would constitute an Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Ultimately, it’s your choice how to want to approach your legal issues. But, keep in mind only an attorney is able to offer authorized legal advice.