Entrepreneur Grace Gichanga is adamant in making legal advice accessible to everyone.

At the heart of Grace Gichanga’s love for the law lies her devotion for social justice and equality which gave rise to Pro Se Legal, a chatbot that will dispense practical legal advice to ordinary South Africans via social media platforms.

Founded on the principle of inclusivity, Pro Se Legal - set to go live in February - was created using an artificial intelligence machine that decodes and processes language even when sentences are not written out in full.

The app was recognised at the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Awards and Disability Empowerment Awards ceremony last week and awarded a R200000 seed grant that will go towards developing the technology.

The idea of the chatbot came after Gichanga, a practising attorney, heard her colleagues complain about the lack of available information on common legal matters such as death, divorces, vat ’* sit, child maintenance or how to go about getting a protection order.

She realised that many people needed the information at their fingertips and that is how the idea came about.

“From the numerous legal information sessions that I staged with cleaners at work and many more in various community centres, I realised that many more people could be in need of the same information that can empower them and give them insight on the law,” said the 34-year-old.

The chatbot targets women, the youth and people in rural communities as those are often the most vulnerable and excluded when it comes to accessing the justice system, said Gichanga, adding that there were about 24000 practising lawyers in South Africa.

           PIC: Supplied 

On launch, information will be available only in English and eventually in all 11 official languages to ensure easy access to the communities that desperately need the information in their mother tongue.

“The chatbot works off chat platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger because almost everybody chats on these platforms these days, so this allows us to give step-by-step guidelines on how to deal with whatever it is that one needs,” she said.

In the disseminating of information, the aim is also to further direct the user to the nearest support centre such as Lifeline and Gender-Based Command Centre.

“Being recognised by SAB as someone who can potentially have a significant impact on people’s lives, especially when they need it the most, humbled me because we can make a change,” she said.

To ensure that the technology remains relevant and that Pro Se Legal is in touch with what is happening on the ground, Gichanga said they would continue to host workshops that would assist them to refine the content on the platform, field frequently asked questions and reflect real life scenarios.

Pro Se Legal will be available on a pay per use basis from February.

The Sunday Independent