Interview with Grace Gichanga, founder of Luma Law, a chatbot that provides legal information.

Luma Law is a justice chatbot that provides people with information on the law and their rights and effectively enforces those rights. The platform’s objective is to increase access to legal information that is simple, practical and user friendly. They hope to guide the user through the legal processes and procedures while saving them time and opportunity costs such as transport.

What does Civic Tech mean to you?

Civic tech is the ability to reduce inequality and exclusion by leveraging technology for good.

When we had you at our Civic Tech for Cities World Cafe last year, you had recently launched Luma Law. How has it been?

Well, the global pandemic has influenced the growth of Luma Law. Luma was supposed to launch on the 19th of March 2020, and we went live after the country went into lockdown. So we went through the motions of launching during Covid, but one of the best things about that was that everyone was at home. So, you know, when you’re launching a digital business or digital services platform, it couldn’t have been a better time to launch despite the circumstances.

What inspired you to start Luma Law?

The journey to Luma started in 2016, and at the time, I had no plans of building a digital business. I was doing workshops in various communities, just teaching people about their rights and what I realised was that people didn’t know the basics when it came to the law; they didn’t know what their rights were and how to enforce their rights. That, for me, was a big deal because I mean, this is all information that we take for granted as lawyers.

What would happen after the workshops, people would text me to ask for advice or just for the basic information because we forget that when people are going through these legal challenges, there’s so much emotion and trauma that comes with it that and not everybody wants to ask questions publicly or in a public forum so that everyone can know what’s going on in their lives. So I ended up having many people on my WhatsApp that I didn’t know, but these are the people who had attended my workshops.

I realised that the problem is not just a South African problem; access to justice is a global problem. I thought, “there must be a platform or an app for this problem, there must be a way that we can do this better, and then that’s how I just fell into the world of chatbots.” At first, I just came across basic chatbots, and the more research I did,  the more I realised that the world is at a place where automation and human capacities are working hand in hand. People are building a lot more intelligent chatbots using artificial intelligence and machine learning, and natural language processing largely so that a person can feel like they’re having a real conversation with a bot and simulate a human conversation.

Definitions: According to an article titled, Artificial Intelligence Explained in Simple Terms, artificial intelligence is using computers to do things that traditionally required human intelligence and machine learning is the application of AI. Natural language processing is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that studies how machines understand human language.

]Since we launched last year, it’s been just over a year now. We’ve had around 19,000 people, who’ve interacted with the bot, asking the bot questions and receiving information from the bot, unfortunately, we’ve only been able to launch with labour law type of content. Sometimes people come on there, and they’re not able to find the responses they’re looking for, but I think from an information dissemination point of view, Luma is serving such a huge need.

The CCMA is one of the biggest institutions in our country that looks after workers’ rights, but they have closed their walk-in centres. So, where do people go when they’re looking for basic information when referring cases to the CCMA? Another example is with UIF, people could not leave their homes to go and apply, yet they still needed to apply for UIF to survive.

“We’ve been talking about 4IR [Fourth Industrial Revolution] for a while, but we haven’t prepared people for 4IR. We haven’t made their journey to accessing some of this service more seamless and enjoyable, and that’s what Luma seeks to do.”

We are serving to educate people, enable access to valuable information, treat people as people, and be mindful of the emotion that comes with being in a certain situation. Such as experiencing a legal problem and interacting with technology that’s supposed to get you started on your legal journey.

What have been your challenges or limitations that you faced in the making of your platform and since launching?

ays say challenges are an opportunity to learn. So the challenges have been a lot. I’m a non-technical founder, I’m a lawyer by profession, and I’ve entered into this world of tech. So there were challenges there in understanding the limits, I only had my imagination to go by, and that’s pretty limitless. Not being an expert in that space and the challenge of learning, expanding myself, and putting myself in uncomfortable places but being assertive enough to know that this is my season of learning. I have to be open to it.

Also, making sure that we use the right tech and just walking into rooms being a black female comes with its challenges. People underestimate you, and it’s just walking in there, dealing with people’s perceptions and mainly dealing with your imposter syndrome. The entrepreneurship journey is never an easy one, and there were many days where I’d ask myself, what did I get into? But it’s about overcoming many of your fears and assumptions that you have of your limitations. But in terms of the business, I think people don’t realise that AI and machine learning essentially is just human training and the technology to respond in the most human-like manner. And it’s just about finding the right skills of people to assist with that kind of training of the chatbot and be able to write content. Simplifying legal language ensures that everybody can understand basic legal principles.

What is the importance of a platform like Luma Law?

The world has experienced a whole shift, Covid for all its trauma that it has caused the world, but it has also forced us to look within ourselves and ask ourselves where we are at. I think the world realised that there is a big divide between the haves and have nots and the importance of technology such as Luma because it bridges that divide. It’s about building technology that is accessible to those who traditionally have been excluded from benefiting from technology.

AI is just a reflection of the person who’s built it; if people who create these technologies have traditionally excluded different races, cultures and creeds, that’s precisely the kind of technology that really should have going forward. So for platforms such as Luma, we are disseminating information that we believe is vital, we’re also creating a platform that’s more human and is inclusive. Creating a platform that is mindful of the circumstances that people find themselves in is important in building a more inclusive society, and that’s why we believe at Luma that’s the most important thing, and it’s one of our core foundational principles.

Who are your target users/who you did create this platform, and how do you engage with them?

We build Luma Law for everyone because people don’t realise how often they interact with the law.

There are so many life events where people interact with the law, and they don’t even realise it until they reach a point where something goes wrong. Luma is for everyday people, experiencing everyday life and where the law intersects with those daily experiences and possible challenges. 

We engage with our customers mainly via social media, because we believe that that’s where people are. We want to educate people because we don’t want people to find themselves at a disadvantage. After all, they didn’t understand their basic rights or didn’t know how to enforce those rights properly. It’s about interacting with you and your life in a very seamless way, the way we’re so used to waking up and the first thing you check is your social media. That’s how simple we want Luma to be; we want people to access legal information on the go, 24 hours a day, irrespective of where they are in the country.

What do you wish you had known when you started? Or what advice would you give to a similar project starting?

Know who you’re building for, don’t build for yourself. I was lucky in that I fell into civic tech instead of starting in civic tech. I was trying to solve a problem that I had experienced from the communities that I engaged with.  And that’s the benefit that I had. I knew who I was building for, I knew the challenges that they faced, and I knew what their experiences were with the law traditionally. I knew what their experiences were when it comes to navigating your way online to find the information that is relevant to you.

How do you measure success/impact?

Measuring and impacting this space is one of the most challenging things because the metrics are intangible. So currently, we’re only able to assess whether or not a person has benefited from the information. Once they’ve been able to go through the entire bot and reach a point where they’ve read the information, we realise that human beings have very short attention spans, and no one wants to go through all the information to get the answer they need.

So that’s sort of how we are now building Luma phase two, where you have the option to go through the content on the bot, or you can come on here and ask your question, and once you’ve asked your question, Luma will ask the user for feedback, asking questions such as was the answer to your satisfaction or what do you think we could have done better? So that’s how we gauge how people are using and understanding the Luma platform. That’s another thing we’re learning from this space that there’s so much more that we can do with technology, machine learning and AI. You can gather how people are feeling just by how they write the kind of language they use and use all that analysis and all that data to build a product that is very mindful of the human experience. 

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