Hidden User Influence, Disruptive Technologies, and Service Quality of Third-Party Professionals: Experimental Evidence from Public Legal E-Services

Project: Research

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The way public goods and services are delivered has changed substantially in recent years with the widespread use of computer technologies and the extensive involvement of third-party professionals. In the modern legal world, computer technologies allow service providers and users to interact and communicate online without geographical constraints. Given the exponential growth of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), certain legal tasks and services (e.g., legal document analysis, legal practice automation) can be performed more efficiently by machines. In the proposed study, we will focus on the global emergence of state-led public legal e-services and address the following research question: How do technological innovations and third-party professional involvement advance the delivery of public legal services and address justice issues in the digital era? In answering this question, the proposed project will draw on (1) the street-level bureaucrats literature that emphasize discretion among frontline public service providers, (2) linguistic communication research on the importance of service users’ communicative cues, and (3) the influence of cognitive biases on the acceptance of technology by specialists. Our findings will offer an in-depth understanding of how public e-service quality is shaped by hidden citizen/client influence via e-communications and how legal professionals respond to the increasing use of AI techniques.This project will consist of two studies. Study 1 will seek to uncover the role of the hidden user influence by answering two key questions: 1(A) How does perceived user deservingness (i.e., needed and earned deservingness), as reflected in online legal inquiries, affect third-party lawyers’ prioritization of legal advice? and 1(B) Do citizens’ online communicative cues (i.e., addressing with titles and showing emotion) elicit extra-role behavior from third-party lawyers? Study 2 will aim  to evaluate smart public services by examining the monitoring role of modern AI-based performance-assessment tools (2A) and the acceptance by human legal professionals of AI-based legal assistance tools for offering public legal consultations (2B). We will use a multimethod design consisting of (1) focus-groups comprising lawyers who have participated in the signature public legal service e-portal in China (known as 12348), service users of the e-portal, policymakers in justice departments, and technical vendors and (2) two interconnected lab experiments among of senior law school students from five mainland universities. This project will provide significant insights into the development of contractual public services in the digital era and contribute to novel solutions by informing the development of effective models of digital public legal services. 


Project number9043450
Grant typeGRF
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …