Technology is a competitive advantage in the legal industry but within the group legal services space, it’s now mission critical. For those not familiar with the model, group legal services organizations provide citizens access to attorneys at a set monthly rate, with the offering often described as prepaid legal plans. For the provider or referral attorneys associated with legal plans, these arrangements create a steady flow of pre-qualified work and revenue for the provider firm. In this first article of my three-part series, we explore chat functionality and chatbot technology.
Group legal plans face the same pressure as others in the legal industry to do more for less. Attorneys and companies alike are implementing software to improve efficiency to create operational leverage. Think of how many hours you or your team spend answering routine questions at your law firm. Or, perhaps your website lists frequently asked questions yet, you still field calls asking about those same issues.
As consumers, our attention spans have shortened considerably and when looking for help with our problems, the option to type in questions and receive instant results is the new norm. Therefore, the potential client who is looking for help from an attorney or a legal plan late at night will move past a website that does not have a way to interact immediately. Clients do not wish to wait until business hours to solve their problem or at least find out more about the solution.
Tom Martin of LawDroid spoke on the Future of Legal Services panel at the recent Group Legal Services Association annual conference and provided some statistics from a UK survey by Ubisend. The numbers below show how UK consumers are demanding that companies at least provide some type of automation on their websites for routine matters:
- 68% want their problem solved online
- 48% wish an easy online experience
- 44% demand speed
- 39% want access at a convenient time
In my opinion, the most important finding was that almost 70% wanted instantaneous responses and therefore would consider asking a chatbot before a human. Firms and group legal plans alike now have an opportunity to leverage technology to improve client experience and satisfaction. How can this be applied to the legal market in North America?
Perhaps your firm has chat on your website that is monitored by a human who refers to a list of the frequently asked questions (FAQs). However, usually that person only responds during regular business hours and many clients may wish to reach your firm outside that time.
A next step would be to automate those FAQs into a chatbot as many clients will not wish to either hunt for the answers on your site or wait call in. Below are some chatbot ideas to improve efficiency and give information to solve problems as fast as possible.
- Client development: Automate frequently asked questions; qualify and interview new clients on the website; calendar or schedule new and existing clients.
- Client intake: Ask and record basic info and interview questions.
- Question & Answer: Fact gathering and form completion.
The best way to decide what to automate is to review work flow with your staff and discover the steps or areas where the work is routine and non-legal, for example client intake questions. You can also survey some clients on their experience with your website and intake process. The goal is to make your process more efficient for you and your clients.
Chatbots are now easy to create and much less expensive to deploy than even a couple of years ago. However, using technology like chatbots raises issues similar to those surrounding operating in the cloud plus some ethical issues that again are common roadblocks to automation in the law.
Attorneys have raised concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) because of articles like this one that described how JPMorgan created COIN software which reviewed commercial loan agreements that previously took attorneys 360,000 hours in a matter of seconds. Some lawyers feel that chatbots could replace lawyers. WebMD did not put doctors out of business just as AI will not put law firms out of business. I prefer to think of AI and chatbots as a way to augment the law and ultimately improve access to justice.
Specifically, I have heard concerns around privacy which are not different than the worries around using email and other means of communicating online. Website security measures should include the chat function and must be addressed by professionals. On the ethics side, disclaimers can explain that a chatbot that is answering FAQs for potential clients does not create an attorney client relationship. However, once clients are using the chatbots, be careful about not only privacy issues but clarifying if the communications are privileged.
Chatbots are an area ripe for disruption as the law must catch up with other professions or risk becoming obsolete. We are early days at LegalShield with our chatbot Erin. It’s the first step towards more sophisticated bots to improve member experience.
Part II of this series will deal with connecting lawyers and clients on mobile apps or the law firm in the palm of your hand.