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1 Oct 2019

Why and How to Create a Law Firm Chatbot

You’ve seen them all over the Internet—on shopping websites, medical websites, financial websites and beyond. They’re called chatbots, and they have as much utility on law firm websites as they do for those other industries.

Given their benefits, it’s worth considering whether a chatbot would be effective in your firm. This article will look at the advantages that chatbots offer to law firms and how exactly firms go about creating them.

But first…

What is a Chatbot?

The typical chatbot often appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen when you visit a website, usually in the form of a dialogue box. It may have a friendly name and be accompanied by an image. For instance, the Palace Law®PatBot” is a cartoon lawyer in a suit.

Chatbots usually begin with a conversation prompt; PatBot opens with: “Hi! I’m PatBot. What’s your first name?” Consistent with PatBot’s friendly personality, there’s a waving-hand emoji in there.

Like the Apple® company’s Siri® or Erica® from the Bank of America®, these “robots” are powerful tools.

Chatbots can be distinguished from other types of lawyer bots, which can perform tasks usually specific to lawyers.

As an example, a lawyer bot dubbed DoNotPay helped users overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets and later began helping refugees apply for asylum. LISA helps two parties negotiate non-disclosure agreements without the need for lawyers. Chatbots are also different from live-chat interfaces in which website visitors interact with an actual human on the other end. Providers like Smith.ai offer this service to solo and small law firms.  

While chatbots are not as ambitious as full-blown robot lawyers and do not have the human touch of a living receptionist, they can answer basic questions and direct users to helpful information. But . . . are they worth the trouble?

Why Create a Chatbot

Chatbots come with a number of benefits, and not just to the law firms that use them. Chatbots might not be able to provide any more information than is already on a firm’s website, but they can answer specific questions quickly. Website visitors appreciate the ease and immediacy of simply typing a question into a box, without having to navigate a website or pick up a phone.

According to the 2017 Ubisend Chatbot report, nearly seven out of ten consumers say that getting an instantaneous answer is one reason that they would consider using a chatbot instead of seeking out a human. 

Law firms can get even more out of chatbots. Major benefits include:

  • Client intake: Chatbots can offer significant aid to the client intake process. Through “discussion trees” that make use of a multiple-choice format, chatbots can quickly elicit valuable information. That information can help identify the right lawyer within the firm to handle their matter (like a specialist in employment discrimination or medical malpractice). All information gathered through the chat can then be forwarded to the appropriate attorney ahead of the initial consultation.
  • Appointment scheduling: Those initial consultations can be scheduled through the chatbot, eliminating the involvement of lawyers or receptionists. This is an excellent and well-established use of chatbots.
  • Understanding your client base: The questions that visitors ask a chatbot can help a law firm gain insight into its client base. If chatbot logs reveal that a firm keeps getting asked about a complementary practice area for instance, it could reveal a promising direction for growth.
  • Use your content to inform visitors: Many firms produce great content on their websites without actively sharing it. Chatbots are a great delivery vehicle for that library of content, which can establish a lawyer’s thought leadership.

How to Create a Chatbot

Creating a chatbot can be just about as technically demanding—or not—as the law firm creating it would like. On one end of the spectrum, firms with programming skills (or the budget to pay for them) can build their own. On the other, several services provide chatbots that, with minimal customization, can be plugged into your firm’s website. Here are some practical considerations in creating one:

  • Where to put it? Chatbots aren’t just for websites, but also platforms like Facebook® Messenger or Skype®. Depending on your practice areas, those may be better venues to connect with potential clients. Of course, you can put your chatbot in more than one place.
  • Ethical considerations: It should be clear to users interacting with a bot that they aren’t dealing with an actual lawyer (or even a human for that matter). Among other reasons, this prevents any issues about the creation of a lawyer-client relationship through the chat. At the beginning of its chats, for instance, PatBot says “I’m a bot programmed to give you a legal check up so we can figure out what rights you have as an injured worker in Washington State.” Similar language is advisable for all firms.
  • Pricing: One popular provider, Virtual Spirits, quotes prices ranging from $9 per month for a “small plan” to $99 per month for a “business plan” to $239 per month for an “i-business plan.” (Fittingly, we got that information from its chatbot.)
  • Look, feel, personality: When picking out a chatbot, firms should give careful consideration to how casual and friendly they would like their chatbot to be, a decision that will largely be dictated by the client base they are seeking to draw in.

For some firms, it may be the case that no chatbot can help them. But for those that do make the plunge, your chatbot character can and should become an important new addition to the firm.