Chatbots have become commonplace on websites nowadays. Whether you are browsing for subscription accounting services or trying to buy new shoes, chatbots pop up in many a website corner offering a number of ways to help us.
As it stands, however, lawyers seem to be slow on the uptake of these tools on their own websites. Being relatively low cost, easy to implement, and able to serve lawyers in a number of ways, this really shouldn’t be the case, though. If you have been considering a chatbot for your law firm’s website, here are some suggestions for how to increase profitability with bot automation.
What are chatbots?
Remarkably, chatbots are not all that modern of an invention. The first chatbot was created in 1966 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and was used to simulate conversation based on decision-tree questions. Nowadays, of course, chat bots are much more sophisticated.
Today’s chatbots are pieces of software that enable machines to interact with humans, usually through a website or mobile phone application. Leveraging natural language processing (NLP), chatbots can either produce human-drafted answers to common questions or use artificial intelligence to generate coherent and (hopefully) useful responses based on predetermined datasets.
On e-commerce websites, for example, chatbots help with checkout problems, answer questions about delivery times, and give users a way to speak to a human if they have more complex needs. These functions, however, barely scratch the surface of what is possible with chatbot automation.
Chatbot applications for law firms
Being highly programmable, chatbots can be used in a multitude of ways. For lawyers, this presents a hitherto unparalleled opportunity to automate aspects of their daily work that ordinarily do nothing but detract from the firm’s bottom line.
- Frequently asked questions for website visitors. Lawyers are all too familiar with email inbox overload, and accordingly any tool that can reduce the number of inquiries should be a priority for implementation. Chatbots can easily be programmed to offer help to website visitors with things like confirmation of practice areas and availability for consultations.
- Client onboarding. Client onboarding is unnecessarily time-consuming. Rather than spending an hour on the phone trying to extract basic details from clients, lawyers can use a chatbot to guide the client through a series of questions and automatically record their information for future use.
- Handling of simple matters. Simple legal matters make up a considerable chunk, if not the majority, of most law firms’ caseloads, but they aren’t actually that profitable relative to complex cases. To free up their time for more profitable endeavours, lawyers can programme chatbots to give answers to simple legal questions and refer users to more detailed advice elsewhere – for example, on a blog – rather than taking on the matter in-person themselves.
- Customer service. How many times have you consulted with clients only to find out that the client wants to know something simple, like how long it might take for a particular application to go through the courts? While many lawyers do bill for this time, it is not actually worth doing so considering the broader disruption that is introduced into the day because of such inquiries. A quick phone call may be billable for, say, 6 minutes, but every interruption that you allow will, on average, take 15 minutes of non billable time out of your day. Using a chatbot for simple customer service requests is a way to increase profitability simply by increasing available billable time.
How to implement a chatbot for your law firm
There are many chatbot software providers in existence, and as with any other type of software, each has their strengths and weaknesses. Here are some pointers in choosing software:
- Overall ‘look and feel’. One thing that is key is to use the software yourself to get an idea of how it will portray your firm to potential clients. Do you want something more formal that will refer clients to a comprehensive automated helpdesk, or something more informal that will give basic answers but refer complex cases to you for follow up?
- Cross-platform application. Do you want to use the software on more than just your website? Some companies offer the ability to integrate with Facebook Messenger and other services as well, so check this when choosing software.
- Ease of programming. Some software providers are user-friendly in this respect and will walk you through the process, whereas others will rely on you having some knowledge of databases and basic computer programming. Make sure you understand what help is available prior to purchase.
However you approach the actual implementation of the chatbot for your law firm, remember to keep an open mind about the possibilities. Chatbots are evolving just as quickly as other areas of legal technology, and the key to increasing profitability in the long-term is not only adopting these new technologies, but being willing to change your behaviours to ensure the broadest application of its functionality.