Chatbots for the Legal Industry: An Introduction

Chatbot technology is fast becoming an essential tool for businesses. According to Technavio research, the global chatbot market is expected to see a CAGR of 24% over the period of 2018-2022. The online retail industry has been the pioneer in adopting this technology, but the legal industry can easily take advantage of this great tool as well. Law firms can use chatbots to automate their current processes, improve organizational efficiency and serve their customers better.

What are Chatbots?

Chatbots are not a new phenomenon. You could find variations of chatbots, also known as bots, on various chat forums and business pages like the SmarterChild chatbot for AOL Instant Messenger. However, these chatbots were limited in scope. They were programmed to reply to exact questions. Any deviation from expected paths would result in nonsensical answers. Even though they were fun, they were not a practical solution for real-world business problems.

The rise of new artificial intelligence (AI) technology like machine learning and deep learning have changed the landscape. Machine learning and deep learning is helping Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of computer science that deals with human language learning. NLP gives computers the superpower to understand human language better. Now computers can comprehend the context behind questions and reply back intelligently. It’s a game changer in the field of AI-based chatbots.

Chatbots like IBM Watson (2006), Apple Siri (2010) or Facebook Messenger (2016) use NLP to make more accurate assessments of what is being asked of them and they can reply with more relevant information. There are some caveats as we will learn later. But you can use these AI-based chatbots for more advanced tasks in your business.

Creating Customized Chatbot Experiences

Chatbots are an emerging technology that is evolving fast, and AI-based chatbots are moving from text to voice devices. Here are some of the prominent platforms:

  • Amazon Lex
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Google Duplex
  • IBM Watson
  • Slack
  • Telegram

Each platform provides its own chatbot APIs and design principles. All the platforms are still evolving and it’s hard to find experienced designers and developers. Like any new technology, pioneers who figure out the best way to use it for their businesses will win.

Here are some points to consider for your chatbot platform selection:

  • Types of tasks the platform can automate
  • The level of complexity to build the chatbot
  • The depth of NLP capability
  • Ease of integration with your website or application
  • Industry experience of the platform

How Chatbots Can Help the Legal Industry

Of course, it takes time for any technology to find its market. You might have already noticed that retail businesses like H&M and Sephora are experimenting with chatbot technology. You’ll also see various Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications use chatbots to generate leads and increase sales all across the web.

Here are some ways chatbots can help the legal industry:

Eliminating Menial Tasks

Lawyers spend an enormous amount of time looking at documents and performing menial tasks. Law firms often try to put this burden on the shoulders of junior lawyers, but we all know that’s not a good solution. Further, lawyers spend a significant amount of time answering client questions about standard documents; these questions are often repetitive in nature. Chatbots can help automate a chunk of this responsibility.

According to a Business Insider report, lawyers spend a lot of billable hours fixing typos in disclosure documents and press releases. This work is boring for the lawyers and expensive for the clients.

Chatbots with artificial intelligence can handle more and more of these tasks every day. Adopting chatbot technology in your firm can free up time for the lawyers to attend to more challenging legal problems.

Marketing Legal Businesses

AI-powered chatbots are also emerging as a contender to help legal businesses market their services. Business leaders in various industries are already thinking of artificial intelligence for their marketing efforts. According to a BrightEdge survey about the future trends in marketing, 75% of respondents pointed out applications that use artificial intelligence.

AI-base chatbots can help legal businesses in multiple areas. Instead of humans, the chatbots can work as the first response team and filter potential prospects. It can work as an advertisement tool. Interactive chatbots grab more attention than classic banner or AdWords ads. Also, chatbots can go further and recommend customized content for customers. For example, a chatbot can recommend the right articles or blog posts to a client who is looking for property tax management advice.

More ambitious law firms can integrate chatbots with document management and legal research and emerge them with marketing automation and social media tools; however, it will take planning, effort and time to reach that level of sophistication.

Helping with Sensitive Subject Matters

The use of chatbots has a sensitive human-side too. People are often reluctant to talk to real human beings about embarrassing legal issues; however, they are willing to seek legal advice under anonymity. Static web searches can answer generic questions, but the searches often fall short in providing the exact answer necessary for a particular situation.

Legal Businesses Are Already Using Chatbots

Chatbots have already started showing up across the legal industry. In the US and the UK, British entrepreneur Joshua Browsder released a chatbot called DoNotPay that helps clients resolve parking ticket issues. It has helped with 375,000 parking tickets within 2 years. In Australia, a chatbot called Parker is helping the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright answer questions from new clients. On the first day of deployment, it talked with 1,000 clients. That’s an impossible task for a human law associate.

Ensure Better Engagement

The benefits of chatbots in the legal business are enticing, but it’s important to take a step back and make sure you are using it for the right services. Microsoft had to shut down its Twitter chatbot Tay after its AI algorithms veered the chatbot into racist territory.

Recently, Google had a PR nightmare on its hands when it demonstrated its AI and voice-powered chatbot Google Duplex having conversations with real humans. The problem was that the humans didn’t know that they were talking to a chatbot. People were offended that Google was making a fool out of the people. Make sure you always disclose to your clients that they are talking to a chatbot.

Embrace the Future

Even a year ago, most chatbots were text-based. The rise of voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home has changed the conversation. Now businesses are looking at voice-based chatbots. The shipping of Amazon Echo and Google Home devices with screens creates the possibility that there will be graphical chatbots in the future with human likenesses. Imagine video chatbots talking to your clients and providing advice in real-time. It can become a reality soon. There’s always a learning curve for any new technology. So it’s important for law firms to start designing their chatbots to stay competitive for the future.