Chatbot or Not? Four Questions Firms Should Ask

By 2020, we’ll be more likely to converse with chatbots than with our own spouses.

That's not to say we should expect to see bots on Tinder anytime soon (too late!), but the technology isn't new. Those of us digital marketing professionals with a few gray hairs can probably remember the first wave of chatbots coming into the commercial space during the dot-com boom of the late '90s.

Consumer brands were the first to launch precursors to bot technology. Companies like AOL created messenger clients, such as Instant Messenger, and others developed interactive phones and automated SMS applications with rudimentary access to text-based databases for stock prices and weather reports.

Brands abandoned the technology when the 2001 dot-com bust cost them much-needed advertising dollars. More than 15 years later, though, the technology has not only reemerged, but it's also making fast-moving forward strides. These modern chatbots—computer programs designed to simulate conversations with human users—represent the evolved form. As evidenced by 1.4 billion people having used the chat app Kik in 2015—and possibly more using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp for business purposes now—it's apparent that the Gartner prediction is accurate, and that the next wave will extend far beyond B2C (business to consumer) and into the realm of B2B.

But is chatbot technology a good fit for professional services companies like law firms?

The Rise of the B2B Machines

Today, B2B chatbots are still more novelty than norm. Following the earlier trend, consumer brands still lead the way in adopting new technology (in this case, chatbots) before other companies hop aboard. Presumably, there are too few use cases to explain how law firms can apply the technology, let alone make an argument for budget. However, that, too, is changing.

For example, a free legal chatbot called DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 parking ticket cases across London and New York, successfully contesting 160,000 of them. That means it has a 64 percent success rate—much cheaper and arguably more efficient than a human attorney.

Billy Bot, another legal chatbot, acts as more of a legal secretary than a full-fledged attorney. The pilot project relieves clerks by answering legal questions they receive from the public, providing basic information, scheduling appointments, and generating viable leads much faster than human workers can.

Intrigued? Before experimenting with a chatbot at your law firm, ask yourself four critical questions:

1. Would a chatbot solve our problem?

Understanding the underlying issue and ensuring there’s a sound marketing and business purpose for a chatbot is the first key to success. Equally important, in order to achieve a return on investment, the technology must gain adoption. So ask yourself, "Is a chatbot a possible solution to this problem?"

2. Do we already have a more universal way to automate user access to this information and/or service?

Chatbots still comprise a very narrow market. The domain is ripe for early disruption, but your initiative may achieve greater success and a faster rate of adoption via more traditional media, such as web-based processes or mobile apps, which are freely available to a large cross-section of your user base.

In some cases, though, a chatbot could be a solid solution.

Stephen Poor, chairman emeritus of Seyfarth Shaw, a firm that uses “software robots” to relay information between programs or apps, says they’ve helped reduce the client onboarding process from 35 minutes to four. Seyfarth’s chatbots allow its lawyers to focus on higher-value work by automating repetitive tasks, extracting client data, and analyzing contracts and contract flows.

3. How likely are misunderstandings to result in frustration, failure, or harm to my firm’s reputation?

If a bot misinterprets a user’s information request, there’s a risk that the resulting response could guide the user in the wrong direction. Chatbot technology is not perfect. Is the risk of imperfection within reason for your application?

Consider Tommy Hilfiger’s recently released TMY.GRL chatbot on Facebook Messenger. Initially, it sounded like a great idea. While it’s reliable to say hello and goodbye, its artificial intelligence fails when the interaction gets deeper. It only half-addresses queries on products, and when users attempt to be more direct or "off the cuff," the conversation can run completely off the rails. This can be damaging to a fashion brand, but it would be devastating to the reputation of a law firm.

4. Is the nature of the content being communicated on the chatbot platform something I should be concerned about?

Professional service standards require that confidential information be kept secure. Does your preferred communication medium permit you to uphold the necessary protocols and professional standards? More specifically, will information need to be encrypted, secured, and properly logged for future evaluation?

If you’re going to use a chatbot, it should to be deployed on a platform that executes against these standards with the appropriate logging and resources to review and audit for compliance. Some businesses only focus on the functionality of a chatbot, not its security. This leaves them potentially vulnerable to cybercriminals looking to steal money, sensitive information, or notoriety.

Keep in mind: There’s a lot for hackers to gain from breaching legal chatbots, as valuable, confidential data is constantly being exchanged. As such, don’t put your firm at risk until you fully comprehend the encryption and security available on your chosen platform.

As with any new technology, the use of chatbots is evolving fast and furiously. If you’re thinking about investing in this space, be sure to allocate sufficient resources and budget to the initiative so you can move quickly to invest, iterate, review, and revise as needed.

Start with a simple, basic application of the technology, and grow it over time. Whatever you do, don’t ignore chatbots. They are the future.

Jaron Rubenstein is the founder and president of Rubenstein Technology Group, a software engineering firm that has launched award-winning websites and mobile applications for numerous top law firms built on the industry-leading RubyLaw content management system.


Reprinted with permission from the May 17, 2017 edition of the Legal Tech News © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. – 877-257-3382 -