March 01, 2019 March/April 2019

Marketing Automation for Lawyers

Using a chatbot can be almost as beneficial as cloning yourself.

Thomas G. Martin

Nowadays you can order the latest blockbuster movie with Alexa, watch it on your voice-enabled ultrahigh-definition display, get driving directions from Siri, book a hotel room with an automated customer service agent and have a conversation with a chatty artificial intelligence.

In today’s world people have been accustomed to immediate engagement. Some would say we have developed a habit of distraction. You only need look around and you’ll probably catch at least one person checking his or her phone for a message as you read this article.

So what does this have to do with you as a lawyer, and how could you benefit? But before we explore the strategy and tactics involved in using chatbots for automating marketing, let’s consider the problem chatbots are intended to solve.

Defining the Problem: Limited Time

If you’re like most practicing lawyers, you’re busy with work for existing clients but need new business to survive. It’s a difficult juggling act to do both.

If you’re a solo practitioner, you may be writing a brief under a strict deadline to file by the end of the business day when a potential new client calls and you just can’t bring yourself to answer the phone. You have to choose between the certainty of your ethical duty to a client and the theoretical possibility of additional income from retaining a new client with a new case.

Or you might be a linesman at your kid’s soccer game on a rainy Saturday when you get a new text inquiry from a potential client and you just can’t respond without risking missing a play. (Yes, that one indeed happened to me just recently.) If you work with a law firm, this same problem may be magnified several times across several associates and/or partners who share the responsibility for returning calls.

Experience teaches us that the potential new client will not wait. They’ll continue down their list of lawyers (via Google, Avvo or Yelp) until they have either talked to a lawyer who’ll work with them or they have booked a consultation.

This is what I call the “lawyer’s dilemma.” Each of us has only 24 hours a day to invest.

The Missing Six Hours

The existence of this dilemma also appears to be supported by data, not just anecdotal evidence. In its inaugural 2017 Legal Trends Report, Clio famously identified a “missing” six hours in a lawyer’s average eight-hour workday.

Let me unpack that.

First, Clio is a legal practice management software that has more than 150,000 lawyer/law firm customers who use the software for, among other things, sending clients bills for hourly legal work, so the data Clio gathered about its users’ billing practices was statistically significant.

Second, the six hours were “missing” in the sense that lawyers were not billing for those six hours. The report made a distinction between hours used for legal work versus billed hours versus hours for which attorney fees were collected. According to the Clio 2017 Legal Trends Report, lawyers used 2.3 out of eight hours for legal work, only billed for 1.9 hours and ended up collecting just 1.6 hours. Hence the missing six hours.

Third, the analysis appears to be based on an idealized eight-hour workday. As many of us practicing lawyers know, hours at the office easily go beyond that figure and can end up in the more than 12-hour range if a colleague is on vacation or sick, or if there is a rush of business, or if a trial date is looming—any one of which is not an uncommon event. So, to make it clear, we may be missing far more than six hours.

Needless to say, this revelation was shocking at the time, and it still is to think that we don’t get paid for 75 percent of the time we spend at work.

Breaking It Down

When we drill down on the missing six hours, we find that 48 percent of that time is spent on administrative tasks and 33 percent is invested in winning new business.

And, as if the missing six hours wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the mental fatigue associated with switching between different tasks. Clio reports that 25 percent of legal professionals are interrupted more than 10 times per day, and 30 percent are interrupted between six and 10 times per day. If you’ve ever had a mobile phone ringing, pinging or buzzing while you try to hold a conversation, you understand the stress involved in trying to not be distracted.

Research conducted at the University of California, Irvine shows that it takes knowledge workers, like lawyers, 23 minutes on average to resume work after being interrupted by an unrelated task, text or email. So if you multiply 10 interruptions per day by 23 minutes each, you end up with almost four hours of lost time.

Cal Newport stated it best when he said, “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” Certainly good legal work requires focus and attention to detail. But, without new clients, there won’t be any legal work to do.

So how can we minimize the noise of distraction, lower the number of missing hours, enhance the signal of satisfying legal work and increase business?

A New Solution: Bots

The traditional answer to this question has been for the fortunate firms that have the financial resources to just hire more people. Throwing bodies at the problem may work to isolate the marketing function from lawyers, so lawyers can focus on quality legal work and marketing people can focus on the potential new business.

But what if your firm doesn’t have the financial resources? Or what if you do have the money, but you’re looking to run a leaner, more profitable law practice?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could automate parts of your firm’s marketing, so you could expand your reach without having to hire additional staff? Or if you already have staff focused on marketing, free them up from some of the mundane repetitive tasks so they can focus on higher value prospecting?

That now becomes possible with chatbots.

What Is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that automates a conversation or task. Although the definition is deceptively simple, the breadth of applications for chatbots is not.

It might surprise you, but chatbots are not a new thing. Created in 1964 at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, ELIZA was the first chatbot. ELIZA was a natural language processing program that simulated conversation by using a “pattern matching” and substitution methodology that gave users an illusion of understanding on the part of the program. Instructions on how to interact were provided by “scripts” that allowed ELIZA to process user inputs and engage in discourse following the rules and directions of the script. The most famous script was one in which ELIZA mimicked the manner and conversation of a psychotherapist.

Things haven’t changed much in terms of the basic structure of how chatbots work. Modern chatbots still use natural language processing to identify user intent and match that against a script of dialogue that dictates the scope of the conversation.

In 1964 it required a full bank of IBM 7090 series computers. In 2018 all you need is a smartphone.

What has changed in the last 50 years is how cheap and abundant the hardware and software necessary to create a chatbot is. Another game-changer is that modern chatbots can pull and push data to and from another computer. So now, if you’d like to know the weather in London on Tuesday, your chatbot can ask a weather service and return the forecast to you. It can also get any other kind of information. The possibilities now are only limited by your imagination. Just think: If you could automate any conversation, which ones would you automate?

The Chatbot Explosion

Chatbots exploded back onto the scene in spring 2016 when Facebook opened its Messenger platform to chatbots. You had chatbots for checking the weather (Poncho), a chatbot for getting medical advice (WebMD), a chatbot for appealing a traffic ticket (DoNotPay), a chatbot for booking a hotel room (Botlr) and a chatbot for ordering flowers (1800flowers). You name it, there’s now a bot for that. At one point chatbots were lauded as the new apps.

It’s not a surprise that new technology leads to experimentation with that technology—and that not all experiments are successful. For example, one chatbot infused with artificial intelligence developed by Microsoft (TayTweets) learned to have a bad attitude from the people it engaged with on Twitter. But you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. You learn lessons about what works and what doesn’t and improve the best you can, one step at a time. As Voltaire once said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The good here is productivity and scalability. Many forward-thinking companies looked to chatbots as a way of expanding their customer reach and improving their bottom line.

Chatbot Consolidation

In 2018 we saw the afterglow of the hype and success surrounding chatbots, reflected in many chatbots being retired or acquired by more established companies.

Motion AI, a popular chatbot builder platform, was acquired by HubSpot, a leading marketing company, to enhance its marketing customer relations management and lead acquisition. LogMeIn, a cloud-based collaboration, IT management and customer engagement company, acquired Nanorep, an artificial intelligence and chatbot start-up to broaden its customer relations management product Bold360. ServiceNow, a business process automation company, acquired machine learning chatbot platform Parlo to incorporate its customer ticket management business. API.ai was acquired by Google. IBM has expanded its Watson offerings. Wit.ai was acquired by Facebook, and the list goes on.

What the consolidation of the chatbot market has taught us is that this technology—chatbots and artificial intelligence—is real and valued by some of the largest and smartest companies. They use it to improve efficiencies and increase customer engagement.

Gartner Inc. predicts that 25 percent of customer service operations will use chatbots by 2020. If it works for the Fortune 500, it can work for you.

The Power of Conversation

So, you might ask yourself, What’s the big deal? Why do I need a chatbot? Isn’t this the same information people can find on my website? Isn’t that working pretty well?

Well, the answer to that last question is not really. “Bounce rates” for lawyer websites is high. Bounce rate is measured by the percentage of people who visit one page on your website without clicking on any other page before they leave. They literally bounce in and out of your website. On average, visitors to law firm websites visit 1.5 pages each and then they’re gone. Anything that will increase user engagement can only help to improve converting anonymous website visitors into leads.

Also, what’s different about chatbots, and what makes them compelling, is that they harness the power of conversation and immediate engagement. What potential new clients who visit a legal website want is answers and, ideally, their legal problem solved. A static website doesn’t get them there fast enough. A chatbot, by contrast, can serve up the information people are looking for in quick, user-friendly and interactive way.

Website Visitor: When are you open?

Bot: Our hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Website Visitor: I got a DUI, can you help me?

Bot: You probably have a lot of questions. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you learn more ...

Website Visitor: I’d like to book a consultation.

Bot: I’d be happy to do that. But, first, would you mind if I ask you a few questions to see if our services are a good fit for your needs?

These are just some of the ways that you can have a bot engage with potential new clients.

Marketing Automation: AI and Chatbots

Maybe you have memories of vendors trying to sell you on a website, a blog, social media or any number of shiny, new, must-have services and are reluctant to consider chatbots as a solution that could work for you. Maybe you don’t have the time to figure out a new technology. Maybe you don’t get what the benefit is. Maybe you don’t care.

If this is you, let me ask you this question: Have you ever been so busy you wish you could clone yourself? If the answer is yes, then you need to consider chatbots if only for the ability to offload specific tasks and conversations that are mundane, repetitive and don’t add intrinsic value. If a robot can do it, a robot should do it. Or, as the renowned theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku has put it, “The job market of the future will consist of those jobs that robots cannot perform.”

When time is the most precious commodity we have, why not focus on what you excel at—the legal work—and let a bot assist you and your staff with marketing?

You could use chatbots in a few different ways to market you and your law firm: to interact with potential new clients on social media channels, like Facebook or Twitter; or to virtually staff a live chat widget on your website; or to conduct preliminary intake interviews to provide visitors with valuable information about their legal issues while also identifying high-value cases for the firm.

An Example: Website Visitor Engagement

Let’s take a concrete example of how a chatbot can help automate your firm’s marketing and provide you with the benefit of being able to virtually clone yourself: the live chat widget. (See Figure 1 for an example of such a widget.)

There are many companies that sell software for you to install a live chat widget on your site. The idea is that an anonymous website visitor has questions and can engage with someone in real time to get answers to their questions and possibly become a qualified lead. The trick, of course, is you must have a person available from your firm to chat with the visitor.

Ideally you would staff the live chat widget with yourself, of course. The best solution is for the lawyer (who has a wealth of legal knowledge and a broad range of experience about who makes a good or bad client) to staff the live chat widget. But that solution is not viable because lawyers have court appearances, meetings, phone calls and a lot of legal work to keep them far too busy to dedicate all their time to staffing a live chat widget on their website.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could clone yourself? Well, now with chatbots, you can essentially do that.

There are companies that offer to staff the live chat widgets for you. One downside is that some of the companies can’t staff your widget 24/7/365. I know of one such company that had staff in the Philippines waylaid by a typhoon and unable to operate. Another downside is that the scope of the live chat dialog is narrow, usually amounting to the live chat staffer pestering the visitor for their name and phone number so a lawyer can call them back. Like with most things, people want to get to know you first before sharing their personal information.

Using a chatbot instead to automate your on-site marketing is a great alternative and offers a number of valuable benefits.

Immediate Engagement

By using a chatbot, you can “staff” your live chat widget 24/7/365 without interruption.

Consumer surveys show that chatbots address modern consumer expectations. The Ubisend 2017 Chatbot Report found when asked “What’s most important when communicating with a company?” 68 percent of consumers responded that “reaching the desired outcome” was paramount, followed by “ease of experience” (48 percent), “speed” (44 percent) and “convenient time” (39 percent).

Chatbots deliver these outcomes, in large part, because they operate 24/7/365. They also remove friction and—at least if they are thoughtfully designed to solve users’ real problems—do so immediately. In fact, 69 percent of consumers would consider talking to a chatbot over a human being because a chatbot can provide an instantaneous answer.

Scripted Best Practices

The scope of the chatbot’s conversation with a potential new client can be as narrow or as broad as you want it to be and can incorporate images, video and documents. It’s up to you.

Usually, the best approach is to script dialogue for a few key areas that visitors would likely want to learn more about. Some examples include the services you provide with a thumbnail description of each, frequently asked questions for each practice area, pricing (if appropriate), attorney biographies, office hours and directions, and how to book a consultation. Even better, you can script disqualifying questions that a visitor must answer before they can secure a consultation; those who don’t qualify are referred to the local county lawyer referral service.

The beauty of this approach is that you can train a chatbot as you would train a new staffer, to reflect the voice, culture and knowledge of your law firm. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.

Scalable Capacity

This is where the real power of using an automated solution kicks in.

The live chat widget works well when staffed by a real person when you have a one-to-one real-time conversation. But what happens when you have more than one visitor wanting to chat at the same time? You’ll need more staff. What about five, 10 or more? A lot more. Sometimes a marketing message—such as a news story, radio or television spot, or water cooler talk—causes multiple people to visit your website simultaneously. A human-staffed solution can’t keep up.

A chatbot marketer, on the other hand, can scale to tens or hundreds of simultaneous conversations. Capacity isn’t an issue. And even if you think you’ll never have to worry about having that kind of volume on your website, you’ll certainly be happy you decided to use a chatbot if it ever does so you won’t skip a beat or miss a potential lead.

Analytics and Data

Another way in which chatbots shine is they produce insights and data that a human-operated live chat widget can’t match.

Where did the website visitor originate from? When asked whether they reside in the jurisdiction you serve, what percentage answered yes versus no? How many people sought information about service descriptions, and which service was the most popular? Which attorney biographies did the person select? How many people opted to book a consultation versus those who didn’t? What were their stated reasons why? These are all data points you could collect and analyze when using a chatbot. The data is transparent and doesn’t require you to mine individual chat transcripts to get a global understanding of how users are interacting with your chatbot.

You can also use chatbot conversation logs to improve the conversations your chatbots are having with your website visitors. Is there a question that users are asking that doesn’t yet have a scripted answer? Is there a bottleneck that appears to be created by how a question is phrased? Is there something you didn’t anticipate that users are bringing to your attention? With logs you can identify these key points for improvement and then quickly fix them, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Conclusion

Chatbots are not the wave of the future. Bots are a useful tool you can employ to extend your reach and win more clients right now. As a tool, a chatbot is not a set-it-and-forget-it solution; you need a marketing strategy, and you need to continually improve your game by learning from experience (i.e., data). With chatbots you’ll be much better informed and have much finer control over the impression you make and the message you send to prospective clients.

Thomas G. Martin

Thomas G. Martin is a legal bot advocate, lawyer, author and speaker. He is CEO and founder of LawDroid Ltd., a legal artificial intelligence company dedicated to helping lawyers automate their law practices. He is also co-founder of Vancouver Legal Hackers, an advisor to the Access to Justice Tech Fellow Program, a member of the ARAG Technology Innovation Committee, a board member of the Group Legal Services Association and a mentor at the Yale Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking. tom@lawdroid.com

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