May/June 2021

Marketing: Harnessing AI Web Apps and Chat Bots for Content Marketing

Greg Siskind

Regular readers of this column know my bias for “content” marketing—writing articles for a website, publishing a book, blogging, posting explainer videos and so on. Add to that a new form of content—web apps and chatbots that harness artificial intelligence to engage people in a new way. I’ll be spending the next couple of columns exploring this new space in legal marketing. This first column provides a basic introduc­tion, and in future columns, I’ll talk about how to shop for a soft­ware platform, developing content and marketing your creations.

These new tools are usually labeled expert systems because they replicate an attorney’s legal analysis. They can be used for all sorts of functions including screening for eligibility for a benefit or a cause of action, helping to onboard clients, auto­mating document creation, etc. These operate in web browsers and in chat windows on mobile devices. 

These expert system tools can serve a variety of purposes including:

  • Helping potential clients determine how the law may apply to them.
  • Connecting clients with the right lawyer in a law firm based on answers to screening questions.
  • Providing lawyers with a detailed analysis of a potential cli­ent’s situation (including recommended legal strategies and potential red flags).
  • Building legal documents or automating processes that lawyers can potentially sell to a user.
  • Building apps that firms can sell to one another, possibly on a white-label basis.

Some of these tools have been around for a while, but what has changed is that they can be developed on software platforms that don’t require computer programming skills. These so-called no-code platforms are getting easier to use, and lawyers are starting to develop apps with minimal assistance from technology pros. I know this to be true because I’m one of those lawyers. I don’t have any coding skills, but I have now developed a number of apps on my own as well as in conjunction with tech professionals.

We are using Afterpattern to develop apps. (Afterpattern recently changed its name from Community.lawyer since it’s expanding its market beyond the legal profession.) There are other tools out there with similar capabilities including Neota Logic and Josef. For bot development, LawDroid is a proven product. We’re also developing chatbots on a platform we created for ourselves.

Rather than trying to describe what these tools can do, I think it’s easier to give examples of apps I’ve developed alone or with colleagues. Here are three very different ones we’ve been working on over the past several months at our immigration law firm.

Travel Ban App.

In the first week of his administration, then-President Donald Trump started rolling out bans on the entry of large groups of individuals to the United States. First there was the Muslim ban, then bans on people in countries deemed to have COVID problems, then people in a variety of temporary and permanent residency categories. All have very complicated rules regarding who is covered and what exemp­tions might be available. Sometimes more than one ban applies to the same person. President Joe Biden has continued several of these for now.

At the beginning of 2020, I created an app that asks the nec­essary questions to determine whether a person is impacted by any of the bans. A person is taken through an interview where the questions change depending on how prior questions are answered. At the end, users are provided with a report outlin­ing how they appear to be affected and providing information on scheduling a consultation with a lawyer to discuss their options.

The app has evolved as the bans have expanded and as new exemptions were rolled out. Last June, I received advance warning that a ban on approximately 500,000 high-skilled temporary workers was going to be issued, which would cause massive chaos with people across the United States and throughout the world. I was able to prepare an update to the app that I announced on social media at the moment Trump signed the executive order. The demand for the free app was so great that it crashed Afterpattern’s servers. I ended up creating a charity paywall where we charged a small fee and donated the proceeds to a couple of worthy nonprofits to slow down the traffic.

Foreign Physician Recruiting Advisor.

One of the most complicated immigration law specialties involves the hiring of foreign medical doctors. I co-authored a 400-plus-page book on the subject, if that gives you an idea. The need for these doctors is great, but there are so many variables that go into assessing whether a doctor can be sponsored for a visa that a lawyer really needs to be consulted, and it often takes a few days to provide an answer. Unfortunately, that slows the process and can be expensive, so it deters many employers from recruiting these doctors—a loss to them since there’s a severe shortage of doctors in the country and a loss for us since we don’t get the matter to work on. Consequently, we’ve eaten this cost and waive our fees for this initial screening.

We decided to build an app that would take clients through an extensive interview, apply the rules in the applicable state, pull wage and shortage area data from government websites and then provide an instant assessment—red light, yellow light, green light—regarding the likelihood of success as well as infor­mation on why the app decided as it did. This saves us consider­able time we would normally give away and provides the clients an answer much faster than we could even if paid to do the research. We think it will be a game-changer in our field.

ConsultBot.

We’re currently testing a bot aimed at people coming in for an initial con­sultation. When individuals contact our firm to set up an appointment, a paralegal must spend time collecting information from the person to determine which lawyer at the firm is best qualified to address the person’s situation. And when a person is in their initial consultation, the lawyer will typically spend as much as 20 minutes asking a variety of questions to under­stand the person’s situation before discussing strategies to achieve what they’re needing.

We’ve created a chatbot that automates this. Our bot is an elab­orate decision tree with hundreds of potential questions built in, but it’s designed to take a client 10 to 20 minutes to complete. At the end, the person is directed to schedule an appointment via the web with the most appropriate attorney, and the attorney is provided a detailed report with the chat transcript, recommen­dations for strategies as well as identified red flags. The attorney can start a consultation discussing strategy and process and save everyone considerable time. It also reduces the risk of an attorney missing something in the consultation that could be a problem later. Finally, it’s a great training tool for newer lawyers.

The apps all address pain points in legal marketing as well as the delivery of client services. Every lawyer faces similar challenges and now can be a lot more creative about solving them because automation tools exist that can transform an idea into software.

For a sampling of a number of other automations, go to https://info.afterpattern.com/featured-automations or check out some of ours at visalaw.ai.

Greg Siskind

Attorney

Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer and a co-author of the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet, Third Edition. gsiskind@visalaw.com

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