Getting to grips with technology-speak – Chatbots

Ask a lawyer about their specialist area of law and they’ll be happy to talk all day. Ask them about the technology that supports their legal practice and they’ll mostly clam up. Why? Because the technology industry seems to have a secret language all of its own that normal business people – and I include lawyers in here – struggle to understand. Two different, but related, terms seem to be cropping up a lot recently. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chatbots. In my previous article, we discussed Artificial Intelligence, what it is and why as a lawyer it is relevant.

In this article, we’ll be looking at Chatbots in a similar way.

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is quite simply a computer programme which conducts a conversation via “auditory” or “textual” methods online. It may simply be scanning for words it recognises in the question you type into your browser or phone. These pop up on websites asking if they can help you. The simplest versions will help you find something on the website, so you tell it in your own words what you’re looking for and it will present you with a selection to choose from. Or it may simply collect contact information and a summary of your question which it then presents to a lawyer as a prospective client.

A chatbot may be much more complex, being programmed to ask for more information until it has enough to enable it to answer a more complex question intelligently. Such as “do I need to engage a lawyer in this matter” or “what sort of fine can I expect for having committed this offence”.

So why should I care?

Chatbots can help reduce overheads such as time spent answering a prospective client’s questions before they decide whether or not to engage you. Or, in the example above, to gather contact and other information about their enquiry on your website which gets submitted.  You can then decide who is best qualified to contact them with more information than you could previously collect using email or a static web form. Using a chatbot also means that your firm can offer some additional information and service availability out of hours which is increasingly becoming a differentiator between firms.  Processes also needs to change internally to ensure a timely response to the new communication channels and a consistent approach to enquiries, regardless of the source. It may also be that you use a more complex chatbot programme on your website to inform a client when they need a lawyer to support them in court. This is an area of ‘intelligent’ technology that we will likely see more of with many new innovative use cases emerging.

If you want to learn more about Chatbots or related technology we have some useful blog posts here

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Martin Langan, Solicitor and Legal IT Consultant Legal Workflow

practice and case management workflow for law firms

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