When most people think of robots, they envision large metal contraptions that move about awkwardly. In recent years, the idea of robots has broadened to encompass all sorts of automated technological systems, such as virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.
In this episode, we’ll explore legal robots. We’ll focus primarily on arguably the most common kind of legal robot—automated chatbots—which deserve special attention because, despite being relatively un-utilized by the majority of the legal community, they have the potential to drastically change the future of the industry.
Three legal technology experts will discuss what chatbots are, why they’re valuable to modern lawyers and legal clients, and how they can be designed to automate a wide variety of legal services. They’ll also take us through some of the limitations of chatbots, and some of the ethical concerns they may pose. Then they’ll touch on some other types of legal robots in the marketplace, and they’ll provide a glimpse of robots in the law firms of tomorrow—including your own.
Matters_A podcast from Clio
Why Robots Matter Today
Tom Martin: What’s really interesting about robots in the legal industry is that they’re incredibly prevalent and they have been for a long time and people just haven’t noticed.
Joshua Lenon: There’s this theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku and what he says is that basically anything that can be done by a robot should be because it’s probably of such a low value that you should have a robot doing it.
Patrick Palace: We are trying to get rid of absolutely every single mundane unskilled task in our office so all that’s left for the lawyers to do is the very highest peak of the pyramid. We will do the litigation that’s where you get our face-to-face the spoke time.
Andrew Booth: I’m Andrew Booth.
Teresa Matich: And I’m Teresa Matich and this is Matters. Matters is a podcast presented by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider where we look at small changes that can make a big impact on your daily life and practice. In this episode we’ll be talking about robots in the legal profession and why they matter.
When most people think of robots they envision large metal contraptions that move about awkwardly and are notoriously bad dancers. While robots have traditionally been defined as machines that accomplish specific physical tasks in recent years the idea of robots has broadened to encompass all sorts of automated technological systems such as virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.
Andrew Booth: Back in Episode 4 of Matters, we delved into the topic of automation in the legal industry. Today we’ll explore legal robots in more detail. We’ll focus primarily and arguably the most common kind of legal robot automated chatbots which deserve special attention because they have the potential to drastically change the future of the industry.
In this episode we’ll discuss what chatbots are? Why they’re valuable to modern lawyers and legal clients and how they can be designed to automate a wide variety of legal services. We’ll also look at some of the limitations of chatbots and some of the ethical concerns they may pose. We’ll briefly touch on some other types of legal robots in the marketplace and then we’ll finish up with a glimpse of robots in the law firms of tomorrow including your own.
Teresa Matich: Chatbots aren’t robots in the machine sense what a chatbot is in essence is a computer program or artificial intelligence that has conversations with human beings and although you may not realize it chatbots are everywhere. Lyft uses chatbots so you can request rides, Fandango uses them to help you find movies Whole Foods uses them to share recipes with you and MasterCard uses them so you can quickly search your transaction history.
On Facebook messenger alone in 2018 businesses used more than 300,000 different bots to communicate with their customers via the social media platform, sending over 8 billion messages each and every month. In legal too chatbots are making their mark even if not all lawyers have noticed yet.
One company that’s pushing to expand this technology throughout the industry is LawDroid which creates products such as its reception bot and LawDroid VoiceBot. Attorney Tom Martin is LawDroid CEO and founder and he believes chatbots help lawyers promote justice in their communities by making legal services more accessible to all.
Tom Martin: So an example of that it’s called reception bot and it basically lives on a lawyer’s website and like a live chat widget when somebody clicks on it, it pops up greets the person and then introduces them to the services, the attorneys, FAQ’s. The difference is that instead of it being staffed by a person it’s staffed by a bot so it’s completely automated.
Teresa Matich: Tom says he was inspired to create LawDroid a few years ago when he read an article about Joshua Browder a young programmer who created an app called DoNotPay that enabled him and others to automatically appeal parking tickets.
Andrew Booth: So this sounds stupid but literally for me like the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I read a news article about his DoNotPay bot and the reason why is I’ve looked at what lawyers do as falling into three categories. There’s document generation, there’s advice and there’s court advocacy.
And so LegalZoom have been really attacking document generation and doing a good job of that but when you have the bots come on to the stage basically you can kill two birds with one stone, you have advice and document generation now and so if there’s something that could do two-thirds of what a lawyer does that’s pretty significant. So I got inspired by him and I thought well I really need to dedicate some time and effort to this and so far I think I have been right.
Teresa Matich: Tom isn’t the only one whose has been inspired by Joshua Browder whose DoNotPay app has continued to add functionalities and is known as the world’s first robot lawyer which enables users to sue anyone at the press of a button.
Patrick Palace: People will get lawyers for a lot of reasons. Can’t afford them, don’t like lawyers, have preconceived notions but still need help. It’s one of those things that Joshua Browder has figured out with his now 15 chatbots, that there are so many answers that people 00:05:43 and chatbots are one of those ways to deliver a wide range of legal services to a wide range of people on their schedule on their time in their way.
Andrew Booth: That’s Patrick Palace owner of Palace Law, a workers’ compensation and personal injury firm in Tacoma, Washington. Patrick’s firm features a chatbot named after its founder the PatBot and Tom Martin helped him create it.
Tom Martin: So it’s a PatBot and we wanted something for our clients that would make accessing the law that we do a lot easier because we know there’s a lot of DIY folks out there who maybe don’t want to talk to a lawyer on the phone and what we did was we created the chatbot that asks about 12 questions and then from that it analyzes all the issues a client may have in his case or her case. And then after it tells a little bit of law and a little bit analysis, the client could push a button, it’s an action button and it launches them into pleadings, forms, letters whatever they need to DIY the case themselves.
So it’s a total do-it-yourself chatbot for people who have workers’ compensation cases in Washington. There is only 350 statutes that form our workers’ compensation laws, and there’s only a hundred years of law supporting it and so for me it was sitting down for hours at a time and condensing, condensing, condensing, condensing so I could ask 12 questions to figure out what’s going on in anyone’s case under any circumstance and give them legitimate answers to their problems, so a big chunk of that was on me to figure it out.
Andrew Booth: Tom sees his chatbots such as his ReceptionBot in the PatBot he built for Palace Law as integral parts of a firm’s processes but he cautions chatbots aren’t do it all robots like Rosie on the Jetsons.
Tom Martin: I think some of the biggest misconceptions are based on people really over thinking it. They hear chatbots, it’s vaguely connected to Artificial Intelligence and then their mind starts racing towards sci-fi movies they’ve seen and they think that they could pretty much ask anything of a chatbot and really where it is right now is a pretty basic, we’re building toasters it’s not a rocket ship.
I think where people get in trouble is they try to have a chatbot do everything. They try to have like an open-ended, ask anything chatbot and that’s doomed to fail for a few reasons. One is people are going to obviously try to break it because they have to prove to the poor little bot that they are a person and they know better and they could ask it what the meaning of life is and the chatbot will be stopped.
The other reason is that even for people that are well meaning and they want to get the information that they need if you build it too open-ended they’re not going to get the answers they want and so they will end up being frustrated and it’s trying to build trust with the person who is visiting the website to guide them down the path to looking at consultation.
Andrew Booth: Tom says chatbots are less useful for low-volume law firms that don’t generate a lot of web traffic but for high-volume law firms and for firms that have a younger client tell chatbots can be a game changer.
Tom Martin: If they have significant traffic being let’s say over 500 unique visitors a month they are going to definitely see value from using a chatbot because right now if they’re not using it they’re leaving money on the table and if they do use it they’re going to convert pretty large percentage of those people into leads that they’re missing out on right now.
I think there’s a lot of opportunity because there’s 99% of lawyers aren’t using it probably 99.9% and it’s a key differentiator especially if you work in a market where you have a younger demographic that is on their phone all the time. I know I am, I know my daughter is, I know my wife is, and that’s the way we communicate so if you want to appeal to people like that then having a chatbot is sitting exactly where they are at,
And so you want to appeal to your customer and so I think if lawyers adopt it there’s a huge amount of growth that they can capture.
Teresa Matich: Joshua Lenon Clio’s Lawyer in Residence speaks to audiences often about the rise of technology in legal practices, and while he’s a fan of chatbots in general he also cautions that they do have some limitations.
Joshua Lenon: Are there limitations to chat box absolutely. They tend to operate in a very linear fashion. Once you go down a branch with a chatbot it’s really hard to backtrack and it’s also really hard to take the evidence of your communication away from you, unless they happen to provide it.
Think of trying to save a text message as anything other than a screenshot that’s hard and chatbots are basically just text messages in terms of interactions. So how are we making sure that we allow chatbots to demonstrate the complexity of an issue, and allow a user to explore all of their options that’s something where they have some really strong limitations.
And if I am any type of civil litigator I’m going to be digging in hard to any chatbot that messes with my client and I’m going to want that evidence.
Teresa Matich: According to Joshua, chatbots when used to accomplish a specific function are extremely useful but as with most forms of technology major potential issues can arise when chatbots aren’t used properly.
Joshua Lenon: Robots are really good at determining kind of instant decisions in the legal industry but they’re not so great at determining the nuances behind those decisions and that becomes problematic as a lot of these robots become much more complex. Are chatbots really robots I think it depends on whether or not they give legal advice.
So a chatbot that guides you through a process is different than a chatbot that tells you which process you should be using. If a lawyer says yes you are eligible for this claim and then hand you off to a chatbot to gather your information, I think that’s just a robot.
If it’s a chatbot that’s trying to determine whether or not you have a right of claim I think it’s actually the unauthorized practice of law and a danger to the client that is relying upon it because we just don’t know if that’s even right and oftentimes there’s no way to audit or hold it accountable on whether or not it is right. So process good, decision-making bad that’s how I categorize these as robots.
Teresa Matich: One thing that both Tom and Patrick emphasize and a function that Joshua sees as the correct usage of chatbots is the way these bots enhance a law firm’s customer service. By using chatbots and other forms of legal automation, law firms can engage potential new clients more effectively provide better experiences for existing clients and nurture client and professional relationships to create more word-of-mouth business.
Patrick Palace: And I think everyone should have one because our community our consumers our citizens need as much help as we can give them and this is a really good way to deliver all the services that we can, and we’ll always practice the litigation side and we will always practice that top of the pyramid, high-end face-to-face work but for the rest of it chatbots are a great answer.
Andrew Booth: For Patrick developing tools like the Patbot begins with thinking about his client’s needs and how to solve them?
Patrick Palace: It’s just changing that mindset of a lawyer to learn how to be a good tech partner, how to think like a tech company to develop things and retool and build and grow, how to find out, how to be consumer centric that’s critical. We’re not building for us. We’re building for you and so continuingly looking at things 00:14:05 of the user from the consumer to offer value for them first and me last.
These are all the things you start to learn when you develop things like this that are critical takeaways that we then use for everything else we do for our whole lengths for the practice now start from this way and it comes from doing something as simple as creating a chatbot.
But I really think the most people want to stay kind of under the radar they really stealth, they don’t want a lawyer, they think we’re going to charge them money, that it is going to be expensive maybe they don’t want to talk about their case at all and those are the people that really get driven into the PatBot and they’re using it by the thousands.
I love seeing our data analytics pouring off every week and every month. We look at the trending charts. It’s doing very well. People are using it and I’m glad and I hope that we’ll keep getting more success with that and getting more people knowledge about their rights and the remedies for these cases.
Andrew Booth: Tom also says that chatbots aren’t just for client intake they can be used to accomplish a broad array of legal functions.
Tom Martin: Yeah so one application other than the front-end before they’ve become a client is on the back-end after they have become a client and we call that one ParalegalBot. We try to give it like obvious names that people can like understand what it’s going to be used for. And so after retention they then have standard questions they do to intake a client, gather documents that kind of stuff we can put that together too.
Patrick Palace: Yeah we all know there’s a huge access to justice gap that is out there and in Washington it’s really terrible. We just finished analyzing the data from our local judiciary on workers comp cases and the state agency, The Department Labor and Industries and found out that of all the workers compensation cases out there 2.7% of injured workers have a legal representation. 150,000 plus a year claims 2.7%.
Probably the thing that surprised me the most has been the abject need I mean it’s been just so much need. I had no idea. When you have your law practice, you feel a little bit like an island and you really don’t know what’s going on in on the other islands and to find out by analyzing these two monstrous databases of The Department Labor And Industries and the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals to see that 2.7% represented was frightening like we have to retool this system.
It’s not for lack of wanting to help these people. we really reach out and try it’s a system that isn’t really built for everybody to have a lawyer, the system needs to change so we’re trying to do that. So we needed to have a tool that felt human that gave human responses that solved real problems and gave real answers that could handle as many people who wanted to use it.
Our piece is amongst others this chatbot which gives people 24/7 access to get legal help, give them legal tools and it doesn’t cost them a penny and for us that’s one of those things that helps bridge that access gap and fits in with our mission in my office.
Teresa Matich: Chatbots are far from the only form of automation in the legal industry and they’re not the only type of robotic or machine like intelligence either. One type of legal robot that Joshua says he encounters often or what’s known as expert systems.
Joshua Lenon: So there’s a category of systems that’s being developed right now that are called expert systems and they’ve been in existence for decades. So Richards Susskind who our audience probably knows is the author of “The End of Lawyers” actually has done a lot of work in helping design expert systems and what they really are is just a big decision tree based on do I fall into X or Y okay we go down the Y branch but they could be incredibly complex. And where they’re more often being implemented is not by the lawyers but by people who are trying to make legal decisions and avoid the legal industry.
So human resources departments will try to determine whether or not somebody is eligible for family leave in the United States based on guided expert systems that ask them questions can seem incredibly interactive just like a chatbot but don’t have to be and give a programmatic response. One of the tools that is being used to build these in the legal tech space is Neota Logic and it’s a great tool but it can be misapplied just like any other piece of technology.
Andrew Booth: Another type of legal robot, so to speak, is what’s commonly referred to as machine learning which is a subset of Artificial Intelligence Technology. What machine learning does as you might imagine is learn. It uses huge amounts of data to become more informed and to help people make more educated decisions by recognizing trends and patterns in the data.
And Joshua says this type of technology is being used more and more frequently in big law and corporate environments.
Joshua Lenon: Legal is uniquely setup for some types of this analysis especially when we look at the way judgments are published and the language of citation that is used within judgments it creates a really great feedback cycle for a machine learning tool that doesn’t necessarily exist in say dentistry.
The drawback to it is that it does start from this blank slate. It doesn’t have human judgment so it always does need a person looking at the end result and being like no that’s crazy that pattern exists we have to change that but can also spot patterns that you never would have recognized before and so especially when you take a deep dataset and then apply it to this new dataset.
So and that’s why it’s becoming really popular in big law when they do these really document intensive tasks like mergers and acquisition due diligence and you’re looking through hundreds of thousands of contracts to find the one contract that will scuttle the deal, these are the type of tools that become really powerful.
We also see a similar approach being used in natural language processing for e-discovery and this is a coded predictive text where I can take the e-mails of an entire company in a dispute and say these are the 80 terms that will probably be in these e-mails, go find those 80 terms and we’ll review 10% of what turns up to see if we are on target. And if that 10% is good then a 100% of these documents are deemed relevant and submitted to the case and if they’re not then we do it again until we get a good 10%.
So again there’s always this human interaction but it’s on a much smaller scale now than before where we would have an army of lawyers locked in a basement, clicking relevant not relevant. Now we have a platoon of lawyers locked in a basement, clicking relevant and not relevant, but moving the process forward at a faster and broader more complex rate than ever before.
Teresa Matich: For the future of the legal industry the use of chatbots has far-reaching implications and while Tom acknowledges that robots and automation will inevitably change the way law firms operate, he strongly disagrees with those who expect machines to completely replace lawyers.
Tom Martin: So what it means for the legal market there’s two ways it can go. I mean on the consumer end yes there will be and there are already some types of I’ll call them you know lawyers substitute bots, one’s called VisaBots and it could basically handle some basic immigration visa applications and things like that but it’s pretty low-end stuff.
The other way it could go is that could assist lawyers with making their life easier by handling a lot of the repetitive and mundane tasks. I don’t think lawyers will ever be replaced partly I’m biased because I am a lawyer myself, but even when I look at it from the vendor side having a chatbot company LawDroid I still think that there’s a huge place for lawyers because the expertise and skill and experience that a lawyer develops is really invaluable.
And so what we’re talking about here really is building bots to deal with the repetitive mundane stuff that the lawyers if they’re dealing with it they really shouldn’t be. I think that lawyers will probably become more and more specialized. They’ll have specific issues that they focus on and become real deep experts in and I think that’ll continue over time and probably become even more so.
What it probably means on the flipside of that is the old style generalists at least in major metropolitan areas will probably not be as much of a job description for lawyers I think specialization is the way of the future for lawyers.
Teresa Matich: Joshua for the most part agrees. One thing he stresses though is the continual need for the legal industry to think about the questions that new technologies like chatbots and machine learning pose.
Joshua Lenon: I think we’re hitting the point where automation butts up against the practice of law and historically this has always been the gray area where lawyers rebel. So can a robot do my job? Yes so is it the practice of law at that point? It’s a legitimate question that we’ll be asking ourselves as a self-regulated industry.
I think there are couple things working in lawyers favor when it comes to this. We’re seeing some regulatory changes that are coming in favor of lawyers as it comes to competing with bots. California has a law that looks for example that requires you to identify when you’re interacting with an automated process like a chatbot.
And so that does help clients and potential clients weigh the information that they’re being given and know that it might be possible to dive further with an expert that has human judgment. And we’ll see and I have advised this to happen that law firms that own chatbots always have an exit procedure from that chatbot to talk to a person.
So just like when you’re on the phone on hold you keep pressing zero to get a person chatbot should always have that zero option.
Teresa Matich: For lawyers who are interested in using chatbots or other types of legal automation at their practices Joshua, Tom and Patrick have some practical tips.
Tom Martin: You can’t go wrong with starting small and just automating one simple thing so it might be somebody who visits your website and you want to guide them to filling out your contact us form right? That’s a great use for a robot and there are some phenomenal tools out there that make that possible both legal and non-legal.
It could be that you’re looking to do a better job of legal research and so you may switch from the Lexuses out there to a tool like Fastcase, Bad Law Bot or Casetext and there are automated document review tools that are out there. So don’t be afraid to take a look at these especially right now, the field is still young, very competitive and there are some great deals to be had.
So pick just one area you want to automate, give it a try over the weekend and if you like it add a second.
Patrick Palace: One tool that I suggest to everyone is a free one, it’s called chatfuel and create a basicbot and put some dialogue into it. You can even have like if yes then it goes in one direction if no it goes in a different direction and you could put images and video and stuff like that into it. I would open an account play around with it and see what you can do.
What I found with people that have done that and taking me up on that advice is that they come back to me with so many different ideas about what they’d like to do and I think that’s really the key is to open your mind to the possibilities.
Andrew Booth: The legal robots like Rosie from the Jetsons may be a long way off. Chatbots like ReceptionBot, LawDroid Voice, and Patbot are already making a big difference for firms and clients alike. In the years ahead artificially intelligent technology in the forms of chatbots, expert systems and machine learning will play an increasingly large role in automating repetitive processes at law firms, so legal professionals can do more of the skilled work that they care about.
If you’re interested in chatbots and would like to learn more Tom recommends reading chatbots magazine online. Also check out the resources section of this podcast where you can find examples of legal robots in action.
Teresa Matich: Thanks for listening to the seventh episode of Matters. Matters is produced by Andrew Booth, Sam Rosenthal, Teresa Matich, and Derek Bolen and by Clio the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider. Be sure to subscribe to Matters so you never miss an episode. If you’d like to learn more about Clio please visit us at Clio.com.