Many lawyers are curious about chatbots but have little knowledge of how they can be applied in their legal practice. In this episode of The Digital Edge, hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk to Tom Martin about how chatbots are being put to work in the legal industry. Tom talks about his background as a lawyer and shares what spurred his interest in developing chatbots. They discuss how this technology frees up lawyers’ time and helps them connect with more clients. Tom also offers his advice for lawyers interested in getting into the legal tech space.
Tom Martin is CEO and founder of LawDroid Ltd.
Special thanks to our sponsors, ServeNow, Scorpion, Answer1, and Clio.
The Digital Edge
How Can Chatbots Help Your Law Firm
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 137th edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. We are glad to have you with us.
I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is How Can Chatbots Help Your Law Firm.
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we would like to thank our sponsors.
Thanks to our sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com. That’s clio.com.
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We are very pleased to have as our guest Tom Martin, a legal bot advocate, lawyer, author and speaker. He is CEO and Founder of LawDroid, Ltd., a legal AI company dedicated to helping lawyers automate their law practices. Tom is also a Co-Founder of Vancouver Legal Hackers, Advisor to the ATJ Tech Fellows Program, member of ARAG Technology Innovation Committee, board member of Group Legal Services Association, and mentor at the Yale Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking.
Born and raised in California, Tom now lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife and two daughters.
Thanks for joining us today Tom.
Tom Martin: Well, thank you so much for having me Jim and Sharon. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well Tom, let’s start out with a little history, prior to holding your current position at LawDroid, how long did you practice law and where?
Tom Martin: Well, thank you. Yeah, I have been practicing for a while. I graduated from Law School in 1997, from UCLA School of Law, and so over 20 years as a practicing lawyer in California.
Sharon D. Nelson: Wow, that is a long time.
Tom Martin: Yes.
Sharon D. Nelson: And you have escaped.
Tom Martin: Thankfully.
Jim Calloway: When did you found LawDroid and what gave you the idea for creating chatbots for lawyers? Are you responsible for developing the chatbots or do you have a technical team? How did you find your tech development team and what kind of tech do you need to manage them? Lots of questions Tom.
Tom Martin: Yeah, that’s a few of them. I mean the first is that I founded LawDroid about two-and-a-half years ago, I think coming up on three, and what inspired me was a young man from London, Joshua Browder. He had created this chatbot that was helping people get out of traffic tickets in London. And I know it sounds strange to admit it, but when I read a news article about what he was doing, about four years ago, it gave me goosebumps because I thought well, the way that you could apply this into law would be fantastic. And so I really had to jump on it and start my own company to create chatbots in the legal industry.
In terms of who is responsible, as the lawyer I do handle the legal aspects of creating a bot, like the scripting, like where there is opportunities for chatbots in the law and also thinking through some of the things from my own experience that clients might ask and how to deal with those types of questions.
We work very closely with legal expert partners, which are our clients, to make things specific for the jurisdiction in which we are working, but I really rely on my tech team to put it together. I have a smattering of HTML, CSS and some PHP knowledge, but that’s pretty old by today’s standards.
And how I found the team was really organic over time. Some of them through friends, some of them through freelancers, and then ultimately it kind of solidified as a responsible reliable team that I have now that helps me in implementing these visions that I have of what I want to accomplish.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, let’s talk for a minute about access to justice. Why are chatbots more useful in your opinion for completion of forms than say a fillable form with instructions or a chat feature on a website?
Tom Martin: Yeah, I appreciate that question, I have gotten it before, and sometimes lawyers, when they look at it they look at just the result, right, so they think well, the result is the same, so why does it really make a difference how you interact with the computer system.
What I found from talking to the actual users, which I highly recommend to anyone, especially people developing computer software, and lawyers too, is to get out there and actually talk to users. And the feedback that I have gotten from them is that there is something that is inherently engaging about a back and forth conversation with a bot; it could either be by text, which as we all know we all do this nowadays and it’s something that is pretty addictive.
And it could also be by voice, which by handling the conversation and a legal interview by voice, it actually breaks down a lot of literacy issues, accessibility issues, and it does it in a way that a static form on a website just can’t match.
Jim Calloway: We hear a lot about artificial intelligence today, just how intelligent are chatbots?
Tom Martin: Well, that’s another question that I get often about how intelligent chatbots are, and to be honest with you, they really don’t need to be that intelligent to accomplish a lot and be very powerful.
So there’s two types of chatbots; one handles a very structured dialogue, where it’s conducting an interview, like a lawyer would, getting certain pieces of information to create a document and so that’s all very structured.
But you also have a chatbot, it could be the same one actually that handles questions that come up on the fly, and when it does that, it does have to employ some level of AI in terms of natural language processing to understand that if somebody asked a question one way or a different way, that inherently they are asking the same thing and know how to answer it.
And when I say know how to answer it, keep in mind the bot isn’t coming up with an answer on its own, it’s not that smart. We have the answer scripted into it, but it’s the part about recognizing what the question is that is where AI comes in. We are not yet at a point where we just give a bunch of law books to a bot to kind of digest and come up with its own legal knowledge.
Jim Calloway: And many of our listeners hope we don’t get to that point, right, Sharon?
Sharon D. Nelson: That’s right. And it is refreshing to hear a vendor admit the limitations of a bot.
Tom Martin: For sure, and there is a lot of things that it can do really well, which is that structured conversation.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is, How Can Chatbots Help Your Law Firm, and our guest is Tom Martin, a legal bot advocate, lawyer, author and speaker. He is CEO and Founder of LawDroid, Ltd., a legal AI company dedicated to helping lawyers automate their law practices.
So Tom, a lot of times I hear lawyers ask, what kind of things can I actually use chatbots for, so what kind of projects do these chatbots handle?
Tom Martin: Well, one way to think about chatbots is that they are like virtual assistants, and so you can program them to handle some rudimentary tasks that you don’t want to do yourself, which is a great thing at times.
One that works really well and actually is a pretty popular product that we provide to a number of different lawyers and law firms is what we call reception bot. And so that’s a bot that lives on your website, in the lower right hand corner, a lot of people have seen a live chat where you talk with somebody who is presumably overseas and doesn’t know anything about the law firm, that they talk with you.
Well, what this does is it’s the same kind of experience where you have a pop-up chat interface, but it’s a computer that’s speaking with you. And I think the irony there is that actually the scope of the conversation with one of our bots is much broader than you would get with a real human being, because we cover everything from the nature of the services, to pricing, to background on the lawyers, showing and sharing pictures of the lawyers. And getting a lot of information to the user as quickly as possible and as conveniently as possible, and also even integrating with their CRM. So if someone wants to schedule a consultation, they can do that immediately. So it’s really great at converting people from anonymous website visitors into leads.
A different way of using a bot would be for intake, for example. Like let’s say you have landed the client and you need them to sign the engagement letter and you want to do an interview that you normally do yourself to get all this information from the client. Well, instead of you having to spend an hour to two hours gathering that information yourself, they can have this conversation with the chatbot.
The last way is the subject of some access to justice projects that we have had recently with Tennessee, where someone could sit down and they can talk to a bot over the course of about 20 minutes. It gathers the information from them to put together some simple divorce documents. So these are some of the different ways that a bot can be used to save time and effort.
Jim Calloway: You used the example of divorce, have you thought much about what types of law practices would find the bots most useful?
Tom Martin: You know, all of them. And yeah, you might say, well, he is saying that because he wants all that business, and you would be true — that would be true. I think that honestly it can be applied to any practice area. I mean you have to — as you both know, ultimately a law firm is providing services and it is a business, and so regardless of practice area, there are certain fundamentals to running that business, converting leads, intaking the client, conducting interviews, creating legal documents, regardless of what practice area it is, those are pretty common themes.
And chatbots are good at automating the simple tasks for you, so you can save time and essentially clone yourself so that you could be doing more things at once, and who wouldn’t rather be sitting by the pool, relaxing, while you have a bot handling these more minor tasks for you.
Sharon D. Nelson: I think everybody would rather be by the pool. I think the chatbot developers have come a very long way in the last five years, but what kind of goals do they have over the next five years?
Tom Martin: I think the next five years really is about deepening the experience for users. Up until now I have to admit that — especially a few years ago, it was pretty frustrating to have a conversation with a bot, and to a certain extent it still is, and the reason why is because I think it has to do with Hollywood, and I really blame Hollywood for raising people’s expectations to a level that is really not yet possible, because when you go to the movies and you see any AI on a movie screen, it has humans or superhuman intelligence, and what we are working with right now is just not there yet.
There is one guy on Twitter that had quoted — he was quoted as saying that what we are doing with AI is not how — it’s actually like making washing machines and we are at that functional level right now. And so if you are using it for a specific task or function, it works really well, but if you are expecting it to have an intelligent conversation about, I don’t know, 19th Century French Art, it’s not going to be able to do that.
So I think over time it’s going to get much better at having fuller conversations and be much more intelligent in the way they we are expecting it to be.
Jim Calloway: Well, as you know, Sharon and I both do legal tech rather than traditional law practice, what have your experiences been like working for a legal tech company as compared to a traditional law practice?
Tom Martin: My experience has been that it’s really been liberating. Working for a legal tech company, founding one on my own, has really given me the ability to get at certain problems that I have dealt with as a lawyer that I never have really been able to get my hands around until now.
And I think what’s really rewarding about it is that I get to solve problems, not only for myself, but for hundreds and thousands of other lawyers who have very similar problems. I mean, what we do is not that different from each other, and especially for solos or small firms, you kind of feel isolated and that you are toiling away in your office with these problems that seem insurmountable and to be able to come out of that from having — and doing that myself, and now be able to help others with those same problems is really fulfilling.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is, How Can Chatbots Help Your Law Firm, and our guest is Tom Martin, a legal bot advocate, lawyer, author and speaker. He is CEO and Founder of LawDroid, Ltd.
So Tom, this sounds like a funny question coming from me, since I founded my own legal tech company, but what advice do you have for other lawyers interested in starting a legal tech company; we will compare our advice here?
Tom Martin: Yeah, I think that they should just do it. I think lawyers have a tendency to get caught up in what they perceive to be the rules and what assumptions they have about what needs to be done before they can do it. Like oh, well, if I am starting a legal tech company, well, then I have to learn a programming language and know how to program and learn to code. So they put I think sometimes roadblocks in front of them before they can do it.
And what I have learned from my own experience is that that’s part of the thrill of entrepreneurship is you kind of jump into it, you learn it as you go, and believe me, when you commit yourself to it and you are out there, you learn it pretty quickly, probably more quickly than you would if you are just trying to get it done first before you do it.
So that would be my advice is just do it if you really want to.
Sharon D. Nelson: I found that when I was a lawyer I was working and now I come to work to play. Does it feel like that to you Tom?
Tom Martin: It does, it does, and it’s youthful to feel still like a kid with certain things, to be able to play and learn from what you are doing. I think that as lawyers those opportunities are few and hard to come by, because we have ethical restraints, we have rules and laws that we need to follow, and of course you need to follow laws when you are running a legal tech company, but I think that you don’t have the same kinds of limitations as you do when you run a legal tech company.
Jim Calloway: That’s a very interesting discussion. I don’t have much to add since I have a legal tech department within a very traditional organization, but I have done some good with it over the years.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for us today Tom?
Tom Martin: I do, I do. There is a saying, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and I have really taken that to heart, because I think that too many times we, especially as lawyers, look at what we consider to be the ideal and let that prevent us from starting and doing what we can.
So if there is anything that I have learned from the past few years of this entrepreneurship and starting my own company in legal tech is that just get in, just do it, it’s so rewarding the experiences that you have working directly with the people that are going to benefit from what you do, and that’s lawyers, but it’s also the clients directly, and learning from real people what problems they have and how you can help solve them.
Sharon D. Nelson: Very philosophical Tom and I agree completely. Really, it was such a pleasure having you be our guest today. Thanks for taking the time out of your day. I think a lot of people are curious about chatbots, but they don’t know a great deal about them, they don’t understand how they work, they don’t understand what they cost, they don’t understand anything, and they are a little afraid of something that seems so radical and so new. So I think you did a great job of expounding on what a chatbot is and what it can be realistically expected to do and what it can, so that was tremendously helpful. Thank you so much Tom.
Tom Martin: Well, thanks for having me Jim and Sharon. I really think that chatbots are revolutionary and very helpful for us. As lawyers, it’s a way to have someone else do some of the work and take credit for it and at the same time make our lives easier.
Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. Remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on Apple Podcasts. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us in Apple Podcasts.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails cowboy.
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