What you need to know about virtual and chatbot assistants for lawyers
It’s not easy being an attorney. If you’re like most lawyers, you work long hours and the contentiousness of the adversarial process and the often tedious nature of your day-to-day work doesn’t help matters. For solo and small firm attorneys, the pressures can be even greater, since you’re faced with the task of zealously representing your clients while simultaneously running your law firm and managing all of the back-office aspects of running a business.
Rest assured you’re not alone if you find that it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. This is a common problem for lawyers in firms big and small. The good news is that there’s a simple solution: learn how to outsource.
Of course, many lawyers are reluctant to delegate, preferring to handle everything themselves. The problem with this approach is that it leaves them overburdened, overworked and overstressed. That’s where virtual legal assistants and AI-based chatbots come in.
Both options offer an affordable and practical alternative to hiring someone in-house to handle redundant administrative tasks. Whether you take advantage of AI technology or you outsource these tasks to a company that will handle them for you, you’ll save yourself much-needed time. And as we all know—time is money.
The good news is that there are many virtual assistant services and AI software tools used by lawyers that will get the job done—it’s simply a matter of finding the right one for your law firm’s needs. Of course, sorting through your options isn’t necessarily easy since there are so many different companies that offer these services and tools. To complicate matters, some options aren’t necessarily designed for lawyers, but may nevertheless be worth considering.
To get you started, here are some of the more popular options available. Note that this article is not all inclusive, and no matter how you choose to delegate, since you will be entrusting some of your law firm’s confidential client data to a third party, you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet your chosen provider.
If you run a Google search, you’ll see that there are hundreds of virtual assistant services available. These companies provide a bank of virtual receptionists to whom your firm’s phone calls are routed. At the most basic level, the receptionists will answer the phone and take a message. Some services also include bilingual capabilities, the ability to schedule appointments, handle client intake and more. Pricing will vary depending on the company you choose and the services they offer.
There are a number of companies that regularly exhibit at legal conferences and are popular with lawyers. I’ll be covering three of them in this column. Note that all three offer free trials, so make sure to sign up and take advantage of the free trial prior to committing to a service.
First, there’s Ruby Receptionists, a company that offers virtual receptionist services to multiple industries, including the legal profession. They’ve been a fixture at legal conferences for years, so you may likely be familiar with them. Pricing begins at $309 per month for up to 100 receptionist minutes.
Back Office Betties is a company that offers virtual receptionists specifically for law firms, so for their specific focus may be an appealing option for firms seeking an experienced company that offers services tailored to the legal industry. Pricing starts at $299 per month for 8 legal receptionists and 100 minutes per month.
Another interesting option to consider is Smith.ai. Smith.ai originally made headlines for its AI assistant/chatbot tools (more on that below), which can—but don’t necessarily have to—work in conjunction with their virtual assistant services. Of note is that Smith.ai is a very affordable option, with pricing that starts at $70 per month for 10 receptionist calls. Custom pricing is available depending on your firm’s needs.
Speaking of Smith.ai, this company also offers website chatbots. These AI-powered chatbots provide a “personal assistant” that you add to your firm’s website. It can capture leads, complete client intake and schedule appointments. Smith.ai offers staffed chatbots with live chat agents starting at $100 per month for 10 live chats. There is also an option to have an unstaffed chatbot, which is available for free and offers unlimited chats. Full pricing information is available here.
Another option is LawDroid, which is a company that creates customized chatbots for law firms. Some of the tasks that can be accomplished by the chatbots include client intake and appointment scheduling. Pricing is not available on the website and will be dependent on the specific task that your firm needs the chatbot to perform.
Gideon is one of the newest entrants into the legal chatbot space. One of Gideon’s co-founders, Jared Correia, is a well-known law practice consultant and adviser, and he created this chatbot service, along with his co-founder, Elan Fields, with the goal of streamlining client intake for law firms. Gideon chatbots can qualify leads, route calls, schedule appointments, and create new client matters. Pricing is not available on the website.
Now that you’re aware of some of your options, the next step is to determine which one is the best fit for your law firm. Before you dive in, it’s important to ascertain your firm’s goals before moving forward with this decision. Step back from your firm’s day-to-day practice, examine your current daily activities, and determine which tasks are most easily delegated. Making this assessment will help you hone in on the activities that are most amenable to being outsourced. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right delegation path—and tool—for your law firm.
Then the only step left will be to sign up for a trial or two and test drive your delegation tool or service of choice. In no time flat you’ll be well on your way to a more efficient law firm and a more stress-free practice!
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].