Making the impossible possible
Generating reliable leads is a perennial challenge for law firms; now a group of Cambridge graduates look like they might have come up with a solution
When the four Cambridge students behind LawBot took it offline in April, they posted a notice on the site: ‘Shhh… LawBot is sleeping! We will relaunch in June (after exams, lol).’ Now, having just graduated, the LawBot team are back. And they can’t have just been swotting for exams because the rebooted chatbot, now called LawBotX, comes with a lead generation feature for law firms that promises high-quality client referrals.
Solicitors have become wary of referral initiatives that have failed to deliver a cost-effective work stream. Many of the early models routed prospective clients to firms on coarse criteria, leaving solicitors to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The idea wasn’t wrong but the tools were too rough. Sites such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer took the original model further. Both claim thousands of users in their native America, but there is no sign that they have yet been able to replicate this in the UK. Talking to solicitors a few years ago, when both businesses were launching on this side of the pond, it was clear the main concern was not so much the cost of membership but the quality of the leads.
Could LawBotX convince lawyers that they are different? The system is quite straightforward. Users interact with the bot, which is hosted on Facebook Messenger, and are taken through a series of questions using the bot’s own algorithm rather than a decision tree. This is combined with LawBotX’s own case outcome prediction function, which calculates the case’s chances of success. At the end of the conversation, users are given the option to be referred to a solicitor. The idea is that users will be put off from pursuing claims that the bot rates as having low chances of success and self-filter out of the referral funnel. This is the first triage level but already a major leap from existing online referral platforms.
On the other side of the interface, at the solicitor end, settings based on the firm’s personal criteria and preferences decide whether to let the prospective business through. Law firms will be able to refine these criteria. Machine learning has also been built into the system, so that the bot will independently assess prospects based on the firm’s history of dealing with incoming inquiries.LawBotX is relaunching in an environment very different from what it was just five years ago. Artificial intelligence has become part of normal conversations in law firms. Technology hasn’t percolated through the whole of the legal services sector but all lawyers talk about it, even if only to doubt its relevance to their business. LawBotX will undeniably benefit from this change, but legal tech is constantly evolving. Already some law firms are developing their own machine learning-operated chatbots. Siaro, the system developed by Brighton-based Family Law Partners, is perhaps the best-known example.
But the AI wave that is carrying LawBotX and other legal tech start-ups upwards is also their greatest commercial threat. Alternatives will become available, and as tech and AI become more popular and affordable, more firms will be able to build their own tools. The number of firms using a messenger-type widget on their websites is a good indication that they have the mindset. Would they still want to rely on third-party products? Maybe. Also, not all firms have Siaro’s capacity or appetite.
LawBotX will be rolled out with a few select firms from this week and the plan is to recruit 50 partners in the next six months. Pricing is yet to be finalised but likely to be based on the value of the lead. If the team pitches it right, it could be an attractive proposition for firms keen to try out what tech can do for them. For their sheer enthusiasm and spirit of innovation, the LawBotX team deserves to succeed, but whatever happens to the project, it has already demonstrated that what seemed impossible yesterday might be possible today.
Jean-Yves Gilg, Editor-in-chief