This is the last part of our 6-part series, in which we’ve addressed how chatbots are changing the game for law firm intake. This is part 6, where we’ll discuss legal ethics concerns related to chatbots. In part 1, we defined what a chatbot is. In part 2, we covered common chatbot features. In part 3, we addressed why chatbots are so essential for modern law firm intake. In part 4, we taught you how to build the perfect law firm chatbot. In part 5, we offered some suggestions on how chatbots can help you make better decisions about client intake.
Any new legal technology comes replete with questions about legal ethics. That’s totally fair. Lawyers are uniquely situated professionals, whose entire businesses can be wiped away due to an ethical snafu, and each state has its own specific jurisdictional rules, which makes it especially difficult for multistate practices to derive an effective formula for staying out of trouble. Even longstanding law office technology concepts, like use of the cloud and epayments (which have largely received stamps of approval from ethics boards), still cause many attorneys to break out in hives.
The law firm chatbot implies questions about legal ethics (as do most marketing tools, especially those focused on engagement), because the technology is meant to engage non-clients. In that construct, lawyers are concerned over ethics rules banning improper solicitation and the inadvertent creation of an attorney-client relationship. Each of these concerns, however, can be dispensed with.
Chatbots don’t prompt the impermissible solicitation of clients any more than traditionally-accepted website contact forms do. Chatbots merely invite a user (law firm lead) to input information. And, in any event, once a user lands on a law firm website (another traditionally-accepted form of law firm marketing engagement), the question of improper solicitation largely goes away, because the website visitor has affirmatively sought out information about a law firm, and landed on an informational page. This is not like the virtual equivalent of handing a business card to an injured party at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. A chatbot is just another information-gathering tool seated at a law firm website.
The difference between chatbots and most law website applications is that a chatbot is an engagement tool that allows for a conversational interface, such that the more relevant concern is: will the law firm lead believe that an attorney-client relationship is formed, even if the law firm does not intend for one to be formed. This is an old problem, with a modern twist, because a chatbot allows for a conversation, rather than just being a one-way information collection medium. However, the solution is not dissimilar from what lawyers do in other contexts that implicate the gulf between clients and non-clients, because it’s still all about transparency and providing concrete status updates to non-clients. And, in the context of a chatbot, that still looks very much like it does everywhere else. The addition of a disclaimer into the chatbot dialog and/or mention of the use of a chatbot in the general website disclaimer puts the user on notice that mere use of the tool, including to book an initial consultation, does not create an attorney-client relationship. Then, this is about finalizing the nature of the relationship. Just as a lawyer would normally do, in this context: if a lead becomes a client, she signs a fee agreement; if a lead does not become a client, she receives a non-engagement letter or email from the law firm, in order to finally confirm the point. Via chatbot technology, that can all be delivered through the software itself.
Chatbots may also have the ability to notify law firms of potential conflicts of interest, via integration with contact or client management software or reference to internal datasets, which potential conflicts lawyers can then clear or not. The technology is not currently sufficiently advanced as to ‘automate’ conflict checks. Currently, at least, the only safe route to clear conflicts via a chatbot is through the creation of an alert or flag that a law firm can process in the course of business.
Now you know how to implement a chatbot in an ethically-compliant fashion. Thanks for following along with our 6-part series on how chatbots are revolutionizing modern law firm intake. For more on law marketing in the modern age, keep reading our weekly blog posts here.