Master Class: Implementing Affordable Technologies to Build Efficiency in Your Small Law Practice

Elizabeth Lockwood

One of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of running a law firm is keeping your firm up to date with the newest systems and technologies. However, by choosing to implement smart technology, like artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), your systems will keep themselves up to date, meaning your law firm can stay updated without the need for constant maintenance.

In a webinar recorded July 23rd, 2019, Maddy Martin of Smith.ai chatted with Maya Bielinski of ROSS Intelligence about software and services that solo or small law firms like yours can use to regain control over your systems and your life. From AI-powered website chat answering services to automated scheduling software, there are plenty of options small law practices can take advantage of to drive more efficiency and save more time. By utilizing these tools, you can strengthen your law firm and achieve a better work/life balance at the same time.

Interested in learning how you can boost your firm's productivity and efficiency through easily accessible technology? Then we encourage you to read the full transcript of the video below, edited for readability. You can also watch the full webinar for free on YouTube by clicking the image below. To check out more videos like this one, with tons of free tips for soloprenuers, small business owners, and lawyers, subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Moderator

Maddy Martin

Head of Growth and 

Education at Smith.ai

Speaker

Maya Bielinski

Legal Subject Matter Expert

at ROSS Intelligence

INTRODUCTION:

MADDY MARTIN, HEAD OF GROWTH & EDUCATION AT SMITH.AI:

All right. Welcome everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. Very happy to have you here. 

This is Smith.ai and ROSS Intelligence bringing you this webinar today and the title is How to Build Efficiency in Your Small Law Practice with Affordable Technologies. 

Now just one housekeeping note, before we begin, there is the link here so you will be able to review the slides on your own time, because let me tell you, we have a lot of content. So it's an overwhelming amount of slides and Maya and I basically said, “We're just going to make this a huge resource for you guys.” 

So we won't be able to dig into every single thing today, but we are going to cover some really important topics here.

And just to get right into it, I will introduce myself. 

I'm Maddy Martin, I'm the head of growth and education for Smith.ai. We are a virtual receptionist service for live phone calls and website chat. And actually, I just found out yesterday that it's no longer nearly a million conversations, we've surpassed it. And we have a lot of experience handling conversations with leads and clients for law firms in particular.

So really drawing on a lot of data and experience here to bring you the best practices today. Maya. 

MAYA BIELINSKI, LEGAL SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT AT ROSS INTELLIGENCE:

Hi everyone. My name is Maya Bielinski and I, myself, am a former litigator here in Toronto, Canada, and intellectual property law. 

And I currently am the senior product owner at ROSS intelligence and what we do is provide legal research, we’re a legal research platform powered by artificial intelligence, natural language processing for US law. 

And I was just looking at our database earlier today, we have over 12.5 million cases in our Corpus. So that's what we do. 

MADDY:

That's amazing. So, Maya, what does senior product owner mean? That is such a unique title. 

MAYA:

It’s the best job in the world, I think. I work with engineers and designers to create the product for all of our users. So I organize, you know, what features we want to bring to the market. And we listen to our users and make sure that those features are meeting their needs. 

MADDY:

Excellent. 

So we're going to talk about the goals and objectives today, just so we get the lay of the land.

Really it's about identifying inefficiencies in the practice, understanding the tools available to solve them, and then how to get started using them, because that can seem very overwhelming just to take that first step. 

And then if you've already taken that first step or you're envisioning what's going to happen next, advanced techniques for maximizing the impact of these software and services. 

Then we’ll go through specific action items for your game plan, so how to really put this in place with very clear steps so that you have a plan in place and you don't have to feel like you're reinventing the wheel. 

Now, when we talk about efficiency, particularly for solo and small firm attorneys, the very first thing that I turned to is a Clio legal trends report.

So I'll talk about a few data points there before I turn it over to Maya to talk about the ABA technology report. Both are extremely recent from last year. 

LAW FIRM PRODUCTIVITY PROBLEMS

And what we find is that the use of time, especially in a solo small practice where you're so spread thin is really often spent majority-wise on administrative tasks and not necessarily on billable work.

Lawyers spent more time on admin tasks than on billable work

So we're seeing office admin invoicing, configuring technology, taking up a huge amount of time. And then another large chunk of time goes towards business development. 

So we know the importance of growing and sustaining the business is there, if that amount of time is being spent on those tasks on a daily basis.

Now, the problem is, it's really inefficient to get interruptions, especially by phone, but I know the feeling like a text message and email can even feel like an interruption, even though it's not a phone call blaring with a ring. 

So, how many of us actually have our ringers ring anyway? 

So wanting three minutes, that happens as a sort of refractory period.

The initial interruption, it doesn't even include this 23 minutes is not the time of the interruption. It's the time of the recovering from the interruption. So that's a six hour law. That's a two hour loss per day, six hour loss a week. Pretty outrageous two, our losses, outrageous enough.

Lawyers experience more interruptions and collect less of their earnings

On average, six interruptions for an attorney. So there was a huge loss just around the amount of time that we see attorneys having interruptions and then trying to get back to where they were in their casework.

Now two out of three potential clients say that their decision to hire is most influenced by an attorney's responsiveness to their first call or email or website chat.

So we know that like accepting that interruption to some degree, maybe if it's not, you is. Absolutely important, but screening that before it gets to you is also critical because 59% of people on average don't hire an attorney, even after a consultation.

So what does that mean? We need to reduce those consultations that are wasting time.

We also want to make sure that for the time spent on billable work, that you are generating that revenue and capturing all the revenue that you possibly can with what you've earned.

So we see when you take credit card payments, for example, that 86% go up to 98% and that can be done in a really efficient manner.

And I'll talk about some of the other benefits of using online payment methods and also outsource resources for follow-up so that you maintain relationships, when you have to ask difficult questions about money. Maya.

MAYA:

So this slide is all about the legal research, which is, you know, our focus because almost 20%, 19% of lawyers time, work time, is spent conducting legal research.

COST OF TIME SPENT ON LEGAL RESEARCH

Time spent on legal research data points

And does that, as Maddie mentioned, this is from the ABA report from last year. So that's a huge chunk of time and we at Ross intelligence think that that amount of time – there's tons of opportunity to become more efficient.

And if you're more efficient and you can spend more time doing work, that is more recoverable.

So 30% of small firms don't build clients for online legal research costs. What does that mean? It means that you probably don't want to have high overhead on legal research so we want to find efficiencies there as well.

DILEMMA ONE:

Dilemma one says you should limit interruptions and respond quickly to potential clients

MADDY:

So when it comes to the dilemmas here, we can see that there are a number of ways that attorneys, and if you're feeling this way, just know that you're not alone.

I mean, I and Maya and her team, we travel around the country, actually teaching education, CLE accredited education, around how to run a more efficient law practice and more productive law practice with technology to combat these dilemmas that we're facing collectively in this industry, which is the interruptions, kill your productivity.

But there's sort of this like requirement because clients demand a quick response time.

So how do you fight that dilemma and achieve balanced by growing your business without excepting every single call?

DILEMMA TWO:

Dilemma two says you should minimize time-consuming billing tasks and maximize revenue

And then how do you handle the need to maximize your revenue, but also minimize time consuming billing tasks?

DILEMMA THREE:

Dilemma three says that technology makes you more efficient, but small firms have limited IT support

The third dilemma has to do with technology. And this is something that Maya can speak to specifically. There is an easier time than ever implementing technology, which is fantastic because in a small practice, you don't have dedicated it support the way that you do as a resource in a big firm.

So, Maya, do you want to speak to that?

MAYA:

For sure.

You want to find tools out there that are easy to use that actually can integrate into your workflow and won't be cumbersome, you know, to incorporate in the first place.

You don't want to be spending time, you know, learning a new technology and then making sure that it works with your practice only to find that it doesn't, you want it to work right away.

So that's an important factor when you're considering new technologies.

So, yeah, that's what I would say about this sinking tasks is crucial.

MADDY:

Yeah.

I also see like the easier it is with the interface and the less training required to use software, the more likely the adoption and the greater the impact that technology has because the learning curve is short.

So what we're seeing right now with technology is it's easier to use more intuitive than ever and that's one of the ways that AI is really helping gain access to, or gain access for, small firm attorneys to the technology that they need.

The cost has come way down and then also the learning curve has, has really short.

MAYA:

And I just want to say that, I mean, that means that you can then delegate those tasks to other people in your law firm, potentially. Maybe not in, you know, legal research, but if you're coming up with new technologies that help with your practice, that can maybe be something that an assistant could do.

And if it's easy to use, all the better.

MADDY:

Yeah.

I mean, one thing that comes to mind there is just online calendaring, like how easy is it to share your online calendar link using Calendly or something.

And I know I'm skipping ahead now, but that's like such a no brainer to have someone be your gate keeper, but to have them just click a button and have that calendar appointments scheduled without having the issue of them seeing into your calendar, which may contain a lot of confidential information and it may also cost you more to have someone have their own calendar in your system or their own login.

So there are a lot of efficiencies that are happening here.

And one of the things that we find when we talk about efficiency is around the mindset of the solo and small firm attorney.

DILEMMA FOUR:

Dilemma four means having more control over your practice and a better work-life balance

We know that one of the main reasons why you're in a solo or small firm is to have greater control over your practice.

SOLUTIONS

Solutions to dilemmas: adopt cost-effective and efficient systems

So we understand that there are some areas where you want to maintain and where you have to maintain control, but there is also the importance of delegating what you don't need to control, what is not lawyering work so that you can have a practice that's not just like waiting on your shoulders alone, but instead allowing you to work on the cases that are most interesting to you, that you have control over your work life balance, and you hand-off the things that are not absolutely essential and actually not even enjoyable or best suited for you to do.

We see tons of attorneys who are using accounting software that's expensive when they could be using something like Bench.

There are tools that are available to you that will give you the right amount of control and the right amount of visibility for oversight, which is really important without you having to do every nitty gritty detail.

MAYA:

Absolutely.

I do have a stat on this actually, a recent study that was reported in the New York times stated that if lawyers implemented AI technology immediately, which is available, lawyers would realize a 13% decline in their workloads. So, you know, consider that declining your workload to go do things that are non-lawyerly or a 13% decline in those things in your current workload so you can do more billable tasks.

MADDY:

Yeah. I mean, there is a collective understanding that there's a lot of inefficiency right now happening.

And one of the things that we see is that there are common buckets where the inefficiencies happen. And that's sort of why we're talking about these statistics because of the intake period, the screening period, the research period, whether it's before, during or after casework, even on the referral side, actually, there is a— we'll call it a leaky bucket or a clogged artery because things are not running or contained as smoothly as they should be.

MAYA:

Absolutely.

MADDY:

What can you do?

To create effective systems, they must be affordable, customizable, easy to use, comprehensive, and easily integrated

So these systems that we're adopting it have to be within the means of a solo small firm, right?

They have to be affordable, customizable, easy to use and monitor.

So it should be simple to get started and not require a PhD. And, and that can even go through your phone system.

You know, we have people who tell us that RingCentral feels extremely daunting. QuickBooks can feel extremely daunting.

So it's not just your practice management system or case research. A lot of these tools are getting easier to use.

If you're not using something that's easy, chances are that there's something out there that is easier for you.

They should integrate with your processes and systems.

So Maya touched on this, the open a PI, like, standard at this point is that there is security built in, and that your systems can talk to each other, so far as you approve them to basically.

But for example, if our receptionists are answering a call and they take a note and want to put it into your contact record management system, that a conversation happened with this potential clients, because then tomorrow an intake form is completed with that client and then the calendar appointment is scheduled and then you secure them as a new client.

You want to keep a record of that conversation and not with the manual data entry of having to remember to log every single conversation.

The way that you can best run your firm is by automating, by taking the data that you already have and putting it in your major system of records so that you're not duplicating tasks and bogging your team down with things that are more easily handled by software and actually more accurately handled by software as well.

So you don't get data entry errors, someone's name in one system is not misspelled in another, if you let the software do the work.

And then one thing that I would say is that if you have people who are in the front desk of your office or outsource teams, remote paralegals, remote bookkeepers, give them the proper tools that they need and the information to do their jobs.

Make sure that you have oversight because obviously you have an ethical responsibility to do so and a professional responsibility to do so.

But if you trust that you're hiring good teams, because there's no way to delegate if you don't believe in the people who you're delegating to. So have that faith, it's a sort of muscle that you have to build over time.

I talk to people all the time about this, and if you haven't delegated much it's something that you just have to sort of jump in the deep end and start doing.

It's like, if you're really comfortable with another case research platform, you can probably speak to this and you start using another one. It's, like, am I seeing everything that's available to me? Like, how do I have faith in this?

MAYA:

I think that's a hundred percent true. You know, you want to have a reasonable discretion over what you're using.

So whatever tool that you use, make sure that, you know, you understand what choices it's making and this is particularly true in AI.

You want to be able to trust what you're using otherwise you're, you're, you're not going to use it and then, what's the point?

MADDY:

Right. And the proof of concept is thankfully really easy and fast.

You know, you, you start using it, there are a lot of free trials available these days.

And one of the things that I would encourage you to do if you're not already doing so is to really take a close look at your communication systems, because if you are using a landline phone that doesn't allow you access to your messages and your phone ringing when you're out of the office.

Because maybe it's not after-hours, but it's actually during business hours, you can't keep tabs on what's going on with your communications and conversations that are happening within your firm.

That can be a huge inefficiency because there are certain things that can be triaged with your help.

HOW DO LEADS CONNECT WITH YOU

So when we look at the ways that potential clients reach you, we think about phone, email, text, website chat. These are really the core ways that people are trying to reach you. And if they're not mobile, if you can't take them around, or if you can't hand them off to someone and delegate them, then it really means that you can potentially, and often are a bottleneck for progress within your firm because you can't have everything stopped with you until you're able to review it.

Unless, obviously, there's an ethical obligation, but typically with lead screening and things like that with referrals, that's just not the case.

What I really encourage is a cloud phone system.

They are cheaper and easier to use than ever. You can port your existing phone number to them. You don't have to lose your long standing phone number or the vanity number that you may have, and then have a phone system that is set up to set expectations.

So it's very important that you do very simple things, like have an after-hours voicemail so someone knows when they can reach you live and when they can expect to reach you.

Have a business phone, not a personal cell phone so that you can set up proper routing and that, you know, when calls coming in to your phone are business related or not.

And it could be a simple business number that's on your phone so that you don't have to have multiple devices, but you can have a simple way of indicating this is a business call and "I don't recognize the number, but I know that my business phone service blocks them."

So there's a high likelihood that this is a new potential client that you can also set up simple phone routing, even as a solo to say these are. Press one for new clients, press two for existing clients, press one for, maybe you have a partner, press one for attorney Jane, two for attorney Joe.

Just a simple way of routing people so that they get to where they're going and they don't interrupt the wrong person or the person who is not best suited to handle the matter.

Because the fact is, anytime you sort of wrap that in the wrong way, or you interrupt someone, you're not only wasting your time, but you're potentially giving a bad experience to the person on the other end of the line. So you risk appearing unprofessional.

So when it comes to services that sit on top of phone systems, one of the things that we often see is a confusion around what an answering services.

Some people will think that the automated breeding that they've recorded once is an answering service. Some people think that all receptionist services are answering services and only message taking is an opportunity for one efficiency gain.

What we recommend is that you look at your appetite for handing off tasks and then the capacity of the service and look at how deep they can go, because they will go as deep as you are comfortable and is ethically compliant.

Basically there is scheduling. There is intake. There is payment follow-up. There is referral work that can happen on these calls that you can offload insofar as you're comfortable, the technology and the services, and the ability to handle more during a call has come a long way.

So I encourage you to look at not only the capabilities of these tools, but then also what is the impact potentially of them, not only on being able to take more than one call at once, if you have a high volume of calls, but also to be able to give you more stability, because if you have an in-house receptionist, maybe that person is someone who's dedicated and very knowledgeable, but the issue is that it's very risky to have everything relying on one person.

So if someone gets sick or they take a vacation or a maternity leave, or they have a life event that happens, then what happens with your business? It is your responsibility to make sure that you have safeguards in place and you're not reliant on one single person.

And actually that also relies on you and it relates to your role in the firm that, what happens if you aren't able to go to work in one day? Is there someone who is following up on your behalf or taking care of things that can be taken care of for you?

Think about your backup solutions the same way that you would have a backup to a hard drive.

What is the backup to your operations, your communication?

And one thing that we often see is that these audits are not taking place to identify vulnerabilities. And this can be a huge loss in efficiency, because if you have something that derails you, it prevents you from getting work done, it prevents you from getting calls through.

So imagine with this is the perfect example, but I always give with rain delays and latency.

We have a lot of people who are on certain, like, cloud phone systems, 8x8 and Vonage actually have been like really kind of the top culprits here, where let's say, I call Maya and I hear 10 rings.

And Maya hears one.

What's she going to think, she's going to think, "Man, I'm doing everything that Maddy said to do. I'm picking up after one ring. I'm really responsive. Or, like, my receptionist is picking up after one ring and really not doing what Maddie said to do."

And guess what? You have no idea that that person is disgruntled on the phone.

Not because even of their legal issue, but because they've been waiting for you to pick up and they were just about to hang up. And how many people hang up before you get to that first ring?

If you have a lot of connections in your phone system or a certain phone system that is known – if it has issues with latency, and these two that I mentioned do often, it can be 30 seconds before it's connected to you and 30 seconds as long enough for someone to hang up.

Audit your phone, secret shop it, takes five minutes, just to make sure that your systems are set up the way that you initially did and that when you hear one ring, that's exactly the experience on the other side, because people are not going to tell you that there's food in your teeth.

Let me tell you. Like not a new potential client, maybe your mother, but that's not who we're worried about here.

So really think about like, you have to design your system so that you can self audit them and identify these things yourself and bake in that to your operations.

MAYA:

Sounds like a simple test.

MADDY:

It is a simple test. Exactly. And it's something that you can do.

And also I would encourage you, if you are handing off any conversations to someone in-house your team, you've got someone who's been who's new or who's been there for a long time and maybe they're sort of coasting, are they picking up the phone or are they letting it ring to voicemail?

Like if you're outsourcing to a team that has, let's say a hundred different receptionists, like, are they consistently answering your calls because the technology these days allows them to, but if they're not hiring the right people, or if they're not following directions, guess what?

The hard truth is that the responsiveness is on you. The buck stops with you, the owner of the firm.

So if you're not auditing it, no one's going to be doing that out of the kindness of their heart. You have to do that yourself and you have to bake in time to do so. So it's systematic.

MANAGING CLIENT EXPECTATIONS

Now in terms of email, we're all very familiar with this, but there is a lot of inefficiency here.

How many times do you write the same email over and over and over again, like "I'm referring you to this person," or "We don't accept these types of cases," or "It turns out that I'm not free on this day, can we reschedule?"

The back and forth, oh my goodness. The back and forth of like calendaring is such a nightmare.

Now, what can you do?

You can have bulk emails that send out reminders when you're going to be on vacation. When you're always out of office. I know someone who has an automatic out of office message, actually that says, "Twice a day, I check my email. It's at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. If you don't hear from me, don't worry."

This is the receipt that says, "I got your email. If it's an emergency, contact this person. Otherwise, I will get back to you based on the urgency that I understand from your message and the team that's reviewing my emails for me," whatever the case may be.

So what does that do?

First and foremost, it confirms receipt so that it gives the person's faith that their message got through.

And it's expectations. It says, "I don't treat every email as a drop-everything emergency where I'm going to get distracted and derailed and lose those 23 minutes to my interruption." Instead, "Look at me, like, this is a representation of what a good steward I am of my time and of your time, because I don't allow myself to get distracted."

So that to me is a very powerful message.

And then when we look at other tools like email nurturing drips and tools like gorgeous, which allow you to have like, you know, a couple taps on your keyboard and you can trigger a template that shows up in your email that brings up that. Standard referral. No, we're not your attorney sort of email.

These are things that you should be using. If you get emails from Shutterstock and eBay, that seem like they come in a certain regular cadence or a monthly newsletter, even these are things that you can do. And for almost no money, like tens of dollars a month, not hundreds of dollars a month, because you don't have an email list of a hundred thousand people.

Look at these tools and don't be intimidated by them.

They take a little time to set up, but then once the running the running, and it's just about when a new client calls and they don't hire you right away.

Well, what happens? They go into that drip you've already put in your testimonials and your expertise.

That's fantastic. So how are we setting up systems from the outset that then run without involved?

Text messaging. I hate to break it to you. If your restaurants' texting you that your seat is ready and your plumbers texting you that they're on their way and all those businesses are texting you, guess what?

Clients expect to be able to text with their lawyer as well. It's the hard truth.

And that's where technology is right now. And if you don't want those interruptions, there are services that will staff it for you from the frontline so that they can at least screen what's really critical to come through to you.

And you can have texts actually go into your email, go into your CRM.

And if there are texts that are happening with a client who particularly prefers that platform, one way to gain revenue and not just efficiency is to have them through TimeMiner logged on your bill, because if you are spending time working with a client, it doesn't matter if it's a phone call or if it's a text-based message, that is time that you should be billing for, because it is time spent working with the client.

So TimeMiner is a great tool for that. Zipwhip also can automate your responses. So you're allowing this, you don't want 2:00 AM, text messages, and you want to also probably screen out those people and say, "Do you know that we're an immigration firm and not a, you know, business trademark firm? Do you know that we do a state versus criminal defense?"

Like there are ways to inform upfront to make sure that the people who do get through to you are qualified first and of course, be logging these conversations in your CRM.

So, I mean, you're not copying and pasting and screenshotting text messages. I've heard it all.

When it comes to Zipwhip, there are some really fantastic tools that will even identify based on keywords messages that can be triggered.

The smart tools are available if you just know them.

And that's why we're here, because we know that you don't have time to do all this research. So we're saying, if you're getting a lot of text messages, check out some of these tools that automatically can respond for you based on if someone says, you know, the keyword, schedule an appointment or that phrase, you know what to do next.

interested. They're a potential new client. Do you want to ask, like, what they need? Do you want to get information from them? Do they have a court date scheduled? You name it, that's all within the technology available today and it's very affordable, thankfully.

When it comes to website chat, this is just another text-based channel. We are seeing really, really high adoption of website chat. Super important to screen upfront.

Again, making sure that you're protecting and gatekeeping your time. Yes. Online calendaring is awesome. No, you don't want to offer your calendar to every single person who visits your website because.

Lo and behold, your SEO is crushing it. And now you have tons of people kicking tires on your website saying, "You know what? I think I have this issue and you know, I might need an attorney. Let me see, your free consultation." Your time is going to be filled up with a lot of people who are probably not going to be likely to hire you.

So what's great is that web chat allows you to have a quick conversation on someone's timeframe, right? Where they often, if they're at work, they don't have to get up from their desk, have a conversation overheard on their phone, it seems like they're talking to an attorney, all the gossip starts.

People are very sensitive and want some discretion and actually, web chat allows you to do that, but capture their contact information at the same time.

So that can be a really not just efficient way of handling a conversation, but a way that meets people really where they are, because if you think about it, most people have not experienced working with an attorney. They don't know what to expect. They don't know what questions to ask and saying that verbally out loud is something that is actually really much harder to do than to type it out.

Even if you've written their name and their email on your phone and you've captured that contact information at the firm level, it's really nice to be able to give someone the ability to communicate with you without filling out a cumbersome form, just to say, "Hey, am I in the right place?"

You know, and human staff service can jump right on that.

And actually now technology has developed, so that the same sort of keyword trigger responses that I was talking about with texts can be triggered within website chat so that you're only paying for the live services that are most valuable on those highest converting pages on maybe the pages where you have paid search campaign traffic coming to, and then everyone else is sort of like getting information and automated responses.

And there might be like a live agent in the background monitoring to see if they need to jump in and answer based on a new lead, who seems like they're really interested in now's the time to deliver that fantastic customer service, do the screening and taking scheduling.

Now, what we always recommend is a disclaimer on website chat because we want to establish very early on because there are plenty of people who are searching for legal chat, that this is not an attorney-client relationship, that hasn't been established, and it also was not going to be legal advice during this chat.

So be very clear about those two things: not establishing an attorney-client relationship and not delivering legal advice via chat.

And this is something that you can also say via text message.

So I would make sure that— you also want to make sure that your terms and conditions and your privacy policy on your website. Okay?

If someone's giving you their email through some of these systems or to your email newsletter, for example, any information capture field on your site that you are, if you're international and GDPR compliant, of course, but then also getting permission to contact them and follow up, which is obviously in service to their needs, because you wanted to determine are you the right fit to help them with their legal issue?

I would also encourage you not to get into huge, long paragraph driven, um, you know, conversations via chat.

If you find that you're answering the same question over and over, for example, Kim Bennett here, she's in Atlanta, in New York, she runs a virtual law practice. She is not going to spend time in the agents who staff chat are not going to spend time explaining over and over the same way.

This is what a virtual law practices, they can click a button and say, "Here's the common answer to this question based on the trigger word," virtual law practice or link to separate knowledge base. This is not your blog. This is an FAQ.

This is a really pro way of saying, "We know there are common answers that we need to deliver based on the questions we frequently get about how our law practice works. And this is how we work. This is how we charge. This is like the the background and the way that these sorts of cases go, and this is what it takes to get a trademark or a nonprofit stood up, or this is the sort of like estate in probate matter that you're looking at, and this is what's going to be involved. This is what a divorce looks like in California. It's a minimum wait time of six months and so on." Right?

So information that, you know, your best clients need. Not that any client needs that your best clients need, the ones that you want to read and engage with. You build that on your website. And again, this is like that email nurture drip.

If you write it once, it pays you dividends, just like what I say, oftentimes here is treat your future self, right? Like, think about yourself right now and have sort of like a Midsummer, like new year's resolution, right? Like I'm going to treat myself in August. I'm going to treat you, Maddy, in September.

Right. And I'm gonna not spend the time writing out the same answer every single time and taking 10 minutes, I'm going to take 10 minutes right now, another three to Polish it, to perfection, and then, you know, close to perfection, post it. And then I'm going to link to that. And linking, too, it's going to take me 20 seconds every time from now on.

And you may already have a knowledge base, you know, as a lawyer, if you put it into a resource like this, you're leveraging work that you've already done. Exactly. And if you don't, there are tools that are super affordable and easy to plug into your site.

And that is another efficiency here. If you're thinking of adding a chat widget or adding a texting line to your landline, which is actually something that Zipwhip does or adding help docs to your site, these companies know now that they need to make it really frictionless.

So it's super easy to add this to your WordPress, your website, whatever the case may be. They want to make it as easy and plug and play for you as possible. And many of them offer white glove solution. Like we offer, for example, the installation of the chat widget for free because we know, you know, you went to law school, you didn't get a computer science degree and even something that may be simple from your WordPress admin will take you more time than it takes us.

And we know your time is valuable.

So that's the sort of thing that you should be looking for is ease of use and access and implementation.

Maya.

MAYA:

I just want to give a very brief overview of sort of what the current issues are with legal research and how to minimize that 20% of work time that we sort of discuss at the beginning.

Current issues with legal research: high overhead, difficult form queries, and difficult predictions

So one of the main issues that we hear over and over again is the high overhead with legal research platforms.

Now, obviously there are many legal research platforms out there from the free to the available with your bar association membership.

And of course the more costly traditional legal research platforms like Westlaw and Lexis, the ABA report, which we mentioned earlier, shows that most lawyers do have to deal with this high overhead.

You know, over 64% of lawyers report using Westlaw. 30% of lawyers report using Lexis. And if you don't suffer this high cost, you're likely unsatisfied. We know that those who use the free resources report being significantly less satisfied than with fee-based ones.

So those are sort of two issues that you have to deal with: the high overhead or the dissatisfaction with the platform.

Another main issue with legal research is the challenge associated with using the software. So Boolean search, it's an old standby for all lawyers, but it's cumbersome and it's time consuming.

And if you look at how much time you're spending doing legal research, if you do sort of an audit of yourself, when you're doing legal research pay attention to how much time you're spending, actually coming up with your bullying queries, you know, rephrasing it, reiterating, making sure that you have the right route, the right connector.

Similarly, relatedly using these traditional legal research platforms, it's practically impossible to find cases that match on facts and procedural posture. It's like finding a needle in a haystack. But depending on the issue, you may find too many cases.

And then you have to spend so much time reading through them, or, you know, ultimately you might come up with very few cases at all. And then you're back to step one when you're trying to reiterate or, you know, reformulate your Boolean query. And this leads to more wasted time.

And finally, another current issue is it's very difficult to predict decisions and that's because, you know, as lawyers, you have to read through the entire body of case law, that's relevant to your legal query, you know, assess it, use your expertise and predict the decisions. This takes also an enormous amount of time.

So it's sometimes taken as a given and legal research, as I mentioned before, but the tools that we have as lawyers are pretty blunt to do legal research. The questions that we're trying to answer are nuanced, but the tools we have specifically trans and connect or search, and booleans.

You know, they really have to contend with the arbitrariness of language that we have in the law. You have to deal with the roots of words, synonyms, grammatical structure, and it takes creativity and experience and time in order to get the full body of case law that's relevant to your query.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

So this is where artificial intelligence can come in and actually create, find a lot of those efficiencies for you.

So by leveraging AI, you no longer have to be this grown Marion of law or a data scientist, you know, coming up with these new Boolean queries. Your job as a lawyer is to ask the right questions and then AI makes legal research more efficient by understanding what you mean, and then querying the whole database for you.

And AI does this better than Boolean in terms of connectors searches, because it looks at the multi-word relationships. So it's not limited to matching just the strings of text as pavilion is.

The guide to understanding artificial intelligence

Instead, it looks for these grammatical and textual relationships between words.

So I have this graphic here on this, on the, on the slide, on the top left corner, the man killed the mosquito.

And to the right, the mosquito killed the man. If you were doing a Boolean search and a Boolean search, when you put, you know, mosquito and man and killed, you get both of these results, but obviously one is not relevant at all whereas AI understands the grammatical structure here.

And it's going to search for man killing the mosquito, but it's also going to look for synonyms and other grammatical structures for that same concept.

And that's where it really cuts down the time for you reviewing cases for you, formulating queries, and many other steps in the legal research process.

So how does it do it?

AI-powered legal research: how does it work?

It uses mathematical modeling. So it basically builds this graph around words and concepts and synonyms, and it has this multidimensional space here.

I just have a two dimensional chart for you, but these can be multi multi-dimensional spaces. So it's a very complex relationship between words that it understands and then can pull out the relevant results for you.

So, what does this mean?

What AI can do for your legal research

I've spoken a little bit about it, but it means that you get to use natural language that you use in your everyday to query for your cases.

And this cuts down tons of time. Sometimes it means that, you know, you can copy and paste an issue statement into an AI powered legal research platform and come up with relevant cases. You no longer have to formulate these bullying and queries. It means that you can find fact matches and motion matches much quicker than you can using Boolean because the AI will understand the context of where those words are and not just matching the strings of words.

You can also find similar language in cases. So let's say you come across a paragraph that is ideal and a case that you found whether by Boolean or by AI, but that case is not in your jurisdiction. So what do you do? Do you have to go back to the drawing board to, you know, create that same Boolean phrase?

No, a lot of AI tools or ROS, at least, you can find cases discussing the same concept using certain AI tools. And finally you can analyze briefs and pleadings.

So inputting a new kinds of things in order to do your legal research so you're not only committed to typing out these queries, you can in fact use a PDF or a word document as an input and get the output of relevant cases.

Yeah.

Other related tools

In legal research, there are other ways to find efficiencies and some of them are very parallel to what Maddy was— Maddy what you were talking about earlier, you know, creating these macros in word, just as you would for like an email cadence, it takes a little bit of time setting up, but then once you have it, you can, you know, create these new documents based on an initial format.

There are also document assembly products out there that can also make your work more efficient here.

There's also docket alarm, so no longer do you have to do the same queries week after week, you can put up alarms and get alerts for a certain dockets and there are free versions out there, like the recap project.

There's also predictive analytics and depending on your practice, these can be a really good investment for your friends.

So I encourage you to take a look at those as well.

MADDY:

Yeah.

And I think that this brings it really closely together.

Applying both human and machine intelligence

When we think about the combination of the human input and the AI management and output and expression, and sometimes like guiding of the information in the way that even may do it better than a human can do more predictably, more efficiently.

Like one of the examples that I often use and what is AI versus human, you know, is it to take away jobs? Is it going to, you know, remove a profession? Well, no, it's not because when we have someone who is an expert attorney or isn't expert receptionist, frankly, you have skills that cannot be replaced by technology because you have a brain that processes information in a way that is deeply based on experience.

And with, for example, our receptionist experience in hospitality means this sensitivity to legal clients who come very deeply stressed out sometimes, but maybe they speak a different language. So they have that innate ability that they've maybe honed for being really thoughtful and kind, and maybe this is happening via a website chat.

Someone comes to an immigration practice website, they start explaining their case. And what does the human behind that chat say? Human says, "Are you okay?" Because they've just had some trauma or something that's causing them to reach out to a law firm now.

Take that situation and have a English speaking agent and a Spanish speaking website visitor, they can actually have the same conversation in real time with the neural network AI translation.

That happens. That is absolutely technology driven interaction that could not be possible without technology, where that conversation, that language. That's translated that human element is translated. And that's the sort of thing that, that thoughtfulness combined with the responsiveness is what's going to bring in that client. Right?

So this is what we're seeing with the combination of technology. It empowers humans to be better at their jobs to get the information faster and more efficiently and to get the answer that you need more predictably, so it's not risking or threatening anything, but it's actually just improving the accuracy and efficiency.

And it also allows for a lot of automations and predictive triggers so that if you indicate I want this to run this way, every time. Something gets dropped as the top of the funnel, it does run that way every time.

And you know, if you're using a software, you know, like case research, like ROSS intelligence, you know, you're getting something that you have faith that. Even if you don't write something out perfectly, it understands what you're looking for.

That's extremely powerful.

So use the tools that allow you to be focused on the things that you do best and look at, if you're looking to build skills or add software, how does it enhance your current abilities so that you can work better and more productively?

That's exactly the goal as with legal research.

The technology should be empowering you to be more effective at what you're doing.

It's not taking away anything. It's, it's adding to your abilities and reducing the drag on the things that are really routine tasks, because we know that.

Let's just not talk about you, for example, but a paralegal that you hired, if that person is bogged down all day, doing those admin chores that you didn't expect when you open a small practice, because all that stuff was hidden from you in the bigger practice you came from.

There is a lot of busy work that can happen and that can fill up someone's entire day. And let me tell you, if you hire a paralegal who happens to be fantastic and maybe not so fantastic or happy in that role, you've wasted a lot of time and money, and then opportunity has been squandered to have someone amazing on your team because you didn't utilize them the way that you could have.

So think about protecting your resources, not just in your time, but of the time that you are paying for, or have an opportunity cost that you may pay for in the lack of good utilization of their time as well.

Now we are going to start wrapping up. As I mentioned, we have a lot of content in here that talks more deeply about improvements to the conversion flow in terms of your phone and your lead capture.

If you don't have a system in place for systematically screening leads, you have to identify those core criteria that predictably with five or 10 questions, get you to 80% there of whether or not this person is going to be a good potential client with that certainty. It doesn't have to be 90, 95, 59% of potential clients don't hire after a consult.

Screen them out and protect your time.

Handing off the intake, and once you have that form, you can't hand off anything that you haven't documented. So you have to document it first, posted online, if you have a calendar, maybe if you accept consultations online, you charge for them and you credit that feedback to the first payment because the people who are sincere shouldn't be penalized.

Right? So think about ways that you can embed these systems and even forms that are beneficial upfront, like this one, which is an eviction notice that you're not just saying I'm capturing your information, but you're saying I'm giving you the ability to complete this eviction notice. On your own, it's going to get emailed to you with directions and you can submit it yourself, but what do you get?

You get the timeframe of the landlord. You get the information and, you know, put this in your own scenario, but you get the timeframe of when the eviction notice is due. And what does that allow you to do with the attorney and allows you to do really targeted, accurate, thoughtful followup? That says, "Hey, I know that notice is due in a day now."

Like, did they respond? How did that go? Do you need an attorney? How can we help you?

Like people who you've already served well will be very likely to pick up that phone because they're already in a good way. Not in a sleazy way in your debt.

And it's fine for them to say, "You know what? No, I don't need your help," but it may be the case that you built nice trust early on, and they are very willing to talk to you.

And even if they're not, if they're a landlord, they may have multiple properties in it. You may have established a good working relationship with someone who may need you later on. So think about what you're doing and also in terms of future-proofing referrals are a very attractive about scheduling. So I'll skip over that.

But referrals are a very, very strong way of systematically growing a firm.

And this is a huge efficiency unlock. It's so often overlooked to actually have a CLE dedicated to referrals, because I think it's so important.

So many times someone will call a law firm and the law firm will say, "Nope, we're not a criminal defense firm or family law firm. Like see, go back to your Google search results," in so many words.

And what's really nice is to do two things. One is to make a recommendation and to give your front end teams your in-house reception. Yeah. If you have that paralegal answering the phone, if you have your partner answering the phone, if you're doing it, have your list in front of you and have those referrals ready to go.

You can also post them on your website and that makes it even easier for anyone to access and for people to access proactively and for you to refer them there and not have a longer conversation.

What you can also do, and this is super important, this is the part two, is inform them of what you do, because they're a member of your community and you never know when they're going to have, or they're going to interact, interact with someone who is having an issue that's resolved by your firm, potentially a legal matter.

That's resolved by you. So let yourself take that minute and, in terms of efficiency, let me tell you, if you're going to spend your time doing anything that you have someone who's contacting you affirmative could be, or no, a good potential client in the future, it is absolutely worth your breath to tell those people what you do and why you're not able to help them with their current legal matter.

So that's a really nice experience. If you saved someone from the depths of Google search to give them a warm referral when they didn't have one before, right. I have seen that even result in positive reviews, like online reviews, they didn't even work with your firm, but they are taking the time to write a review because it was such a good experience.

Think about when you asked them to a restaurant, did you write the review on the food alone? Not necessarily. So this happens all the time and it's your opportunity to build your brand and give someone a great experience with your firm, which makes them even more likely to refer you in the future.

Don't just hang up on them. Don't just send them off.

With a referral, educate them on what you do now in terms of integrating your systems. I really recommend that you have payments built in for automated invoices and credit cards and then also integrating every conversation with your CRM and training your clients to interact with you through a secure portal, because there is a really important step that happens when you cross that boundary with. Okay?

It's no longer a lead. It's a client. Our communications, are they secure? So the solutions have come down in cost quite a bit.

And I would encourage you, if you're not already using a case or practice management system to do so. And they are very friendly.

Now they work very well with document generation, email signature integration, invoicing integration, so that that entire workflow from new lead to retain clients can happen without as much involvement from you because the process is very much the same based on a good client hiring you every time.

So what's the game plan?

What to do next: track your time, tag non-billable work, and prioritize fixes

So the game plan with five minutes left is to really take a good hard look at what you're spending your time on every week. Just do a week. You're not sending you to jail. It's not like the end of the world. You have to probably build time to some extent maybe anyway.

I know we're all trying to get away from that, but just spend your time just track it really, really carefully.

Make a game out of it and then identify what you have to continue doing yourself.

Identify what you're going to streamline, automate outsource, and then, "Oh, shoot. That billable time that I didn't actually get paid for," go hunt that down or tell someone a hundred down for you because it can be really nice to have a third party, do it for you and not have to have a personal relationship jeopardized by a financial conversation.

Now think about what's most urgent and important. And oftentimes I see sort of this like lead qualification and screening process, payments, those are really time-consuming things.

And when you're the attorney, they're more time consuming because someone knows they're talking to the attorney. They're less time consuming when someone knows they're talking to the intake person, that they have to have a certain exchange and structured, and there's a known cadence.

So that sort of conversation outsource it. And you will not only. Not do it yourself, but the person who's doing it well, so do it faster. Now, the data entry and the lead, follow-up set those things up once and let them run on triggers and have them automated address a couple things at first, don't go after every single thing.

Like if you're like, "Oh, Maya and Maddy said, like, do all these things in this 50 page deck," like, please, please don't come running and screaming to us that like, "You didn't do anything well, but you try to do 100 things at once."

We all know that's like not the recipe for success. Just pick out what you have a gut feeling is a biggest leaky hole in your pot and then tackle that first.

If it doesn't work, try the next thing, because there is going to be some that work and some that don't work as well, but some will work really well. So if you only do a couple at a time, you can pinpoint. Exactly what works so that you can do more like that.

And then you're going to assess the impact every quarter, every whatever cadence makes the most sense for you and not just quantitative way, but qualitatively.

So yes. How much more revenue are you bringing in? Are you really happy with the clients that you're working with and your screening process is so much better and you're saying no to the ones you don't want?

And are you also like finding better work life balance, and having the ability to exercise control in so far as you want to, and not just controlling everything in that, being a control on you, how your sleep quality, how's your stress level and think about these other qualitative factors that really do make an impact.

If you're interested in trying our service, we are really pleased to share with you that.

If you haven't signed up yet, ross50 is the code to get $50 off your first month. We answer calls, we return some calls for web form leads, and we answer website chats and texts messages. We do have a cloud phone system Keypad if you're using your personal cell phone still, which I really hope you're not, but we can help you.

And then Maya will share a little bit about how to get started with the case research rock.

MAYA:

Sure.

So at Ross intelligence, we're offering this 14 day all access free trial. So just go to our website to sign up. There's no need to put in your credit card or anything you pay monthly with no contract.

So you can try it out for as long as you want. We're sure you're going to be hooked.

You can try out that natural language feature find similar language, the document analyzer for your briefs or your opponent's briefs. And then you can use the power of artificial intelligence to spend less time researching, and spending more time advocating and doing the things that you love to do.

MADDY:

Cool.

Well, thank you guys so much. It was really a pleasure to be here.

I've included a couple other resources in ebook, and then the Law Firm Communication Playbook that has a lot of exercises in it.

Actually, this is also an important inventory for your firm, if you ever do, and if you would like to follow up with us with any questions or for more information or guidance on certain tools and software, because Maya and I are like in this industry where we have sort of like greater visibility into what's what's going on and what's good.

Please feel free to email us, reach out on LinkedIn. We'd be happy to help you put in place what will have the biggest impact for you.

So thank you so much and thanks Maya. Thank you very much. And thanks everybody.

Questions? Contact Us.

Have any questions about Smith.ai's virtual receptionists services or anything else mentioned in this webinar? Call us at (650) 727-6484 or email us at support@smith.ai.

If you’d like to learn more about how Smith.ai’s virtual receptionists can help your business, sign up for a free consultation with our team or get started risk-free with our 14-day money-back guarantee!

To watch more webinars like this one, check out our YouTube channel or access articles, guest blog posts, and other resources on the Smith.ai blog.

Elizabeth Lockwood

Elizabeth Lockwood is the content marketing associate at Smith.ai. She focuses specifically on writing and editing engaging articles, blog posts, and other forms of publication.

Try Smith.ai now

Accelerate growth with live receptionists and AI. Get started risk-free for 14 days!

Accelerate growth with live chat agents and AI. Get started risk-free for 14 days!

GEt Started NOWGEt Started NOW

Contact our sales team today at (650) 727-6484 or schedule a call.

sign up for our newsletter

Thank you!
Your submission has been received.
Yikes! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Categories