Strategy & Leadership

Embracing the chatbot

December 19, 2017


December 19, 2017

Bob Williams

Associate Editor, Practical Law Commercial Transactions

Bob Williams works for Thomson Reuters, but the views expressed here are his own. Bob is a graduate of New England Law, where he concentrated on technology transactions and intellectual property protection. He has also been featured in the New England Law Review, where he worked as an online editor.


An efficiency boost for the professional services industry

Lawyers, doctors and other highly trained service professionals are finding parts of their workflows are ripe for automation. Far from threatening their job security, technology integration generates unique opportunities for those savvy enough to harness them.

Chatbots are among the many technologies vying for adoption. These are software tools powered by language-based rules, and sometimes artificial intelligence, that users can interact with via a chat interface such as text message, Facebook Messenger, Slack and WhatsApp. Within these applications users can engage a pre-programmed service, triggering an information exchange in a manner that mimics human conversation.

Chatbots are not new. Businesses have long used preprogrammed bots to complete a finite set of repetitive tasks. This extends to callers making a series of selections prior to being connected with the right department, or asking a user to fill out an interactive questionnaire to determine the best next step. As chatbot technology continues to advance we are getting closer to a time when bots may be able to "think" on their own, enabling professionals to hand over more complex, interactive tasks.

Advanced chatbots are already in play with human-like precision. For example, DiagnosisAI, a healthcare technology company, recently unveiled DexMD. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning on Amazon's Alexa to personalise answers to medical questions curated by a team of over fifty physicians. Botler AI, a Montreal-based startup, runs a free chatbot that assists users navigating immigration legal procedures. Sage, an accounting software provider, launched Pegg, a chatbot which can manage business finances and tracks payments and expenses in Facebook Messenger. Every day the list of chatbot capabilities grows. Here are some more examples that go beyond answering routine questions.  

Advanced chatbots can take on a string of administrative tasks: reminding clients through text about upcoming meetings, managing cancellations or rescheduling.

A bot could be programmed to send personalised out of office messages with varying degrees of information about the professional's whereabouts, depending on who sent the email.

A practitioner with a Facebook page could use a chatbot in Facebook Messenger to screen potential client intakes and transfer them to an employee if enough potential elements of a claim exist.

A chatbot could be used to recognise when material information is missing close to a deadline, alerting staff or emailing the client to let them know. The bot could also be equipped to answer questions on how to acquire the missing information, and mark the calendar with a date to followup.

Advanced customisation is relatively difficult to attain without extensive technical knowledge. However a quick Google search reveals a multitude of companies that are in the business of creating custom chatbots. Some sites leverage a form-building model, enabling business owners to create their own without programming knowledge. Some chatbots are premade and ready to install for a monthly fee.

Across industries, chatbots are becoming increasingly accepted and adopted, but highly skilled professionals have largely opted to dismiss the technology as too impersonal. After all, strong customer service and maintaining client relations is half the battle. So it is suggested to start small with a trial run, automating menial and repetitive tasks, testing with a few trusted clients that have agreed to participate.

Professionals have used this model of trialing new technology in the past, from lawyers adopting online legal research tools instead of the law library, accountants choosing to use software to populate tax returns as a replacement for filling out paper forms, to doctors accessing internal databases for patient information rather than manila folders. We have witnessed that changes of this magnitude take time, decades, and those that were first to adopt them not only reaped the rewards, but also dealt with the growing pains.

Even with this uncertainty, some professionals have decided to take the leap. For instance, Advobot, a chatbot that crafts non-disclosure agreements, has many large law firms and in-house legal department customers and partners, with the aim of making lawyers’ lives easier.  

This early in the game, the role chatbots will play in the workplace is still being defined. But professionals still have a choice to make: embrace them, or wait and see where the future takes us.  


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited (EIU) or any other member of The Economist Group. The Economist Group (including the EIU) cannot accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any person on this article or any of the information, opinions or conclusions set out in the article.

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