An artificial intelligence-backed (AI) platform designed to elicit key information from new law firm clients and put them at their ease has launched in the UK, initially targeted at family law practices.
Settify is an Australian innovation. Launched there last year for family law, it was recently extended to cover estates and wills.
The plan is to follow the same pattern in the UK, with expansion due in 2019.
So far the company has signed up around 100 law firms and says it has serviced 19,000 clients with assets of over £7bn.
Its co-founder and chief executive, Australian solicitor Max Paterson, aged 30, said Settify aimed to confine the work charged for by solicitors to that most useful to clients.
Taking key client fact-finding details, but also providing clients with tailored information, the product’s website said it helped “connect with prospective clients”, while demonstrating “empathy and expertise”, augmenting standard email, web or telephone enquiries with “an intelligent engagement funnel”.
Describing the product, the website said: “Settify intelligently interacts with your new clients, from your website or by invitation. It provides them with customised, helpful information relevant to their family law matter, and collects a full brief of their initial instructions.”
It claimed to have “won” over 7,000 new matters “for partner firms”.
Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Paterson said: “I think nowadays people expect to get things done online straight away, and the place that solicitors should come in is when we are adequately briefed and prepared.
“We charge significant sums but we do so because we have valuable experience and valuable analysis that we can bring to bear on clients’ cases.”
He added: “The whole philosophy behind Settify is that we solicitors shouldn’t necessarily be available around the clock, evenings, weekends, and be in touch as soon as a thought strikes a client, but instead have something [like this technology] that is there for clients.”
While Settify was not “machine learning or neural network-type AI”, it nevertheless had “a complex web of conditional logic, decision trees within decision trees that sit behind it so that as clients are going through it, it very much emulates an intelligent conversation and responds meaningfully in real-time. It feels like a bespoke individual process that people are going through”.
He denied it was in effect a chatbot. “I hate chatbots. I think a chatbot is something that pretends to be what it’s not; pretends to be a human in some way.
“The user interface of Settify is designed to seem like an automated online system and while it has intelligence in that it can guide people to relevant points and skip over bits that are irrelevant, it’s not a chatbot in that it gives you free rein to have a conversation.
“My view is that if you have a chatbot that is too wide ranging, it very quickly leads to frustration. So our philosophy is very much that this is something that people can feel comfortable doing in their own time, in their own space, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything that is not.”
He said it could be applied to other areas of law and mentioned possible future developments, including criminal and personal injury.
Settify is white-labelled to law firms and costs a monthly subscription fee of £99 plus £99 per fee-paying client.
Mr Paterson insisted the cost was justified, even low, relative to fees charged by lawyers. He said most of Settify’s clients catered to “the top end of town”, but a slimmed-down tariff was also available to small firms and sole practitioners which wanted a cut-down service.
However, most existing clients adopted “bespoke, unique versions of the system”, in which Settify had collaborated closely with the firm over the exact content of the system.
“We work with the firms to explain concepts in the way that they want them explained, ask questions that they want asked, and adopt a tone and a style that the firm likes to adopt when they’re dealing with their clients.”
Mr Paterson stressed the system was not aimed at replacing face-to-face consultations, but rather focusing client meetings more tightly. “It’s certainly not intended to replace an initial meeting with the client.
“Our core philosophy is that the relationship with the client has always got to be paramount; a relationship of trust where a lawyer can look at the client in the eye and say ‘this is what my experience and my expertise tells me about your particular situation’.”
He said Settify was a natural extension of the kind of online behaviours people expected as a matter of course nowadays.
“People are ordering their transport online, ordering food online, organising holidays online. If we as solicitors think we can sit in our offices and conduct ourselves as we basically have since the 1950s, then I think we are in for a nasty surprise.”
He concluded: “Where we come in is that, in my humble opinion, lawyers asking hourly rates should not be charging people for answering questions like ‘How do you spell your middle name, what are the children’s dates of birth, how much is the car worth? We should be getting that information and then applying our expertise to help clients…
“I always loved practising as a family lawyer. I practised at a top-tier family law practice in Melbourne and really I’ve been passionate for a long time about saying that just because lawyers have a certain way that we do things, that doesn’t mean it’s the right way or indeed the way that is most appropriate, given that we are in 2018.”