Live Chat For Legal Websites

Click to Chat Live With A LawyerOnce you have gotten a potential client to your website you a re only part way there. You need him or her to hire you. Live Chat offers lawyers another opportunity to convert website visitors into clients. Live Chat gives website visitors a chance to get immediate answers to their legal questions. This post will discuss Live Chat, ethical issues and things to consider if you decide to add Live Chat to your website as a tool to obtain new clients.

WHAT IS LIVE CHAT?

Before discussing some of the issues involved in deciding whether to add Live Chat as a way to get new clients, it is important to understand what Live Chat is. One definition of Live Chat, also known as “live help” or “live support” is:

A web service that allows businesses to communicate, or chat, in real time with visitors to their Web site. Live support applications are commonly used to provide immediate customer support and information to clients and customers. Exact features and functions of live support are application specific, however you can generally expect a live chat application to provide real time visitor monitoring, custom chat windows, invisible traffic analysis, website integration and secure administration controls.

Webotopia: Live Support

Live Chat is essentially instant messaging between a website visitor and someone from the website itself. Another analogy is that Live Chat is a virtual receptionist: someone who welcomes visitors, answers questions, takes messages and forwards information to the correct person within an office.

There are some common words and phrases in Live Chat. While definitions may vary slightly, especially depending on the type of website, here are some of the more commonly used words and phrases along with definitions:

  • Conversion: A customer purchasing or hiring the website vendor or host.
  • Pre-Chat Form: A set of questions posed to a potential website visitor before a live chat starts but after they click a chat button or accept a proactive chat invitation.
  • Chat Agent or Chat Operator: A person who responds with a website visitors during a live chat.
  • Proactive Live Chat: Proposing a live chat session to a website visitor.
  • Reactive Chat: A live chat initiated by website visitors by clicking on a chat button.
  • Unanswered Chat: A chat started by a website visitor but never responded to by a website’s chat agent.
  • Unavailable Chat: An attempt by a website visitor to initiate a reactive chat during a time no one is available to chat.
  • Unavailable Email Form: A form that permits a website visitor to complete to send an email after they click on a chat button but no one is available to respond to the chat request.

These definitions may differ slightly depending on the Live Chat vendor.

BENEFITS TO ADDING LIVE CHAT

There are a number of benefits to adding Live Chat to your legal website. The most important benefit is that, like your phone number and Contact form, it gives you another way to convert a website visitor into a client. Live Chat gives website visitors two things they really want: immediate answers and anonymity; these two factors may get some people to start a conversation that they would not otherwise if they had to call or send an email. Other benefits of Live Chat may, depending on how it is used, include: enables website visitors to connect with a lawyer outside of normal business hours; provides additional customer service and answer questions about your office; additional analytical information about website visitors; and can be free or relatively inexpensive.

There are a number of studies, although none involving legal websites, which show that Live Chat can increase conversions and sales:

  • TELUS International: Best Practices: Online Chat Sales (2011) :
    • 20% of consumers aged 18-40 located and engaged in online chat when they visited a company’s website;
    • 67% of shoppers with a previous chat experience continue to actively seek chat options on merchant websites;
    • 77% of chat users agree the new interaction method positively influences their attitude about the retailer they were considering buying from;
    • 63% of respondents reported they were more likely to return to a website after experiencing live chat; and
    • 38% stated they purchased from the e-commerce website as a direct result of the chat session itself.
  • BoldChat’s Live Chat Performance Benchmarks A Statistical Analysis 2012 Edition:
    • Website visitors who chat (“Chatters”) are 7.5x more likely to convert than visitors who do not chat, which is up from 4.1x in 2009;
    • Chatters buy, on average, 24% of the time;
    • Chatters spend about 55% more per purchase than non-chatters; and
    • Chatters who engage via proactive invitation are 8x more likely to convert than visitors who do not chat, which is up from 6.3x in 2009.

It should be noted that TELUS and BoldChat offer Live Chat applications so their findings may be somewhat biased toward Live Chat.

ETHICAL ISSUES INVOLVED IN LIVE CHAT

WordCloud of Ethical Issues Involved in Live ChatThere are a number of ethical issues involved in Live Chat as a tool to convert website visitors to clients. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), every State, except California, as well as the District of Columbia has adopted some form of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. (Source: ABA website: Alphabetical List of States Adopting Model Rules. However, many states adopted modified versions of these Rules. For example, Nebraska uses ‘”email” in the definition a “writing” (Neb. Ct. R. of Prof. Cond. ß 3-501.0(n)) while the current ABA version of 1.0(n) uses “electronic communication,” which is much broader.

As each state has its own ethical rules and/or interpretations of those rules this post cannot answer every possible ethical question about Live Chat on legal websites. Some general ethical considerations about using Live Chat, under the current ABA Model Rules include:

  • Competence (Rule 1.1): Lawyers must be careful about responding to questions outside of their areas of practice as the duty of competence could be breached.
  • Confidentiality (Rule 1.6): Lawyers have a duty of confidentiality to current and former clients.
  • Duty to Prospective Clients (Rule 1.18): The Rules indicate that anyone who consults with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a “prospective client” and that the lawyer can be conflicted out of representing another client in the same matter.
  • Communication with Person Represented by Counsel (Rule 4.2): Need to be careful that you do not communicate with an opposing party who is represented by counsel.
  • Unauthorized Practice of Law (Rule 5.5): Answering questions about a legal matter in a state in which the attorney is not authorized to practice.
  • Communications Concerning A Lawyer’s Services (Rule 7.1): Must ensure that no communication is false or misleading. In addition, many states require “Disclaimers” and certain language in any “written” communication with potential clients. This may, although it is not clear, be required for Live Chat.
  • Solicitation (Rule 7.3): The ABA Rule about solicitation includes”real-time electronic contact” so, depending on how the Live Chat function works on a site it might be considered an improper solicitation especially for Proactive Chat.

These are just some of the ethical Rules that are involved in Live Chat. The ABA’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 is currently working on revising some of the Model Rules as they involve the internet, including confidentiality, advertising and outsourcing. (ABA: ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20: Chairs’ Message).

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT LIVE CHAT

Two Live Chat BubblesIf you have decided to implement Live Chat as another means to try and convert website visitors to clients there are a number of other things to consider about what Live Chat application to use. Some of the things to consider, which will influence what Live Chat application to get, are:

  • Analytical Information: Some Live Chat applications offer detailed analytical information about the person initiating a Live Chat.
  • Answering Live Chat Questions: This becomes especially important if the person responding is not the lawyer.
  • Appearance: Do you want a static button on your site, a dynamic button or a pop-up that appears after a user has been on the site for a certain period of time? In addition, where do you want the Live Chat button placed on your site?
  • Availability: Do you want someone available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (24/7) to be able to respond to chat requests or just at specified times?
  • Disclaimers/ Warnings: Are you going to have a specific disclaimer and/or warning when someone initiates a Live Chat or rely on Disclaimers elsewhere on your site?
  • Free or Paid Application: As in the case of most things, paid applications usually offer more functions than free applications. Do you need the extra functionality you get from the paid application?
  • Mobile Application: Does the Live Chat application have a mobile application? If so, do you believe you can type appropriate responses on a mobile phone?
  • Text or Video Chat: While most current Live Chat applications are text-based there are some companies that offer video live chat.
  • Transcripts: Does the Live Chat application keep a transcript of the chat? This can be very important especially if ethically or potential conflict of interest issues arise.
  • Who Will Respond To Live Chat Inquiries: This may be the hardest decision lawyers have to make about implementing Live Chat. There are a number of companies that offer Live Chat services and have their employees (“operators”) take a potential client information. The information is then relayed to the law firm. Other Live Chat applications permit the lawyer or his or her staff to respond directly to the inquiry. Outsourcing a Live Chat has certain advantages such as 24/7 availability and possible protection against some of the ethical issues that can arise. However, these services are going to cost more than the lawyer-answered Chat and may not provide the “immediacy” a client wants. Most companies offering Chat Agents along with the chat application usually charge by the “chat” so you need to consider the costs along with whether you get charged for chats from persons that could not become clients, i.e. needs a criminal attorney and you only handle personal injury. In addition, do these Chat Agents just get contact information, or have their own scripts or use scripts or information you provide?

These are just some of the things to consider after you have made the decision to use a Live Chat application on your legal website.

CONCLUSION

Live Chat gives lawyers another way to convert a website visitor into a client. However, lawyers must be especially cautious because of numerous ethical issues that can arise. If you decide to include Live Chat on your website there are a number of things to consider such as who will be responding, whether to have proactive or reactive chat and the appearance of the Live Chat features.

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