Skip to content

The Live Chat Problem

Jessie Hoerman Jun 05, 2019

The 2020 legal consumer overwhelmingly cites timeliness as one of the most important reasons they hired a lawyer, according to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report (“Clio Report”).

Law firms that don’t challenge pre-2010 solutions for responsiveness will soon lose clients to firms that understand that legal consumers’ expectations have changed significantly in the past decade.

Live chat companies sold their product as the answer to the responsiveness problem on legal websites for more than ten years, with very little changes made to the product in that decade. If your law firm has been slow to analyze the effectiveness of this tool, you are not alone. According to live chat marketing, over 5,000 legal websites are still counting on live chat to fill the gap.

In 2020, Live Chat no longer meets consumer expectations. This article analyzes three common live chat claims while considering the 2020 legal consumer:

  1. Live chat fills in the responsiveness gap,
  2. Having live chat is better than not having live chat, and,
  3. Live chat converts website visitors into “leads”.


Claim #1: Live Chat Fills in the Legal Responsiveness Gap 


According to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report, 82% of clients agreed that timeliness was important. Live chat agents pop up within 17 seconds to engage users, so they certainly are timely.

But, if you have ever read through a live chat transcript, you will see that live chat agents are not “responsive”, they are merely a website version of a large call center with no dedicated agents. According to the Clio Report, 81% of potential legal clients want a response to questions they ask.

In 2020, it is important that lawyers give equal weigh to how quickly they respond and how well they respond. Live Chat does not fill this responsiveness gap.


Claim #2: Live Chat Converts Website Visitors into Leads


But, peel back the assumptions that are meant to follow this marketing pitch and it becomes clear that converting web visitors into leads at any cost is not helpful to most law firms.

Live chat is an outreach tool, it does not increase traffic to your website. In order to increase web visitors, law firms must either work on their website optimization (SEO) or pay for ads driving visitors to their site. When a web visitor chooses to reach out to your law firm via live chat, they have chosen not to call you, email you or fill out a form on your website, and its likely those options were free.

Law firms that don’t add the cost of live chat to their determination of cost per signed clients, are not properly analyzing their return on investment.

Recently, I dove into three years of live chat data on a mid-sized plaintiff’s law firm to do just that – determine the additional cost per signed client for a firm using live chat consistently. At the time of audit, this law firm was paying $35/chat and were able to reject leads that didn’t pan out within 7 days. They also utilized other outreach tools for web visitors – specifically, detailed questionnaires for each litigation, general contact forms, email and click to call.

During the 3+ years of using live chat, this firm had 1,764 live chat “leads” at a total cost of just under $40,000. Ultimately, this law firm signed 25 clients from live chat in this 3+ year time frame. Not surprisingly, the other tools decreased in use because a live chat agent engaged visitors after 17 seconds – a time frame that was too quick for a user to complete a form.

Live chat conversion rates for this law firm was 1% (25 signed cases/1,764 leads). A conversion rate significantly lower than their conversions on phone calls and forms – both of which were free during this time frame.

The additional cost that live chat added to each signed client for this law firm was $1,590/case.

This simple cost equation is not good, but it also doesn’t account for the biggest “cost” of live chat – the cost of staff needed to follow up on leads and the cost of opportunities lost to unknowledgeable live chat agents.

If you are a current or past user of live chat, I don’t need to explain to you how frustrating a long, directionless, live chat transcript is. Most law firms report that intake staff prioritize other leads such as phone calls, web forms and emails before tackling the day’s live chat transcripts, since so few of the live chat leads result in cases.

Live chat agents are generally not dedicated to a specific law firm and they are not trained in the law. Although most law firms wouldn’t dream of putting someone on their phones that doesn’t know anything about their firm, 5,000 legal websites do just this on their website. These law firms are likely missing opportunities frequently.

During the audit of the live chat details from this same mid-sized law firm, I found the following “lost opportunity”:

Live Chat Agent Engages Web Visitor on a Friday at 6:25 pm – An individual sees a TV commercial about the settlement of a drug litigation this law firm had been working on for years. Like many legal consumers, this potential client watched the commercial and searched online for a lawyer to help them. A live chat agent engages the online visitor preventing them from filling out a detailed form that would have collected relevant information from the web visitor.

The transcript of this lead started with a single simple question by the web visitor, “Does your firm have any clients filing claims for this drug litigation?”. The live chat agent, knowing nothing about the law or this law firm, responded as follows “this law firm has many years of experience in Medical & Mesothelioma however we may be able to assist.”

That response is not only wrong and nonsensical, it is not an answer to the question the web visitor asked. Not surprisingly, this engagement did not result in a client. It is however considered a “lead” and the firm paid $35 for the engagement.

Claim #3: Live Chat is Better Than No Live Chat


The firm that received the above live chat engagement regarding the drug litigation on Friday at 6:25 pm was also testing an automated intake form on their website. This intake form was set to send out automatic contracts for qualified potential clients in this drug litigation.

If this web visitor had filled out the form instead of being interrupted by a live chat agent, the law firm would have gathered relevant information to determine if the web visitor qualified for the settlement. If the visitor qualified, they would have received a contract immediately and the firm would have been notified of the potential client.

While there is no guarantee this automated form would have resulted in a client, it is false to say that an agent with no knowledge of the law firm or the litigation engaging web visitors is better than an automated form.