Automation

Episode 18: Greg Siskind on Process Automation for Lawyers

The focus of this episode is automation of legal processes by law firms and in-house legal teams. We talk to Greg Siskind, a Memphis lawyer with Siskind Susser, a leading U.S. immigration law firm that handles all aspects of immigration and nationality law.

As Greg explains, he and his firm automate both client facing and internal legal processes. For instance, prospective and existing clients can access firm-built apps to determine if they qualify for visas and provide customer feedback. Internally, among other automated processes, Siskind Susser lawyers have access to tools that generate retainer agreements and help perform legal research.

As we learn from Greg, automation solves several problems and has several benefits, including a way to limit errors, automate expertise, save time and gain marketing exposure.

You can learn more about Greg at visalaw.com or on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef

For our legal tech founder segment, we stick to the automation theme and talk to Tom Dreyfus, the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an automation platform helping lawyers create legal chatbots, streamline processes, eliminate repetitive tasks and access new revenue streams.

With Josef, lawyers can create legal chatbots without the need for developers.  Company clients include law firms, governments, in-house legal teams and public interest legal groups.

To learn more about Tom or Josef visit joseflegal.com.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Usenet

Bulletin Boards

Expert Systems

Neota Logic

Ross Intelligence

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Entrepreneur Parole

ABA Blueprint

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          This episode is all about automation of legal processing. We talk to Memphis immigration lawyer Greg SIskind about how he uses technology to automate many of his legal tasks. We also talk to Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an app from its lawyers to create bots to automate some of their workloads and processes.

Chad Main:          This episode was recorded live and direct from Soulsville, USA. That’s right. Memphis, Tennessee. Don’t think Memphis is a hotbed of legal tech activity? That might be somewhat true, but our guest lives there, and he’s one of the earliest adopters of legal technology out there.

Chad Main:          On today’s show, we talk to immigration lawyer, Greg Siskind. He practices with the law firm of Siskind & Susser, where he handles all kinds of immigration matters. He helps individuals try to get legal immigration status. He helps corporate clients and startups try to get work visas for star talent from other countries, and he even helps sports/entertainment clients trying to get their artists and athletes permission to work in the United States.

The First Law Firm Website (Almost)

Chad Main:          So, why do I say Greg is one of the earliest adopters of legal tech? He’s an OG as far as use of tech in legal goes, because he literally almost had the very first law firm website out there.

Greg:       I ended up getting married, in Memorial Day of ’94. I was working on this website. But, we took a little honeymoon. When I came back, in the beginning of June, the website launched. Now, the sad thing for me was, had I launched the website before the honeymoon, I’d had technically would’ve been the first.

Greg:       But, two other DC large firms launched their sites like a week and half, two weeks, before mine went up. Mine was like ready to go. But, I wasn’t gonna launch a website while I’m like in Egypt, at the pyramids. And, that’s what we were doing.

Greg:       So, I was just waiting, and I just assumed that everything was cool. The good thing was, for me, I got a tone of media. Nobody wanted to write about two big DC firms that had launched this website. They were more interested in the sole immigration lawyer in Nashville, who had done this, and was clients from all over the country.

Greg:       That was a lot more interesting for a reporter than how some four, five hundred lawyer law firm was using it to get corporate clients.

Chad Main:          What was the goal of the website? I assume it’s to get business, right?

Greg:       It was to get business, and it was basically to be a publishing platform for me. So, the other thing that, aside from the website, that I started was an email newsletter. And, that was the first email newsletter that I’m aware of.

Greg:       So, the website might have actually landed a couple of weeks late, but the newsletter that I put out was the first newsletter, I think, that any law firm ever distributed electronically. And, that was at the same time that the website launched.

Greg:       And, I think I had to do it at the beginning. I was doing it at the beginning, going through AOL, which was new also at the time. But, AOL had the ability to allow me to do email distribution. And, that was …

Greg:       And, not long … That was not very, no offense against AOL, but it was not … In 1994, that email product was not all that great. I was building up content on the website from the newsletter. I had a link on the website that you could subscribe to, and then I would manually add the person to the list.

Greg:       But, that newsletter grew really, really quickly. I think it was up to about 40000 subscribers towards at its peak.

Chad Main:          Wow! And, what year was that?

Greg:       This was probably after about a … maybe about two years in.

Chad Main:          So, not a long time, and it still-

Greg:       No. So, it was being distributed far and wide. And, I didn’t really have any competition from the immigration bar, probably for a good two years. So, I had some space to grow.

Greg Moves Into Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As we just heard, Greg saw the value in internet and email for marketing and client development. As an early adopter of the law firm who utilized the internet, it is not surprising that Greg progressed into using tech to automate task and processes that he was running into, every day at his immigration practice.

Chad Main:          As we will hear throughout this episode, automation helps with more than just marketing, although that is a key feature, and should not be overlooked. Automation helps create consistency in processes, it digitizes expertise, reduces mistakes, facilitates communication, and very importantly, it saves time.

Chad Main:          Greg’s first forte into legal automation wasn’t too sexy or complicated. But, taking one step at a time, Greg’s use of automation has grown exponentially.

Greg:       One of the things I did, early on, was try and find things that were not available electronically. So, even though the website was more of a marketing tool early on, I was taking a lot of primary resources and just digitizing them, and getting them on our website.

Greg:       In terms of automation, the other thing that was a first for us, back in about ’97 or so, was the immigration forms. This sounds like a basic thing that you just go on to USCIS website, and you can either-

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       USCIS is the agency that handles immigration. Now, you go on, there’s a form section. Some of them are electronically submitted. Some of them you download as Adobe, and you print them out. There was no Adobe Acrobat. Well, there was. Adobe Acrobat had just started making PDF conversion tools available to the masses.

Greg:       So, that was a traffic builder for me, was I went and I got the forms, ordered the paper forms from the immigration service, and got all the popular ones, and then scanned them, and made them into PDFs and put them on our website, which sounds like the lowest tech thing that you can imagine today. But, it was like a huge deal, because it was the only place on the entire internet you could find government forms.

Greg:       The INS was the agency before USCIS. They did not have a website until about 1998, 99. Their first website, all it was was a photo and a bio of the INS commissioner. Not very helpful.

Greg:       So, I was getting a lot of traffic there. And, it certainly occurred to me that … So, you asked when I got started. So, I would say it’s always sort of been in the background trying to find-

Chad Main:          I count that. I mean, I count that at some level, because you automating the process of filling in these forms.

Greg:       Right. But, in terms of more recent years, we’re definitely interested in trying to use tools on basically taking the expertise of our lawyers, and building automation tools that offload that expertise into tools for lawyers, for internal use for lawyers, for potential clients, that they can get that information on demand, as opposed to having to have a lawyer basically regurgitate it, and better information, because lawyers make mistakes.

Greg:       They often times make assumptions as far as what they think they’re hearing. I’m not talking about mistakes in terms of malpractice or anything like that. But, not necessarily interpreting correctly what they’re hearing, or missing asking for some background information that would change the answers.

Greg:       And so, a couple of years ago, I started hearing about expert systems that were using artificial intelligence, and decided that that was something that made a lot of sense for immigration law. We are a practice that is very rules oriented.

Greg:       It’s a lot of times in our heads, we’re using decision trees, we have a lot of time decision trees in our practice, that we’re using to figure out whether people qualify for different benefits. We are assembling a lot of documents that are based on what we’re finding out.

Greg:       And, we have been, for a long, trying to figure out, in our firm, how to streamline processes, and be more efficient, and be more consistent how we do things across the firm. And, as we started to get into that, heard about Neota Logic, which is an expert system software that was one of the first AI products that were out there. Heard about ROSS Intelligence, and a couple of others.

Greg:       But anyway, I contacted Neota. Neota, their early clients were largely large firms, and had some interesting products. And, it was expensive. But, I talked them into taking a chance on a small immigration firm that was gonna try and do some different things it. And, that product has been great, as far as what I’ve …

Greg:       We found that it was very versatile, as far as things that we could do. So, for example-

Chad Main:          For the listeners, what’s the elevator pitch in Neota Logic? What does it do for lawyers?

Greg:       Basically, it offloads the legal analysis from lawyer’s brain to an application, so that essentially, the app allows you do an interview, and basically come up with a legal analysis at the end that would be very similar to what a lawyer would be doing if you were face to face with the lawyer, and the lawyer was interviewing you, to figure out if you qualify or if a lawyer needed to get information from you, in order to build a legal document.

Greg:       It basically automates that interaction between a lawyer and a client.

DAPA Automation Tool

Chad Main:          One of the first things Greg did with tool automation was client phasing. He created an app for people to use to see if they qualify for DAPA, which is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. That is a precursor to DACA, which I’m sure all of you have heard a lot about in the news lately, which is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Chad Main:          Because of legal uncertainty, the DAPA app kind of got stuck in limbo. So then, Greg made another app. This time, it was an app that startups and entrepreneurs could see if they had a chance to get a Visa to hire employees from outside the United States. Unfortunately for Greg, the powers that be also kind of put that app into limbo too.

Chad Main:          But, the point is this, apps can be built to help attract clients, help clients help themselves, and also streamline communication with both potential and existing clients.

Greg:       Well, so the first tool that we took out was … It’s kind of sad how this shock out. But, I guess it depends on your perspective. But, we wanted to have a big splash with the first tool that we rolled out with Neota.

Greg:       And, it was during the Obama administration. And, they had announced a program in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. And basically, this was a follow up to the DACA program that’s been in the news a lot lately. And, DAPA was gonna benefit about four million people. And, they announced the rules, and then immediately was taken to court.

Greg:       And so, what we had done was we built an app that help people figure out if they qualified for the program. And, there were a bunch of complicated rules as far as whether they qualified or not. We built this whole thing, but we couldn’t actually put it out there, because the program is tied up in the courts.

Greg:       Well, it works its was all the way to the Supreme Court. And, we find out what they, the Supreme Court … It’s the last case of the year for the Supreme Court. So, we had this app built, and we were going to launch it, as soon as the Supreme Court upheld DAPA.

Greg:       So, we had this whole app built that was basically ready to go. We had press releases. We had everything all set. And then, the Supreme Court ended up on a 4-4 tie. And, the program died because the lower, the fifth circuit decision stood on there.

Greg:       So, the first app never actually launched because of that. It was really good exercise for us to build this whole thing. We gambled that if it succeeded, and the Supreme Court had ruled in favor, I think we thought that the odds were that they were going to, that we would have this.

Greg:       It would be a very exciting news making thing, ’cause everybody would be excited about this program going forward. But, here’s this tool that instantly available that you don’t have to go to a lawyer. You can just go online. And, we had in the Spanish version, we had an English version of it, all ready to go.

Greg:       So, that didn’t happen. But-

Entrepreneur Parole Tool

Chad Main:          You said it was good exercise. But, there is one you did that we talked about it earlier, before we went on. The Parole.

Greg:       Yes. So, that was also a … President Obama, in 2014, came up with this whole package of these reforms that he was gonna do on immigration after congress couldn’t get their act together and pass an immigration reform package. So, he had a bunch of announcements.

Greg:       One of the was the DAPA program I just mentioned. Another one was something called Entrepreneur Parole.

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       Entrepreneur Parole was a program that they were trying to figure out this problem where they have this visa called an H-1B visa. It is in short supply. And, they had a lot of high profile cases where startup companies, founders, didn’t get picked in the annual H-1B lottery, and they ended up having to close their companies down, or migrate their companies to Canada, or not be able to grow as quickly as they wanted, or fire sale, where the founders could get out of it.

Greg:       So, they came up with this program that based on a whole series of criteria, that the immigration service could exercise discretion and allow a founder of the company to qualify for a work card for up to five years.

Chad Main:          Just correct me if my wrong, and this is my layman’s understanding of these H-1B visas. There’s a quota on them, and they’re only available to non US citizens with certain skills, or certain high level skills. Is that correct?

Greg:       Has to be at least a bachelor’s level background that they have. And, they have been getting, sometimes, over 200000 application for 65000 sports. So, it is very much a lottery. It’s a lottery. They draw them once a year. Basically, a company’s fate.

Greg:       You start a company. So, whole fate depends on whether they get picked or not in the lottery. Some of them have US workers, and they have venture capital funding, and there’s a lot riding on it.

Greg:       So, the Obama administration comes up with this plan, and they issue a proposed rule in late 2015. Late 2016, I apologize. And, we built the app based on the proposed rule. And then, we were watching to … And then, the plan was to tweak it when the final rule came out. And, launch the app. Just build the app, have it sitting in the server, and then launch it, hopefully within a day or two with the final app, because our assumption was that the rule wasn’t gonna change that much.

Greg:       And, they, the Obama administration, got this program launched like the week before Trump got inaugurated. So, they beat the clock, and they got the program out. And, they announced it was gonna have a six month lead in before the first application would come.

Greg:       But, we had the app launched, I think, 35, 48 hours after the rule went final. So-

Chad Main:          And, you say it’s still online.

Greg:       Yeah. It’s still online. It’s entrepreneur_parole.com. And so, we launched this thing. And then of course, the Trump administration decided that they wanted to kill the program, even though I don’t really … I mean, it’s a very pro business program. I don’t know what their problem is with it.

Greg:       But, they decided they wanna kill the program. And then, it ends up in court, where … And, I fortunate actually to be involved with the plaintiff’s group that was working on it. But, the case was successful, and the Trump administration was forced to actually open the program up. They hadn’t. They were supposed to open it in July, after six months passed. They didn’t do it. They got sued.

Greg:       The court said you have to open the program up. They opened the program up. They got about 15 application, and they have been sitting for all 2018, without a decision. But, the app is still up. It’s still technically tells you that you qualify. But, it’s gonna take a judge, probably, to make the government-

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk about the app. It’s built on the Neota Logic?

Greg:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          Who is the target user?

Greg:       The target user are founders themselves, and the venture capital and funding community.

Chad Main:          And, they go online, and there’s … I actually tested it out to see what it did. So, they go online, there’s questions asked. And, the questions are?

Greg:       The questions are; when was the company founded? How much funding have you gotten? Whether the funders are qualified? Are they US citizens? Are they individuals? Are they companies? There’s a bunch of questions to see whether the government can make a safe bet that the company has a reasonable shot of growing quickly, and creating jobs.

Greg:       So, we go through all that. And then, at the end, we came up with a meter from red to green, as far as the likelihood. Nobody actually … There’s no guarantees with this program, because it’s discretionary. But, there are certain things that definitely make you not qualify. And then, there are factors that make you qualify.

Greg:       So basically, what we ended up doing was we gave a rough score on what we thought that the person’s chances were, and then an explanation of why we came up with that. What the negative factors, or what the positive factors were.

Greg:       And then, this is also … This was kind of a cool thing that were able to do with Neota. If they scored poorly, we sent them to one page that was to set up a paid consultation with the firm. And, if they scored well, we sent them to another page where they got free consultation with firm.

Greg:       Of course they didn’t know. People don’t know that when they’re filling it out. But, the idea is that if they scored well, we thought that there’s potential work there, and there’s a solution for them. If they score poorly, we don’t know if there’s a solution for them. There might be other things that are available.

Greg:       Then that’s one of the cool things about Neota is that at the end of the sort of questionnaire, you can have a scoring system, you can have a generated document for you. You can do a lot of different kinds of things, as far as what happens after the person goes through that process.

Use of Automation to Gauge Client Satisfaction

Chad Main:          Another app Greg built to help strengthen client relationships is a client satisfaction survey. And, if you’ve listened to some of our prior episodes, you know conducting client interviews to gauge client satisfaction is key to building a strong practice.

Greg:       We wanted to build our own client survey tool. So, we built a very simple survey that looks very similar to online surveys that you take from any business that you go to. And, it’s just a couple of questions.

Greg:       And, it dropped down which attorney you worked with, with paralegal you worked with, and asked some basic questions about your experience. And then, a comment box if you wanna say anything or nice. You rated one to five, like most of the websites that are out there.

Greg:       And, if they score us a five, then they’re invited to go to a … They go to another page where they’re invited to go on to one of our social media pages where the firm has a presence, whether it’s, or whether it’s Google, or Facebook, or whatever, and rate us there.

Greg:       If they rate us poorly, that’s actually more important information to me than a nice rating on social media, because I wanna know what went wrong with the case, and where their dissatisfaction was, because a) we wanna address it, and b) somebody that, if you don’t address it, they’re gonna go out on social media and say bad things anyway. And, you’ll have deserved them, in a lot of cases if you didn’t address them.

Chad Main:          How do you get this survey to the client?

Greg:       So, that’s actually right in front of you, right there. We stick that on the final letter that we send to a client. And, it’s just a little sticky note that goes on, and there’s just a little website for feedback. And, some of the lawyers, I think, put in their signature blocks, some of them put the sticky notes on their letters that go out, either at the end or in the middle of the case, or wherever they are.

Greg:       And, I think also on the website, there’s a feedback link.

LegalTech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef Legal

Chad Main:          We’re gonna take five from our conversation with Greg, because it’s now time for the legal tech founder segment. In this episode, we’re sticking to our automation theme, because our guest is Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef. Josef is an app lawyers can use to create their own legal chatbots and streamline processes.

Chad Main:          Although Tom spends a good deal of his time here in the good old United States, he hails from the land down under, which is where we caught up to him, in Melbourne. 95 degree temps, at 7:30 in the morning, while I was dealing with subzero temperatures in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon.

Chad Main:          Tom, thanks for being here today, and good morning to you. My day is about done. Yours is just starting. Tell us a little bit about Josef.

Tom Dreyfus:        Thanks very much for having me, Chad. What we’ve built with Josef is a legal automation platform that is really easy to use. It’s designed for any lawyer, anywhere, any time, to build logic driven workflows, integrate them with document automation inside our platform, and launch those products to their clients in a conversational interface. So, as a legal bot.

Tom Dreyfus:        It’s designed so that lawyers can take the high volume repeatable services that they provide, and create automated and scalable versions of them, for their clients to access online.

Chad Main:          And, I saw you have a law degree and were a solicitor prior to Josef. Is that correct?

Tom Dreyfus:        That is correct. So, as you might hear by my accent, I am Australian. I went to law school here, and then practiced as a big law attorney in Australia. I clerked at our highest court. And then, I went over to New York to study legal data analytics at Columbia Law School.

Chad Main:          And so, how do you end up getting into legaltech and creating the app?

Tom Dreyfus:        Yeah. I mean, this is a great question. We actually created the app in response to demand from both Australian and American legal services organizations, who were looking at ways to use technology to help them to bridge the access to justice gap.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, one thing that we realized talking to them, and it’s something that’s sort of been repeated to us over and over by lawyers and attorneys across legal organizations of every size, from the biggest firms to the smallest, from in house teams to legal services organizations, was that legal technology, for the most part, is hard to use.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, even though there are attorneys who really want to create products that they know their clients will use and love, the platforms to do it require intensive training. The barriers to using them are just too high for organizations to incorporate them into their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, what we did was we identified this need for really simple, really easy to use legal technology, initially in the access to justice space. And, since we built and launched the platform, we’ve really expanded across the industry.

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk a little bit about under the hood. What are some of the features that Josef offers to create these bots?

Tom Dreyfus:        When we talk about Josef, we talk about three core features. So, the first one is a workflow buildup. And so, what that is, is a click type, drag and drop interface for attorneys to build logic driven workflows that reflect the work that they do with their clients, day to day. So, that allows them to create series of questions, a conversation, that their clients can use to provide them with all of the data that they need to do the legal work for them.

Tom Dreyfus:        Now, the second core feature is a document editor. So, what that looks like is a place for you to take your pre-existing templates, all of those legal documents that you have in your document management system, and you can input them into our platform, and layer in the logic from the automated workflow that you created.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you have some legal agreement, or a form, or a letter, that you know you can create an automated form of, if you only had access to the client data necessary to populate that document, and generate it on a customized basis. So, the second core feature is that document editor for you to build those documents.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, the third core feature is the conversational interface itself. And so, this is something that we’re really proud of. I think that legal technology, for a long time, especially for end users, the clients, has been pretty old fashioned, stuck in kind of web forms. And, no one likes filling out forms.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, this third core feature is a conversational interface. So, what some people might call a chat bot, where your clients, or if it’s internal phasing, your attorneys, get to interact with the automated products that you’ve built. That’s where they put in all of the data that’s gonna feed into those automated documents, that can then be generated as part of the end to end automated legal service that you’ve built.

Chad Main:          And, you said there’s an API available?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. So, our API is open. We can push and pull data from any external source. We have a number of really exciting integrations that have been both built already, and are in the works. I’m very happy to talk to anyone interested in using the platform to integrate with third party data sources about their plans, their projects. That’s some of the most exciting work we do.

Chad Main:          And, the app is … It could be used really virtually any size of law firm or legal department, right?

Tom Dreyfus:        That’s absolutely true. So, to give you a sense of who is using it, we have a solo lawyer in Florida who is using it to create an automated version of a part of filing for bankruptcy, all the way up to one of the largest firms in the world, who is rolling out access to Josef on a distributed basis across offices in, I think it’s, 12 different countries.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, in between, we have some of the most impactful legal services organizations using the platform. We even have the American Bar Association using Josef to power a service that they provide to their members.

Chad Main:          And, let’s talk about that for a second, because you mentioned to me before we hoped on, that’s a program called Blueprint. So, if people wanna see Josef in action, the can visit the ABA website. And, where would they find that?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. If you head to abablueprint.com, you will see this great service that’s been developed in partnership with the ABA and CuroLegal. And so, what we’ve done on Josef, with the ABA is build this service that more firm attorneys, solo attorneys can use to understand what technology is out there, what technology they should use for different parts of their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, all of this is powered by Josef’s logic engine. And, at the end of your interaction with ABA Blueprint, the system will actually provide you with a report containing recommendations of different products. It will diagnose where in your practice some technology might really help you do what you do even better.

Chad Main:          Well, that’s great. I appreciate your time today. If people wanna learn more about Josef, where do they go?

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you should head to joseflegal.com. You can request a demo. That will come through to my team, and I will be in touch as soon as I possibly can.

Internal Facing Legal Automation

Chad Main:          So, let’s get back to our talk with Greg about automation of legal processes in law firms and legal departments. So, Greg has talked a lot about applications that are client facing. But, many of the benefits legal departments and law firms can gain is the automation of internal processes.

Chad Main:          For instance, Greg’s firm uses automation to generate retainers, and engagement agreements.

Greg:       So, we have a retainer generator tool that we built also using Neota. So, the problem we were encountering, at the firm, was that we would have a template that we would push out to the lawyers.

Greg:       And, it was like the telephone game, where everybody starts out with the same engagement letter, and then they evolve in different directions, and people add something that … This lawyer adds something for this case that made sense in their case, and they basically mock up that same engagement letter for the next client. And then, eventually everybody has different engagement letters across the firm.

Greg:       We wanted to end that, and have consistency, and make sure there were certain important things that we wanted to have in the document like the conflicts of interest, and consistency of fees, and all kind of things like that.

Greg:       So, we decided to build this tool that would ask basic questions to the lawyer that was creating the engagement letter. Type of case, and how they wanted to structure the fees, and all kinds of things like that.

Greg:       And, we built in fee calculators to make it easier for people to … Actually, we bill a lot of cases on a flat fee basis at the firm. So, we may structure where people pay, and benchmarks at different stages, or they may pay a flat fee per month, or they may pay X% quarterly, or that kind of thing. And, there’s different ways that it’s done.

Greg:       We also wanted to make sure that we were having consistency on our fees. We have a fee schedule. And so, we also built it in with the tool, where we wanted the firm’s official fee to flow into the agreement.

Greg:       Now, a lawyer may make an adjustment here or there from the official fee. But, we built this tool that after the lawyer fills out the form, which may be a dozen questions or so, then it’ll generate the document or it’ll calculate the fees. It will pull in the fee from the fee schedule, and then it just makes it a lot faster for the lawyer to push it out. And then, we upload the right signature for digital signature and send it to the client.

Greg:       But, we have … Lawyers like it. And also, it solved this problem where we had all these inconsistencies.

Siskind & Susser’s Automated Tool For Doctors to Determine Visa Eligibility

Chad Main:          One of the most ambitious automation projects Greg and his firm undertook is a tool that its lawyers and clients can use to determine if doctors from other countries might qualify for work visas in the United States.

Chad Main:          As noted earlier, although Greg practices in law firm, automation is also very well suited for use in corporate legal departments. And, the doctor visa analysis tool, he and his firm has developed, is a great example of how certain types of legal analysis can be automated, something in house legal departments can take advantage of for legal questions that come up routinely, and tie up law department resources when they may not need to.

Greg:       It’s a tool that helps to determine if a doctor qualifies for a visa. And, the reason why it’s so complicated is immigration’s all federal. So, generally speaking, we have one set of rules for the whole country for immigration, except for doctors.

Greg:       Congress created this program where they delegated to each state the ability to custom design your own immigration program to get doctors into shortage areas, mostly rural areas, Indian tribal clinics, and places like that.

Greg:       And so, what will typically happen for us is physician recruiters have a real struggle of trying to figure out whether they can recruit a doctor or not, that was educated abroad. They are trained in the United States. And, it’s about a quarter of all the doctors that are in the United States in training.

Greg:       So, we’re not talking about a small group. We’re talking about roughly 78000 doctors that enter US every year for training, for residency programs. So, it’s a pretty big pool of doctors that they’re recruiting from.

Greg:       But anyway, figuring out whether they qualify, there are so many rules, and they differ from state to state. It’s very hard for a physician recruiter, a headhunter to be able to figure out if they can recruit a doctor or not for their facility, and whether the doctor qualifies, because a doctor has to meet a bunch of requirements, the hospital has to meet a bunch of requirements.

Chad Main:          So, give me examples some of the requirements that have to be met.

Greg:       So, they have to accept Medicaid, they have to be in what’s called a health professional shortage area, which is the US Department of Health and Human Services designated certain locations as having shortages of doctors. They have to have a certain amount of recruiting that they’ve gone through to try and get the doctor there. They have salary requirements that they have to meet.

Greg:       Sometimes there’s a bunch of requirements for what would need to be in the employment contract, which will work for some employers and not for others. A lot of issues that have to be dealt with. And, I think it’s one of the most complicated areas in immigration law, which is why there’s not a lot of lawyers, immigration lawyers, that handle doctor cases.

Greg:       But, the challenge that we’ve had over the years is because these physician recruiters get intimidated by the rules, they tend to, even though the shortages are dire in some places, they will still do everything that they can not look at the international doctor, even though they may be educated or trained at Harvard, and have all the requirements that they want, they just are intimidated by the immigration aspects of it.

Greg:       So, the lawyers, a lot of times, if you can make the process easier for the recruiter, it makes good sense from a business point of view, from an immigration lawyer, because they’re more likely to recruit that doctor, and they’re more likely to use your services.

Greg:       So, over the years, we’ve decided, for example, even though we charge for consultations, we always say we don’t charge hospitals for consultations regarding physician recruiting, because we didn’t wanna have one more reason for them to put that resume to the side.

Greg:       But, when they contact us, we have to go through this research process to figure out whether this location qualifies. We have to look at their address, we have to ask them a bunch of questions about their own practices, we have to ask questions about the doctor.

Greg:       And sometimes, it takes us a couple of days to get back with them. And, in of itself is a burden on the firm, because we have to go through this research process, and they may end up not hiring this doctor.

Greg:       And, it’s a burden on the recruiter, has to sit and wait, and they may still decide that, “You know what, it’s still too much of a pin in the neck to call a law firm up, even though we’re not charging for it.”

Greg:       So, what we wanted to do was to build out a tool that essentially had all the research built into it. The question sets would be different for every state, because remember every state gets to custom design their program. It will query the necessary databases.

Greg:       So, remember there’s a salary question, and it’s based on Department of Labor data. So, we wanted the tool to query the data from the department of labor. We wanted the tool to query the shortage area data. And then, we wanted them to ask all the questions that were appropriate for that particular state.

Greg:       Some states have some federal programs in there as well. So, it sort of it more complicated, because you have to ask questions based on more than one potential program that you could use in the state.

Greg:       So, we had this idea of this simple looking app that was actually fairly massive in what’s happening behind the scenes. And, we have been pushing it out about a state per week, over the last year, to finally get that done.

Greg:       And, I think that … I mean, it’s probably, I think, the most ambitious app that anybody would have done with Neota, and probably, I think, in legal, using an expert system like this, probably as far as the amount of labor that’s gone in. I think probably as much as any tool that’s been developed to date.

Chad Main:          I’ve got two question for you on that. So, number one, who’s using it? The attorneys? Paralegals? Others in the firm?

Greg:       It will be used by the attorneys and the paralegals who need to find out the answers themselves. So, it’s a lot faster for us to look it up in the tool than it’s gonna be to basically go and do the research.

Chad Main:          And, how is the answer given to you? What’s spit out?

Greg:       So, at the end it spits out a … We use that metering system, red, yellow, green light. Red means that you don’t qualify. And, it’ll tell you why you didn’t qualify in there, because it maybe something that you can address.

Greg:       It’ll tell you yellow, like some states for example, some of the programs have a limited number that you can do per year in the state. So, it may mean that you’ve met all the qualifications, but they have a lottery for doctors in their state. And so, you may not qualify, even though you meet all the rules.

Greg:       For green, it’s a state, there’s either no limits on the numbers, or it’s a state that tends to never fill up.

Greg:       And then, we have a checklist of all the items that are gonna be needed in order to be able to proceed with the case. So, this is something we want clients also to fill up, because they’ll get the answer they want, without having to wait on the law firm. So, they’ll know whether they should recruit that doctor or not.

Greg:       Basically, they’re getting a green light to recruit the doctor. And, some of these cases, I mean, you’re talking about people that are gonna be making anywhere from two to five hundred thousand dollars a year salaries. So, it’s a lot of money riding on recruitment.

Greg:       And, they’ll get a list of all the things that they’re going to have to provide in order to proceed with the case. So, that’s also something that saves some time before they actually … And, the law firm get it as well. So, we know they contact us, what the app said. On there, we can look at the logic as well, and we’ll know that without having to spend the time going through all the questions again that this is going to be a case that should work, as long as they answered the questions correctly.

Greg:       So, it’s designed for clients, and it’s designed for us. And then, we were talking beforehand, we probably will sell it to our competition as well.

It Takes Team Effort to Develop Automation for Law Firms

Chad Main:          So, what goes into the development of Siskind and Susser automation tools? A team effort.

Greg:       So, there’s a couple of folks that are involved. So, we have lawyers that are involved on the quality control issue, making sure that they’re going to the question sets that the answers correct, and that the questions are the correct questions.

Greg:       We have a couple of paralegals who have been helping as far as developing the question sets. These are people that regularly work with clients in terms of developing a checklist and everything that they’re gonna need.

Greg:       And then, we had two people in the office that are involved with coding. And, it’s coding, not in the sense that you have to have a background as a computer programmer. With Neota and with some of the other tools, you need to be technically comfortable. But, you don’t have to have a programming background in order to be able to develop with Neota-

Chad Main:          That’s the whole point of these tools. Those with non development, non coding background-

Greg:       They can be trained, right? So, we’ve had, probably on this tool, about six or seven people that have been working on it consistently.

Where to Start with Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As I got ready to end my visit with Greg, I asked him the question I ask most of our podcast guests. Where can people start doing what he’s doing?

Greg:       So, I think one of the first things that you should be doing as a lawyer … It’s not so much from a technology perspective, but you really should be mapping out your processes. So, in most practices, even though every case maybe unique and have it’s own … There are standard procedures for it.

Greg:       If you’re litigator, there are certain steps that you go through in terms of preparing your documents, and collecting information, and how you set up your files, and all that. And, I think the first thing that we’ve been struggling with, and trying to deal with as well in our firm, is really trying to map out all of our processes, so that we can figure out where we can streamline and automate.

Greg:       But, just the actual process of going through and figuring out, even if you don’t develop, use technology to automate that system, having your system actually mapped out, and understanding what your system is, and it maybe that it’s completely half hazard. If you go through that process, I think it sort of reveals itself where you should be automating.

Greg:       So, that’s step one. I think that it’s been around for 30 years. But, document automation, probably most law firms can start with that as far as figuring out where your forms library that everybody’s had, and used to have in file cabinets. And now, it’s electronic.

Greg:       But, that’s probably the easiest place for a lot of firms to start, is on basic document assembly. And, you don’t have to have necessarily artificial intelligence tools to be using that. There are tools that have been around for a lot of years that are available for that.

Greg:       So, I would probably say that would be the place I would say. For a lot of firms would be to start with document assembly. As far as the expert systems kind of thing we’re talking about, I think the good news is this is an area that is about to get a lot of competition, and also of less expensive tools, that are pretty user friendly. And, we’ve been seeing a lot of them in course of researching how we’re moving forward.

Greg:       So, I think once you’ve gone through that, and figured out the … And probably, and hopefully, that of these things that we talked about today will get people sort of some ideas of their thinking about the interactions that they have with their clients, that there’s a lot of repetition, in how they do things, and the advice that they give.

Greg:       But, I would say, probably my guess is in the next six to 12 months, some of these inexpensive tools are gonna be coming online, that do some of the things that Neota does, some of the things that Neota probably … Some things that Neota does probably won’t be that easily available.

Greg:       But, I would say that the cost probably won’t be as much of a barrier as they have been. So, those are a couple of things I think that firms could do.

Chad Main:          That’s great. Appreciate your time. If people wanna get in touch with you, how do they find you?

Greg:       They can find me on our website, visalaw.com or on LinkedIn. Probably the two easiest places.

Chad Main:          Great. Thanks.

Greg:       Thank you.

Chad:       So, that’s it for another episode of Technically Legal. We appreciate you listening, and hope you enjoyed it. If you wanna subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you wanna get a hold of me, you can shoot me an email at cmain@percipient.co.

Chad:       Thanks again for listening. And, until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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