In a unique partnership between a law firm and a legal technology company, the immigration firm Siskind Susser and its technology affiliate Visalaw.Ai have entered into a collaboration agreement with the legal technology and publishing company Fastcase to develop what they say will be a state-of-the-art immigration case management and document automation platform.
The new product is being built on the NextChapter case management platform, adapted from the NextChapter bankruptcy platform that Fastcase acquired in 2019.
It will incorporate extensive practice management materials from the over 3,000 page Immigration Law Practice and Procedures Manual — also known as the “Cookbook” — written by Siskind Susser partners Greg Siskind and Ari Sauer and published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
In addition to providing NextChapter with materials from the book, Visalaw.ai and Siskind Susser will work with the NextChapter team to develop a case management product that they say will surpass other products currently on the market in meeting the day-to-day practice management needs of immigration lawyers.
Visalaw.Ai is the developer of Visalaw.bot, a tool to help immigration firms with client intake, which won the College of Law Practice Management’s InnovAction award in 2019. Automations developed by Visalaw.Ai will also be incorporated into the platform.
Seeing A Market Need
Earlier this week, I was briefed on the partnership by Siskind, Mandy Ballinger, vice president of NextChapter, and Christina Steinbrecker Jack, chief product officer at Fastcase.
Siskind said that the case management system will be designed to match the systems in the book. In addition to checklists, client questionnaires, and process steps, it will also have document templates, government forms, and detailed overviews of the law applicable to particular case types.
The initial version of the platform will launch in the first quarter of 2023 with a workflow and document automation related to obtaining family-based Green Cards, Ballinger said. Other components, including those for practice management, will be added by next summer.
For Siskind, his interest in this partnership was fueled by two factors.
For one, when he and Sauer first agreed to write the AILA book five years ago, he envisioned it from the start not as a treatise, but as a systems manual for immigration lawyers. He always wanted to use the book as a springboard for developing expert systems and case management tools that would help both newer and more experienced immigration lawyers systemize case workflows.
“I knew from five years ago that we wanted to have the ability to take all of those materials to be able to develop case management,” he said.
The second factor was Siskind’s belief that immigration lawyers are unsatisfied with the case management products currently on the market. He based that belief not just on his own experience having been through several of the products. For four years, he has conducted a market survey of users of immigration case management systems.
In developing that survey, he studied the features of case management systems, both within and outside immigration practice, what users like or dislike about their systems, what features they value, and their level of satisfaction.
“What I came to understand is that the immigration bar is pretty unsatisfied with the offerings that are out there,” he said.
In Fastcase, he saw the opportunity to address that dissatisfaction by developing sophisticated software with rich content.
“When we connected with Fastcase, it occurred to me that would be a potential way to solve that problem of having very sophisticated software that’s currently not available to the immigration market, but also having really rich content that’s better than anything that’s in the market right now, that would be customized for immigration lawyers.”
Expanding the NextChapter Platform
On the Fastcase side of the partnership, Ballinger and Jack said the company was looking to expand the NextChapter platform into other practice areas. It saw immigration as a natural fit. Like bankruptcy, immigration practice is somewhat formulaic, with significant intake and data entry early on and a highly forms-based workflow that can benefit from greater automation and reduced need for data entry, Ballinger said.
“We made sure that this was the next best path for the workflow automation that we did for bankruptcy,” she said.
But while the NextChapter people considered themselves experts in the nuances of bankruptcy practice, they knew they would need to partner with an immigration law expert to get that same expertise in immigration practice. With Siskind Susser, they found a partner that understood not only the practice, but also the software market.
“We were really happy to be partnered and connected with Greg and Visalaw,” Ballinger said. “They have done extensive research and understand the problems with the current vendors in the space. We really wanted to focus on making sure we’re building not just another workflow that makes sense, but that also solves problems with the existing products.”
She said that they also wanted to make sure that they could take advantage of the expertise that Siskind and his team put into the Cookbook practice manual and put it into the form of automated workflows.
“There’s nothing like this in immigration law as far as really integrating the expert systems into case management,” Siskind said.
In developing the new platform, Ballinger said that Siskind’s research helped them identify certain “must-haves” to prioritize. These include features specific to immigration, such as automation of all the federal immigration forms, intake forms and case checklists, but also features of a general case management platfrom, such as text notification, client intake and portal, and all the additional forms and pleadings required in a practice.
“A big component will be the document component,” Siskind said. “None of the other systems out there have all the templates and documents lawyers need for these kinds of cases, much less the ability to actually pull the data from your case management system and be able to generate these petition packages.”
Of course, even if this partnership achieves its goal of creating a superior product, there remains the challenge of getting lawyers to switch from their current products.
But Ballinger pointed out that was exactly the challenge NextChapter faced when it first came on the market in 2015 as the first cloud-based platform for bankruptcy attorneys.
“This is not our first rodeo,” she said. “We’re very familiar with the challenge of getting people to migrate.”
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