Jared Jaskot saw a gap in immigration law: There were too many clients, and not enough lawyers.
He was doing free consultations at advocacy org Casa De Maryland, and found that people were taking off work and waiting in long lines for a chance to talk for 20 minutes about their case.
“Although I was happy that I was helping people, I just felt like with people having to take off work and wait in line to talk to me, there had to be a better solution,” said Jaskot.
That’s when he began looking into chatbots as a tool to help immigrants get some initial advice, and YoTengoBot was born. It’s a bilingual chatbot that does the preliminary consultation work, so the one-on-one time with a lawyer is as productive as possible, and people aren’t standing in line and taking off of work to come home with little legal advice to show for it.
The chatbot uses natural language processing, which allows it to break down sentences into data, so it can respond appropriately.
Following conception and development, Baltimore-based YoTengoBot recently received $200K in funding through TEDCO’s Technology Commercialization Fund, a seed fund that invests in early-stage tech companies at the state-backed agency.
Before the investment, Jaskot was funding everything himself and working at a deficit, balancing his Fells Point-based law firm Jaskot.Law and YoTengoBot.
“With startups, to get venture capital, you literally have to structure your company in a way that it’s either going to hit the moon, or blow up,” said Jaskot. That differs from running the law firm, where he’s able to structure his company more sustainability. On the other hand, technology allows for scalability in a way that the human-centered profession of law does not.
"We literally cannot help all the people that need help with the old way of doing things."
As for the startup’s model, YoTengoBot contracts the chatbot to other law firms as a way of increasing the capacity of immigration firms to service communities in need.
Under the Biden administration’s proposed immigration bill, Jaskot recognizes there’s a path to citizenship for the 20 million immigrants in the United States. Unfortunately, there are only about 20,000 immigration lawyers.
“That’s one thousand people per attorney. We literally cannot help all the people that need help with the old way of doing things,” said Jaskot. Under a possible new way, he’s seen progress and the possibility to explode the number of people immigration attorneys can serve.
“We’ve already had one day where we had the bot talking to 2000 people in one hour,” he said.
As revolutionary as that sounds, Jaskot likes to keep expectations in check. It’s not going to replace a paralegal and at most it competes with a receptionist in some aspects. What it’s meant to do is replace consultation forms on websites entirely. It’s a start towards using tech to fill gaps in an overcrowded system.
“It’s not that I want to be in software compared to the law, it’s that I want to help millions of immigrants versus thousands of immigrants,” said Jaskot “I feel like the best way to do that is through A.I.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.