How smart does a legal research tool have to be before we can call it a “lawyer”

Two different friends forwarded to me the story Artificially Intelligent Lawyer “Ross” Has Been Hired By Its First Official Law Firm, recently published on the website

Per the story, the bankruptcy practice group at Baker & Hostetler, a nationally recognized firm with offices throughout the U.S., has announced that they will be “employing ‘Ross,’ the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney.”

I’ve heard interesting things about Ross and eager to learn more about it, and in particular how exactly the attorneys at Baker are going to be using it. A few observations, not in any exact order.

First off, my hat is off to Andrew Arruda, CEO of Ross, and the whole Ross team for making this deal happen. Anyone who has sold (or tried to sell) anything to corporate law firms will tell you it is not an easy market, so congratulations to their team for putting this together.

Second, I’m curious to learn more about why the bankruptcy practice group in particular is where Ross is first being deployed. The, perhaps unfair, knock on corporate bankruptcy attorneys is that they are among the least innovative practice groups because they have the least incentive to innovate:

When it comes to estate-paid Chapter 11 fees, the professionals are pushing their
bills across the table, but on the other side of the table, the client charged with
evaluating the reasonableness of the bill may have no meaningful way to put the bill into context. Moreover, because no single client is charged with footing the
professionals’ entire bill, it’s possible that none of the clients really cares how much these professionals are charging

Nancy B. Rapoport, Rethinking Professional Fees in Chapter 11 Cases, 2010)

Third, but I guess my most substantive point is that I’d like to learn more about exactly how Ross is going to be “employed” by the department. In particular, a skeptic might wonder if this is really better described as a legal research tool, comparable to Lexis or Westlaw, rather than as “the worlds’ first artificially intelligent attorney.” As SoCalWingFan put it on reddit “This looks less like an AI lawyer and more like the product of LexisNexis having a baby with a better version of Siri, and that baby being fed legal research steroids.”

But then again SoCalWingFan (if that IS your real name…) may be a little harsh. In Ross’s defense, I would very much like to learn more about how the system learns in response to feedback from attorneys. If that’s true then that really IS a big deal and a major step forward.

Fourth, on a more personal note, I just have to say that I feel like a real grown up blogger when readers send me stories. So, thanks Amy and Trish for making me feel like a real grown up blogger.

Stanford hosting FutureLaw Conference Friday, May 20

Next Friday, May 20, I’m looking forward to attending the Codex FutureLaw Conference, at Stanford Law School.

I first ran across the CodeX program at Stanford several years ago and I’ve been consistently impressed with the programs they put on.

If anyone else is planning on going, please let me know and I’ll see you there.

The legal profession’s uneasy embrace of innovation

Perhaps the rumors about lawyers being reluctant to adopt new technologies are somewhat exaggerated.

According to Paul Hoffman’s 1973 book “Lions in the Street,” by the early 1970s the big wall street firms had–after a fashion–embraced computers:

The business of the blue-chip bar is business. It’s apparent from the priorities a law firm sets for itself. Law schools and legal publishers have made great strides in computerizing the statute books–press a button and a precedent pops up on the print-out–though the process is far from perfected. But when the blue-chip firms installed computers, they were placed not in the law libraries, but in the accounting offices. The electronic brains are used not for legal research, but for billing.

Overall Hoffman’s book is a pretty interesting perspective into one of the most important aspects of the transformation of US legal system in the twentieth century: the rise of the large corporate law firm.

The Cravath system tended to produce an able and hardworking, if narrow and unimaginative, lawyer–what law students call a “grind.” Cravath himself wanted it that way. “Brilliant intellectual powers are not essential,” he told a Harvard Law Class in 1920. “Too much imagination, too much wit, too great cleverness, too facile fluency, if not leavened by a sound sense of proportion are quite as likely to impede success as to promote it. The best clients are apt to be afraid of those qualities. They want as their counsel a man who is primarily honest, safe, sound and steady.

What AI and the law means for you: how to succeed by teaming up with ANDROID legal minds

As software gets smarter, computers are tackling increasingly complex tasks like beating world champions at games like Go and Jeopardy, driving cars, diagnosing complex diseases, and, yes, doing legal analysis of documents in lawsuits. Until recently we thought only humans could do these tasks. But all that is changing, and very soon, succeeding as an attorney will require learning how to work in the era of legal artificial intelligence.

Continue reading “What AI and the law means for you: how to succeed by teaming up with ANDROID legal minds”

How AI first snuck in to the law … the Da Silva Moore case and “predictive coding” part 1

In 2011, Monique da Silva Moore along with several other coworkers, sued her employer, the PR firm Publicis. Ms. da Silva claimed that the company discriminated against female employees. “Publicis’ glass ceiling might as well be a cement wall,”she said, noting that, although 70% of the company’s employees were women, the senior management was dominated by men.

According to Ms. da Silva Moore’s version of events, the company discriminated against female employees, all while hiding behind a veneer of “equal treatment” while the president had a habit of making unwanted, creepy comments about women’s appearance and was known to say things like ‘we need a big swinging dick’ to lead the midwest office. Continue reading “How AI first snuck in to the law … the Da Silva Moore case and “predictive coding” part 1″

Can Artificial Intelligence Fix the Legal System?

If you want to understand how supersmart computers, aka Artificial Intelligence, might be able to fix what ails the legal system, the best place to start is a paper written over twenty five years ago.

In 1989, in their paper “The Potential of Artificial Intelligence to Solve The Crisis in Our Legal System,” (Communications of the ACM, August 1989), Donald Berman and Carol Hafner started with a relatively simple hypothetical.  A guy is fighting mad at a broker who sold him a lemon of a house, and the buyer goes to talk to a lawyer about whether he has a case: Continue reading “Can Artificial Intelligence Fix the Legal System?”