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 futurism.com.

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.

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