Continuing my interview with Owen Byrd of Lex Machina and Caroline Sweeney of Dorsey, I asked them a couple of further follow-up questions on how artificial intelligence (“AI”) has the potential to rapidly change civil litigation.

Why isn’t there a “TurboTax for law”-type service out there already where a client (or an attorney) can enter in the details of the legal issue they’re facing and get a good answer using an AI-type service?   Is it because the maze of laws and regulations is too difficult to automate?  Will we ever see this change, at least for relatively simple issues?

Owen Byrd: “TurboTax” for law systems are starting to emerge. I’m on the board of Upsolve, a non-profit legal tech startup that provides a “TurboTax” solution for personal bankruptcy, to enable low-income people to get a fresh financial start.

Caroline Sweeney: This is coming…one example is Atrium law, in September 2018 they received $65 million in funding to further develop their law firm which is a combination of lawyers and technology.  From one article: “[Atrium] takes the most common and time-consuming activities — often related to ingesting mountains of documents — and builds machine learning workarounds. Atrium’s lawyers can focus on advising their clients on what to do, rather than burning the midnight oil doing it as they look for tiny quirks in the paperwork. The legal services get faster, cheaper and more predictable, so Atrium can offer upfront pricing.”

Tools such as LegalMation can provide a first draft of an Answer or Discovery Request.  It’s not hard to imagine that tools such as LegalMation could become more client-facing as they are further developed.  Of course, platforms like Lex Machina can be used to provide strategic legal insights, such as determining the best venue in which to file a lawsuit.  Platforms like Ross Intelligence and Cara Case Text are integrating AI into legal research.  As these platforms advance, I think you can expect to see more “do it yourself” options available.  Of course, we already see some law firms offering “do it yourself solutions” as an alternative service deliver approach to meet client needs.

Do you think law firms will reach a point where they are able to use their “knowledge management”, by which I mean it’s collective experience in legal rules, strategy, and counseling, through a data-driven service offering that automates at least some of this knowledge, either internally or externally?

Owen Byrd: Law firms are starting to make sense of their own internal data, to improve the quality and efficiency of their legal services. Some firms have already hired full-time data scientists. It’s a big challenge because so much of the data is unstructured (in documents), but natural language processing and other technologies are designed to work with such data. Knowledge management has become of competitive advantage for firms that employ it.

Caroline Sweeney: Yes!  We are already there!  Increasingly you see firms (including Dorsey) developing applications and on-line research tools to help clients with initial assessments or preliminary legal questions. These tools are built based on the knowledge of the legal experts, but are more readily accessible on-line. These don’t substitute for legal advice, but they can provide preliminary guidance on whether legal advice should be sought.  I think we will see this sort of service delivery continue to evolve and become more established in response to cost pressures, and the need for quick access to information in our global economy (think about how much easier it is to go to a law firm’s website and do a preliminary assessment of whether they are prepared for the California CPA…and, if they are not well-prepared after conducting the assessment, then they can reach out for legal advice.).  Document assembly software has long been in use, and it can be integrated into automated workflows.  For example: a client logs into a law firm portal, answers some questions which generates a document that is automatically routed to an attorney for review, and then automatically routed back to the client.  Such automation and integration of expert systems will become more prevalent as AI, robotics, and other analytic tools advance and are adopted.

Legal Project Management is another area where firms are leveraging their knowledge and expertise to improve service delivery.  By analyzing historic billing information Firms can better provide alternative billing options.  Using AI and other business analytic tools, billing transparency is achieved by providing information to clients so they can better understand and analyze their legal spend.

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