Future of the Practice – Part 5: Impact of Technology Like Watson Might Not Be So Elementary

Imagine  attorneys had an assistant that could structure data, help firms maintain transparency through more accurate information, keep track of complex legal and regulatory issues, improve efficiency so firms can scale up their services, and help lawyers handle various forms of “disruptive” competition, without breaking a sweat?

Some believe that technology like IBM’s Watson will help provide such assistance, providing lawyers with the “permission” to think innovatively, help clarify what attorneys do day-to-day—without replacing them—bring about better organization of data, and in doing so be of particular benefit to tech-savvy younger lawyers.

Machine learning might have more of a disruptive impact on lawyers than other technologies because it’s closer to the core of what lawyers do than earlier advances like word processing, e-mail and the Internet. But will technology like Watson impact their core work, or just the way client data and legal work product are created and disseminated?

IBM describes Watson, with its ability to handle even clumsily stated “natural language” questions, as part of a next generation of computing that not only answers humans’ questions but provides insights they might not have considered in the first place, mirroring the human cognitive process of Observe, Interpret, Evaluate and Decide.

This helps law firms keep track of how their information is aggregated and disseminated, providing for additional transparency that can be useful to litigators or investigators. Such systems can be used to track and integrate legal and business rules. They can help understand a client’s complexity and give attorneys tools to help their legal work stay apace. And Watson-like systems can help them scale up and improve efficiency and work processes.

Watson can help lawyers think outside the box of what they do, but to gain efficiencies from this new paradigm they will need to rigorously reexamine the structure of legal knowledge, currently contained as it is in a byzantine network of statutes, regulations, how-to guides, policies, contracts and case law.

Legal reasoning always will be too informal to be validated by a computational system, but Watson will help throw into relief just how and when lawyers add value to a given set of circumstances, empower the types of younger lawyers at the bottom of the totem pole who embrace emerging technology, and help firms better manage data and information. Watson is likely to become a standard query model for professional knowledge, as Google is for web search.

Given that IBM has introduced Watson to the market as a service, with an open model of innovation that is likely to prompt different types of companies to use Watson in different ways, this is likely to create a wave of experimentation. This may prompt attorneys and law firms, perhaps somewhat uncharacteristically, to become early adopters of a new technology.

Although machine learning will have its tradeoffs like anything else, it could have profoundly positive consequences for the legal profession in helping it catch up with other fields in improving productivity, responding to complexity and becoming more transparent. But never fear, Watson will not take over our profession.

The Future of Law – Part 4: Our Robot Colleagues

Call it the rise of the robots.  The legal profession continues to be transformed by the use of artificial intelligence in new and innovative ways. New developments in the past five years alone stagger the mind as what would have sounded like science fiction not along ago continues to become reality, making the lives of lawyers easier but also forcing them to change how they do business if they want to survive and succeed.

Rewind to 2013, and you find Jay Leib and Dan Roth—who launched Discovery Cracker way back in 2000 to streamline discovery and make it electronic and searchable—birthing their then-new creation, NexLP.  For the past five years this company has used AI to analyze previously unstructured data and identify trends, using predictive coding to gauge, for example, the likely results of pending litigation based on past results.

Another entrepreneurial duo, Adam Nguyen and Ned Gannon, set into motion the Diligence Accelerator program from eBrevia to help lawyers handle the pressure from in-house counsel and other clients to cut costs. This AI-fueled software similarly extracts information from data as clients upload documents, search for information and download per their preferences. The program doesn’t just recognize words but notices common legal phrases and stores those in its “memory bank” for future use.

In 2015, Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, created an independent subsidiary called NextLaw Labs, which earned the firm distinction from The Financial Times as the most forward-thinking law firm of the year. The subsidiary’s advisory group picks through potentially disruptive ideas to find those most likely to succeed, among which has been Ross Intelligence, which uses IBM’s Watson cognitive computing to make reams of legal research instantly searchable via a request in plain English.

Another innovative law firm, Riverview Law in the United Kingdom, launched a virtual assistant called “Kim,” an acronym for knowledge, intelligence and meaning, which will use AI technology developed by the University of Liverpool and a U.S.-based data collection and management program called Clixlex, since renamed Kim Technologies.

And the U.K.-based Ravn Systems has used cognitive computing to build its Applied Cognitive Engine program, which also extracts information from data at high speed, pushing out the boundaries of what lawyers and law firms can accomplish in a short stretch of time. The company’s Contract Robot can do so with title deeds and other types of documents.

AI continues to blossom, and while many firms do not yet use it, the robots are clearly on the march. “You start with a number of documents and ask questions like what are the termination clauses,” Peter Wallqvist, CEO and co-founder of Ravn Systems, explained to the ABA Journal. “For example, there’s a telecommunications company that would tell us about documents they had to review. They told us how they had to go through 1,000 documents, which would take three people six months to complete. We can do that in a matter of days.”

As the Journal concluded, “That is the future. Maybe it’s not so scary after all.”

 

Future of the Law – Part 3: Meet LISA, the future of Law.

The term “Legal Intelligence Support Assistant” might sound like a fancy-pants way of referring to your paralegal, law library or perhaps secretary. When you shrink that term to the acronym LISA, you might be tempted to ask about LISA’s professional background or whether she’s a nice woman.

But this LISA is no woman, let alone a human.  “She” is an artificial intelligence solution who provides “expertise” in the automation of legal documents, reducing or replacing the need for human lawyers in representing either party to an agreement.    The National Law Journal sounded impressed with LISA, placing the technological innovation on its inaugural list of Legal AI Leaders, which highlighted 49 entrepreneurs and companies who the magazine believes represented the best available online AI tools and services.

Launched in April 2017, Robot Lawyer LISA has been used by students, academics, businesses of all varieties and sizes, general counsel and other legal users. The U.K.-based company and co-founder/CEO Chrissie Lightfoot have become part of the conversation about the future of legal services provision, particularly in the area of quality online legal advice and documents.

“I’ve always been driven to innovate and push the boundaries to make improvements related to new products and/or services with the focus on the customer or client at the center of everything,” Lightfoot told the online publication Womanthology. “No doubt this passion has been fueled by my interest in the future as I constantly question, “What’s next?”, “What’s possible?”, and “How are we going to get there?”

Based on the premise that 90 percent of the public cannot afford legal services, LISA brings together human and machine intelligence to enable to lay parties to put together a legally binding contract, making quality legal insight, guidance, support and advice both faster, more transparent, more affordable and more accessible—24/7/365 and around the world.    The LISA system first offered a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement, and the company subsequently released a group of three property-related artificial intelligence tools: a commercial lease, a residential lease, and a lodger agreement. These have come in handy for everyone from professional service firms, to business associations, to property-related businesses as the letting or renting of property online continues to grow, Lightfoot says.

The AI system asks users a number of questions supported by information, know-how and experience from human lawyers who helped to create LISA. Users read and respond, and those answers lead the parties to a middle ground as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, while helping them navigate the nuances involved both legally and commercially, she says.

For example, a landlord might initiate a lease document using the LISA tool, and then the tenant can change the initial draft to make the lease 18 months instead of three years—or anything else two laypeople traditionally would negotiate, albeit traditionally with the help of two human lawyers. Instead, they get support, knowledge and intelligence from the system.

Ultimately, Lightfoot does not think AI will mean robots take over every task an attorney might handle. “AI and robots will continue to replace human jobs whilst augmenting others,” she told Womanthology. “If you do nothing, then you ought to be worried. However, as these human roles and skill-sets will variably shift, it is up to each and every one of us to reinvent ourselves and apply the skills that the machines cannot do, yet.”

 

Future of the Practice – Part 2: How Can Lawyers Better Serve the Public?

To survive and thrive in the 21st century, and to continue serving the public adequately, attorneys can no longer muddle through with business as usual.

Wide swaths of the public are unable to get their legal needs met. Innovations in technology and other changes in society continue to shift how legal services can be accessed and delivered. Bias, complexity, discrimination and lack of resources undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the justice system.

These were the top concerns raised a couple years ago by the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services, which also made several recommendations on solving these conundrums that seem well worth considering. Doing so, the commission wrote, would bring about the “significant change … needed to serve the public’s legal needs in the 21st century.”

Although there have been sustained efforts to expand access, most of those in poverty and the majority of moderate-income people cannot afford representation, the commission found. This means the public fails to obtain effective assistance and litigants come to court unrepresented, which adversely impacts all parties involved. At the same time, many lawyers, especially younger ones, are unemployed or underemployed, hemmed in by the traditional practice business model and the profession’s resistance to change, the ABA noted.

Technological and other innovations to assist the public in meeting their legal needs include experimental projects on the part of courts, bar associations, law schools and some lawyers, in areas like artificial intelligence, alternative billing and unbundled legal services. Against this backdrop, new providers of legal services continue to proliferate and create different choices for consumers and lawyers, the commission pointed out.

Public trust and confidence is undermined by the facts that the profession fails to reflect the diversity of the public, conscious and unconscious bias stands in the way of fairness and justice, the system’s functioning remains opaque to the average person, the criminal justice system is overburdened by mass incarceration and inadequate resources, and inadequate funding of courts on behalf of federal and state governments, the commission wrote.

The ABA Commission put forth a series of a dozen recommendations to help solve these stubborn challenges. For lawyers and law firms, these include supporting the goal of providing some type of effective assistance for all “essential civil legal needs” regardless of a person’s ability to pay, keeping abreast of relevant technologies, partnering with those in other disciplines and the public to gain insights about innovations in service delivery, and working to advance diversity and inclusion through updated policies, standards and practices.

To reform the court system, the commission recommended considering regulatory innovations such as exploring how legal services are delivered by Internet-based platforms and through alternative business structures. Courts also should become more accessible physically and virtually, through streamlined processes, multilingual materials and alternative dispute resolution systems, the ABA recommended.

Elsewhere in the public sphere, the commission recommended reforming the criminal justice system by decriminalizing minor offenses and adequately funding public defender offices, among other changes; vastly expanding resources to support longstanding efforts to successfully address the public’s unmet needs through legal aid and pro bono efforts; and measuring the outcomes of any established or new models “to evaluate effectiveness in fulfilling regulatory objectives.”

As for the ABA itself, the commission recommended that it establish a Center for Innovation, create guidelines for state bar associations and others to develop and administer “legal checkups” for attorneys and law firms, and, along with other bar associations, to “make the examination of the future of legal services part of their ongoing strategic long-range planning.”

Which seems wise, because however thoughtful and well considered, one bar association report is not going to singlehandedly change legal services delivery in a way that solves the access and trust problem while assisting unemployed and underemployed attorneys. But a persistent, strategic effort just might stand a chance.

Future of the Practice – Part 1: Why So Much Non-Billable Time?

Clio’s “Legal Trends Report” tries to suss out what lawyers are doing, exactly

What happens to the nearly six hours per day that lawyers spend on non-billable tasks? Why can’t attorneys dedicate more of their time to billable work? How do they spend their time, anyway? The 2017 “Legal Trends Report” from Clio attempts to answer these questions and others that legal professionals are—or at least should be—asking themselves.

The report, based on a survey of nearly 3,000 legal professionals, finds that lawyers only spend 29 percent of an 8-hour work day, or about 2.3 hours, on billable tasks—and when factoring in realization and collection rates, firms reap only 1.6 hours of billable time.

Nearly half of their time, 48 percent, goes into office administration, billing, technology and collections. One-third of their non-billable time goes toward business development, which means they’re constantly making sure they develop new clients, and 41 percent would spend even more time on business development if they could, the Clio report says.

More than half of law firms (54 percent) actively advertise their services to earn new clients, yet the overwhelming majority can neither calculate their return on investment in advertising (91 percent), nor know how much it costs them to acquire a new client (94 percent).

How can law firms improve their client acquisition? Clio also surveyed more than 2,000 consumers to find out what they want in a lawyer, and what influences their decisions on which firm to hire for a given case or matter.

Personal referrals from friends and family were by far the most frequently used search method (62 percent), while referrals from other lawyers (31 percent), online searches (37 percent) and directory listings (28 percent) were also relatively common. Advertising has a much lower influence, whether television (13 percent), online (13 percent), radio (7 percent) or billboards (6 percent).

Communication and pricing were top of mind for consumers in deciding which attorney or firm to hire. Responding to phone or e-mail right away (67 percent) and free initial consultations (64 percent) were the most sought-after qualities, Clio found.

Fixed fees (47 percent), accepting credit cards (28 percent) and being willing to exchange text messages (27 percent) were other common desires. Although online search was common, the snazziness of the firm’s website influenced only 19 percent of respondents.

The “Legal Trends Report” also contained figures on average billable hour rates. The average law firm rate is $240 overall, $260 for lawyers and $149 for non-lawyers. The average Chicago firm charges $312 per hour, third-highest among the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

Yet the survey data shows that many firms don’t have set targets for how much they plan to earn in a given year, nor case by case. Slightly more than half (54 percent) could estimate their annual billings, half can bill a case based on a set budget, and less than half (40 percent) of firms that track time have hourly billing budgets.

Clearly, many of these respondents need to get a better handle on what they need to make, how they plan to do it, and then how to rejigger their time to be able to bill for a higher percentage of their time … or their own personal trends won’t be headed in the right direction.

Michigan Bar Considers Ethics Resolution for Online Matching Services

Potential legal clients are increasingly turning to online matching services to find attorneys. In some cases, these services charge a fee based on a percentage of the attorney’s costs for their legal help, and the money is paid to and controlled by the third party.

A Michigan state bar committee is considering a resolution asserting that such fees constitute an impermissible sharing of fees with a non-lawyer, violating numerous ethical rules in the state codified in the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys in other states, many of which have similar rules, would do well to be aware of the issues raised.

The Michigan ethical rules in question include provisions that prohibit a lawyer from participating in for-profit lawyer referral services, sharing fees with a non-lawyer or giving anything of value to recommend a lawyer’s services—aside from reasonable advertising fees, charges for a nonprofit lawyer referral service, or sale of a law practice.

Connecting to clients through such online matching services also would “subvert” compliance with another ethical rule that requires legal fees and expenses paid in advance be deposited into a client trust account until the fee is earned and expenses incurred, the resolution notes. It adds that this also “impedes” compliance with the requirement that unearned prepaid fees and unexpected advances on costs be refunded.

To whatever extent such an online service provider identifies itself as providing legal services, attorneys that partner with the online service assist in the unauthorized practice of law, the resolution states. Finally, to the extent the matching service provides administrative “back office” services usually done through a law firm, “this does not comport with the professional obligations of the lawyer.”

“The assessment requires a careful review of the business model to determine whether it constitutes a for-profit referral service and if compliance with the terms for participation requires a Michigan lawyer to violate the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct,” the resolution reads. “Legal matching services are not new, but innovation in technology has spearheaded private entrepreneurial online matching services beyond the usual bar association non-profit lawyer referral services.”

The resolution considers two scenarios. In one case, a national website includes “legal services” in its business name, markets to consumers, brands participating lawyers with the business name, offers services for a fixed fee, asks the consumer to choose an attorney based on a review of profiles, and requires the consumer to pay a deposit into the website portal. The site markets to lawyers that it matches them with clients who already have paid, takes care of all administrative services, and deducts a percentage as a “marketing fee.”

The second scenario has the word “legal” in its name, targets businesses needing legal services, tasks them to fill out an attorney request form, provides a free half-hour consultations followed by a pricing proposal from the attorney, then asks the business client to pay through the website. The third party then collects and holds all fees and keeps about 7.5 percent of each. Lawyers must provide at least a 17.5 percent discount off their standard rates, and the service touts discounts of 60 percent to 75 percent because it offers administrative services normally handled by a law firm.

“Numerous ethical concerns are presented by both business models,” the proposed Michigan bar resolution concludes. “Although these online matching services do not call themselves lawyer referral services, the functional characteristics of a referral service are embedded in both business models.”

 

 

Should I become a Lawyer?

Should I become a lawyer? Or are lawyers themselves becoming extinct?

The first question is one that I have been struggling with.  The second question is one that George Bellas asked me when I began working for him this past summer.

I first met George a few years ago at a “business” lunch with my father and my grandfather. I usually work with my family during the summers and these one to two hour lunches were common.  There was business discussed but not for that entire time.  At the end of this  particular meal, George paid.  I was astounded.  Usually during these types of lunches, we would pay.  When I brought this up, my father laughed.  He explained to me that our lunch would show up on an invoice down the line anyhow.[1]  And that’s how I was introduced to the beauty of billable hours.

During this lunch, the conversation drifted to my plans after I finished school.  For background, I am an Economics and Drama major at a small liberal arts school in Ohio.  I have a passion for my Drama major but an even higher passion for living comfortably.  I didn’t love Economics but it was nice having some background in useful skills.  However, I made up my mind that I wasn’t going into banking.  My father, a lawyer who has no clients, suggested law school to me so I told George that maybe law School was the next step.

Without missing a beat, George told me, “No – don’t go to law school no matter what you do.  Don’t become a lawyer whatever you do.  Run the other way!”  George explained to me that he believes lawyers are an endangered species.  According to George, in 25 years 99% of Lawyers would be irrelevant.  What will happen is that two people would submit documents to a computer, the computer will run the data and spit out an answer on the ruling.  I brushed this off because obviously this man with over 40 years of legal experience couldn’t possibly know what he’s talking about.

And so this summer came, and instead of working with my dad, I decided that if I was serious about law school then I need to work in a law office.  George graciously offered me a position filling in for his legal assistant during the month that she was gone.  On my first day, George gave me the same spiel.

“I’m going to convince you to not become a lawyer this summer” George explained. He also asked me why I wanted to become a lawyer, a question to which I didn’t have a good answer.

He then reminded me that the world of law is becoming extinct, computers will take over etc. This time I didn’t brush him off. Instead, I put both of my majors to use this summer in tackling George’s question to me and his claims about the profession of law.

Now, with less than two weeks before I return to school and about month until I take the LSAT, I have answers to both George’s claims and his question.

So, is the profession of Lawyer extinct?  Short answer: no.  Long answer: well, as it currently exists, yes.  Putting on my economist cap, I looked at the effect that technology has had on certain professions.  Take, for example, people who work in transportation.  Before the invention of the engine, those who worked in transportation rode horses.  Then the car was invented. What happened to those in transportation? They still worked in transportation but they drove cars instead of riding horses. I believe the same will prove to for the legal profession.

I had to learn a hard lesson about lawyers my first week, one that I knew deep down but never wanted to admit: Law is boring. For every “Objection!” yelled in court, there are hours and hours of reading, filing, re-filing and re-reading. I learned this because George had me do all that boring stuff.  And this is where I got to thinking about how the profession will change, and if it will go away.  While writing and re-writing briefs and motions and then filing and re-filing those same motions, I thought about how hard it must have been before electronic filing. You must have had to go to the court to file something, wait to hear if it was rejected, and once it was, re-write and go back to the court. That sounds awful and inefficient.

The same holds true for the research phase of a case. Before there were computers and legal search engines, you had to go to a library and spend hours looking for one document that could help. Now, from the comfort of your desk, you can type in the keywords you’re looking for and the computer will give you a whole bunch of documents that could be relevant. This system is not perfected, I’m not sure it’s really that available in the first place, but I can foresee it happening in the future. The car in function was the horse, just more efficient. And the people driving it remained the same.

So do I think the profession is going extinct? No. I think it is going to become better, honestly. You can accomplish so much more in such shorter periods of time. There will be less lawyers required, but, a person still has to tell the computers what to do. The computers won’t do all the work of lawyering themselves.  Down the line, there will be self-driving cars but for many years people won’t trust a self-driving car to drive them just as people won’t trust a computer to handle their private and legal matters.

This brings me to the next question: why do I want to become a lawyer?  People may start trusting self-driving cars but there is something human about being a lawyer. It requires one on one time taken to understand how and why someone did something. A computer can do the what but not the why. And it never will.

It is the same reason why I didn’t want to become a banker, why I approached law in the first place. I didn’t want to be a faceless cog making someone somewhere else richer. I want to do something that I can feel like I did. If that means a small claims case over $200 (in which the filing fees ended up being more than the claim being sued for itself), then so be it. I can rest easier knowing that I helped someone I know make $200 than someone I don’t know make $10,000.

This summer, the thing that I loved most was talking to potential clients. It is a classic paralegal task, but I reveled in receiving an email about calling a new potential client. Most of the time, they wanted someone to talk to, and I was that someone. I remember one specific incident, a person was concerned about losing their job. I assured them that I couldn’t do anything for them, just pass along their situation to one of the attorneys, but this person still thanked me for helping them.  They explained that just having me listen, hearing their side of the story, was help alone. And after that phone call, I felt like I actually did something that morning. Even when a motion I filed got approved, I felt good knowing I was the one who got it approved.

I have friends with very impressive internships this summer with brand names you would recognize, and yet their work will never see the light of day.  Even though these internships look great on paper, I couldn’t help but think that they really didn’t accomplish anything this summer.  And I feel like I did.

Granted, years down the line I will probably advise a bright eyed kid like myself to run away, but for now I’m going to give this lawyering thing a try.

                                                                                                ~ Jacob Skolnik, Future Lawyer

[1] BTW – George did not bill for that meal.