Are We Replaceable?

  • February 01, 2017
  • By David J. Bilinsky

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the law

If artificial love makes sense
I just want your love, I'm an addict
Life can be so frustrating
Artificial intelligence...

- Music, Lyrics and recorded by: Tedder, Kutzle, Gabriel, Wilmot, recorded by OneRepublic.

David BilinskyAs I write this our robot is cleaning our condo. We watched it for the first while, to ensure that it wasn’t sucking up power cords or knocking down plants and such. That supervision part lasted all of… five minutes. Feargus (you must name your robot – I was personally leaning to “Felix,” after the neat freak from The Odd Couple but was outvoted) quickly gained our confidence and is hard at work cleaning up dust bunnies and the like. Feargus goes around furniture, under beds, around obstacles and “learns” the layout of your place. Once done (or needing more juice) it finds its way back to its charging station and reconnects, awaiting its next scheduled cleaning time.

So what does a vacuum robot have to do with the practice of law? Well, while we are putting “Feargus” to work vacuuming up, other lawyers are putting “ROSS” to work at the practice of law. For example, ROSS has been put to work at Baker & Hostetler (“B&H”) in its bankruptcy practice. Steve Kestner, Chairman of B&H, said, “ROSS is a tool to help improve our work processes, reduce costs, and ultimately generate better results for our clients.”

ROSS is built on IBM’s Watson, a cognitive technology that can think like a human and yes… learn. I can hear the doubting Thomases, saying that no machine can think like a human and replace a lawyer. Think again. 

According to IBM.com: “Not only can ROSS sort through more than a billion text documents each second, it also learns from feedback and gets smarter over time. To put it another way, ROSS and Watson are learning to understand the law, not just translate words and syntax into search results. That means ROSS will only become more valuable to its users over time, providing much of the heavy lifting that was delegated to all those unfortunate associates.”

Have lawyers put ROSS to work? As of December 2016, eight major US law firms have hired ROSS. Partners of firms “seem to benefit the most from ROSS’ law monitor AI, which keeps them up to date on any changes to the law for all the cases they are working on.

The developers of ROSS expected their market to be solos and small firms. Instead, they found that medium to large firms and in-house counsel took to ROSS. 

There is a bit of an adjustment when starting to use AI. When it comes to working with ROSS, Andrew Arruda, CEO of ROSS has found that there are “[t]hree stages when it comes to introducing AI technology: 1) the fear stage, where folks make decisions based on very little data and past (usually fictitious) information, then 2) the information stage: this is where folks actually read up on what artificial intelligence is and what it can do today and where the technology is going tomorrow and lastly 3) full-adoption: this is when the organization is educated on AI, and makes the decision to bring AI into the organization.”

The fact of the matter is that any size law firm can start to use ROSS. At the present time, Dentons appears to be the biggest user of ROSS with a Canadian connection.

What can we expect from ROSS? According to Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of ROSS: “[w]e can expect to see ROSS supercharging lawyers’ abilities at even more organizations, being used at more law schools and also driving access to justice through a variety of new programs we are launching which allow deserving organizations to have access to ROSS technology free of charge. 2017 here we go!”

When it comes to loving what artificial intelligence is doing for us, I’m an addict.

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The views expressed herein are strictly those of David Bilinsky and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members. 

David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia.
Email: daveb@lsbc.org
Blog: thoughtfullaw.com