Ultra Vires


AI In Law

By Alex Carmona

A quintessential law student experience: It’s 8:00 pm on a Wednesday night. You’re tired, hungry, and all you want to do is leave the goddamn Reading Room for that wonderful home-away-from-home otherwise known as Netflix. But you can’t, because you just realized that the line of cases you’ve been following ends with a ratio that unequivocally overturns the last five you’d planned on using for your memo/factum/paper/etc. You have to start your research again, from a different angle. You consider breaking down into tears, but settle for putting your head in your hands for a few minutes – way more dignified. You enter yet another search term into Quicklaw, and receive 946 results. You get the picture – legal research is awful. Worse still, it is what many of us will be spending the majority of our early careers doing. That is, unless your employer also has ROSS on the payroll.

ROSS’ cousin Watson makes a living on game shows and chess tournaments. ROSS is more straight-laced – he spends his time learning corporate law, and hopes to score a gig on Bay Street. ROSS, as you’ve hopefully guessed by now, isn’t a person. He’s an AI construct, built on a blank iteration of IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning AI Watson, who has been fed a steady diet of Ontario statutes, decisions and legal memos.

ROSS’ creators, a team of U of T students, created the program to replace more traditional legal search engines such as Quicklaw and Westlaw. Instead of search algorithms, ROSS uses cognitive computing to quickly provide highly specialized readings that directly answer legal question posed to it, along with a handy “confidence” meter. According to Andrew Arruda, a University of Saskatchewan law graduate and the CEO of ROSS’ corporate owner, ROSS Intelligence, ROSS can answer in seconds legal questions that would take law students and junior lawyers long hours of tedious research.

ROSS, he proclaimed, is nothing short of an evolution in legal research.

“The first evolution with legal research was Quicklaw and Westlaw, by putting books online. I’d say that this is the next step – being able to bring you and sift through that data you now have available in seconds rather than in minutes to hours.”

Arruda believes that firms of all sizes will flock to ROSS, because charging clients for hours of legal research can prove problematic.

“Clients have pushed back on paying for legal research, so it is not something that a lot of clients are participating in. So ROSS is an easy sell to firms, big, small or not, because firms cannot charge for that time – they’ll have to underbill it. The advantage for firms is that they can take away from the time that they are not able to bill and put that time toward getting more clients and expanding their business,” Arruda said.

According to Jomati Consultants, a London-based consulting firm that focuses on the legal industry, AI like ROSS is only the beginning of AI and robotics’ foray into the legal industry. The firm’s recent report Civilisation 2030: The near future for law firms foresees a world where such technology is ubiquitous in the legal sector, and can replace wholesale entire groups of junior lawyers and paralegals who do primarily “knowledge economy work”.

“It is no longer unrealistic to consider that workplace robots and their AI processing systems could reach the point of general production by 2030,” the report states.

“Eventually each bot would be able to do the work of a dozen low-level associates. They would not get tired. They would not seek advancement. They would not ask for pay rises. Process legal work would rapidly descend in cost.”

Such a rise in the use of AI would radically change the careers prospects of young lawyers, as firms would require far fewer associates to churn through the same amount of work. While employers primarily view young associates as investments, rather than profit-generators, every additional associate hired would be far more costly to firms in this new economic model.

“The number of associates that firms need to hire will be greatly reduced, at least if the intention is to use junior lawyers for billable work rather than primarily to educate and train them ready to become business winners. Firms will struggle to overcome this gap in the usual career paths of their lawyers. I.e. firms need to hire young lawyers to become the next client winners, but they will be far less profitable at the start of their careers when knowledge bots take over most work up to 3 PQE,” the report predicts.

Firms’ senior talent would, correspondingly, become even more valuable.

“Clients would instead greatly value the human input of the firm’s top partners, especially those that could empathise with the client’s needs and show real understanding and human insight into their problems.”

ROSS, however, is meant to empower young lawyers, not replace them.

“By having a symbiotic relationship between technology and humans you’re able to accomplish more than either would be able to accomplish before. We’re allowing humans to do things and accomplish thing that they aren’t able to do solo. It’s not about replacing the classical legal experience, you will always have that, and you’ll always need that,” he explained.

“What we will be doing is enabling humans to effectively answer questions like no one has been able to do before. So we’re empowering humans and taking them to another stage. We don’t aim to replace, we aim to enable.”

Ross AI

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