Legal research has changed. An attorney who started his career dredging through books can now instantly consult vast databases, saving countless man hours. Soon, however, it may need not involve the man at all.
According to Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of Ross intelligence, artificially intelligent software has the potential to revolutionize the procedures of modern law. Arruda’s company is responsible for ROSS, an artificially intelligent system designed to understand lawyers’ research questions, comb through millions of pages of text and then provide answers to these questions.
The phrase “artificial intelligence” describes four different machine processes. An intelligent machine can understand human speech, communicate using language, change and adapt as it interacts with its users, or recognize and describe images. As Arruda put it, artificial intelligence is a “system that is able to perform different tasks that you would normally think would require human intelligence.”
While traditional databases yield search results based on the keywords and phrases users input, ROSS does more than identify documents containing specific words. It understands and interprets questions, finds relevant law, and articulates an answer. It even evolves from user feedback.
“The system understands you. It is understanding the intent of your question, and because it understands you, it can continue to get smarter and improve,” Arruda said. “You are no longer working with a static piece of software. It is dynamic. It’s changing, and every time you log into ROSS, it’s smarter than the day before.”
ROSS is commercially available for bankruptcy practices and it will eventually be available for other fields of law.
Can ROSS Replace Lawyers?
According to Arruda, ROSS will research more effectively and thoroughly than a human.
“Humans at law firms were doing a lot of data retrieval — reading thousands of cases to try to find a few sentences,” he said. “ROSS will do that for them.”
Arruda said this is a boon to the profession, freeing up lawyers’ time to refocus efforts on the creative component of their jobs.
“What artificial intelligence is going to be doing is allowing humans to become even more human,” he said. “When you have all of the information in front of you, the task that human lawyers fulfill is the advocating and advising.”
But even if Arruda is correct, Alisa Benedict O’Brien, assistant dean for career services at The University of Akron School of Law, said this might eliminate job opportunities for lawyers — especially for young lawyers whose jobs often largely consist of research.
“I do think [ROSS] is going to have an impact on entry-level hiring,” she said. “I think that using programs like this will definitely fulfill [the research] need law firms have and at a lesser cost than it would be to hire a new associate.”
But Arruda said that a decrease in the amount of time spent researching will lead to a subsequent reduction in the price of legal services. When prices drop, he said, more people can afford a lawyer, the demand for legal advice increases, small firms can more effectively compete for this new clientele and lawyers will remain employed.
Tod Porter, chair of the economics department at Youngstown State University, said that a reduction in the cost of legal advice will only offset the employment effect of ROSS so long as people actually want more legal services.
“Are legal services more like operations for an appendix or are they more like telephone or data services?” he said. “Demand for appendix operations is pretty inelastic. Just because the price goes down, you’re not going to run out and get one.
“On the other hand, you have something like the price of data services. As it becomes cheaper, people become willing to download entire movies. So as the price falls, you have a huge change in the amount of the product that people are going to want to purchase.”
And while people may need a lawyer, many cannot currently afford one. According to an article published in the Connecticut Law Review in 2015, 70 to 98 percent of cases involving family law, domestic violence, landlord-tenant and small claims matters involve at least one unrepresented litigant.
Lawyers Respond To ROSS
Justin Alaburda, a partner at Brennan, Manna & Diamond’s Akron office, said that he would consider using artificially intelligent software so long as it performed as well as a human.
“Artificial intelligence is already used for electronic discovery and studies show that in the area of document review, the error rate of human review is higher than reviews performed by a software program that uses predictive coding,” he said. “I admit, however, that when it comes to legal research, my confidence level in the artificially intelligent software would have to be extremely high before I would be comfortable relying heavily on the software.”
James E. “Ted” Roberts, a partner at Roth, Blair, Roberts, Stratsfield & Lodge in Youngstown, said that there are likely limitations on what artificial intelligence can provide for a lawyer. He said it might be difficult to convey the nuance of a case’s facts to a machine and that a lawyer will be needed to apply these facts to law.
“Besides getting the facts of the research, applying those facts then becomes a matter of judgment and opinion and that’s where the lawyer’s education and experience comes in,” Roberts said. “Mechanically, some software can obtain some research, but then it’s going to take the lawyer to interpret it and apply it.”
But Alaburda said that the practice of law will always involve human judgment.
“While technology in the legal profession is continuously improving and evolving, I believe that it is best used in connection with, and not as a substitute for, human judgement,” Alaburda said.
Roberts echoed Alaburda’s sentiment sayng that regardless of how research is conducted, the role of a lawyer will remain unchanged.
“We can never forget that the relationship between the lawyer and the client is very sensitive. If we don’t have all of the facts and all of the appropriate research, we’re not doing our job,” he said. “We can never forget that thread of the lawyer-client relationship.”
Read the article: http://www.akronlegalnews.com/editorial/16230
Akron Legal News, September 14, 2016, Frank George, Reporter