Robot "ROSS" hired by major law firm

The news this past week is that a major law firm has hired a robot to do legal research. The robot in question is ROSS. Of course, ROSS is not, in fact, a robot. ROSS is a research tool that relies on artificial intelligence. Baker & Hostetler has "hired" ROSS to assist with research in the area of bankruptcy. The firm has approximately 50 lawyers in the bankruptcy practice, out of a total of 900 lawyers.

ROSS is the creation of Ross Intelligence, and is built upon Watson, IBM's cognitive computer. There's little novelty in the fact that the researcher can form queries using natural language rather than key words.

The big thing is that this is artificial intelligence. That means that ROSS improves its work based on experience. It "learns."

Here's how the creators explain it:

ROSS is an artificially intelligent attorney to help you power through legal research. ROSS improves upon existing alternatives by actually understanding your questions in natural sentences like - "Can a bankrupt company still conduct business?"

ROSS then provides you an instant answer with citations and suggests highly topical readings from a variety of content sources.

ROSS is built upon Watson, IBM's cognitive computer. Almost all of the legal information that you rely on is unstructured data—it is in the form of text, and not neatly situated in the rows and columns of a database. Watson is able to mine facts and conclusions from over a billion of these text documents a second. Meanwhile, existing solutions rely on search technologies that simply find keywords.

So what can ROSS do?

  1. Provide you a highly relevant answer, not 1000s of results, to your question posed in natural language, not keywords.
  2. Monitor the law for changes that can positively/negatively affect your case, instead of flooding you with legal news.
  3. Learn the more you and other lawyers use it.
  4. Offer a simple, consistent experience across all your devices and form factors.

Some predictions:

  • ROSS will quickly branch out into legal realms other than bankruptcy.
  • Firms that use this technology will be way more competitive.
  • Other firms will rush to get this stuff. Or perish.
  • Efficiencies will reduce the need for new BigLaw lawyers. This will reduce job opportunities for the highest flyers at the most elite law schools.
  • ROSS will be exempt from time and a half for overtime.

Read more about it here:

Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University

Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University will be the new name for George Mason University's school of law. Kind of a mouthful, so let's just call it Scalia Law School.

April 6, 2016 Update: Oops. After the internet was flooded with comments related to unfortunate acronyms that could be created with the official new name, the university is now using the name "Antonin Scalia Law School."

The recipe: Take $20 million from an anonymous donor. Add another $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation. Promise to name your school after a Supreme Court Justice. Voila!

At a time when many other law schools are facing serious financial troubles (caused by a multi-year decline in applicants), Scalia Law School will have new-found cash for scholarships and other improvements.

With an artificially intelligent attorney, will you have to pay overtime?

Meet ROSS, "the world's first artificially intelligent attorney." I recently wrote about a lawyer who put in for overtime, and may win if he can demonstrate that his work "did not involve the use of any legal judgment or discretion." See Was lawyer doing robot work, so FLSA overtime is due?

The court bought in to this, saying that the lawyer was alleging that he "provided services that a machine could have provided."

I wondered out loud whether the court had heard of smart machines that play chess or even do judicial work.

Better yet, Meet ROSS, "the world's first artificially intelligent attorney."

Was lawyer doing robot work, so FLSA overtime is due?

My view: Robots don't get overtime pay, but a lawyer alleging he does the work of a robot states a claim for overtime. Just allege you provide services that a machine could have provided, and you get to go to trial. [Opinion: Lola v. Skadden, Arps (2nd Cir 07/23/2015), reversing Lola v. Skadden, Arps (SD NY 09/16/2014).] David Lola is a lawyer who got hired by a legal staffing company to perform services for the Skadden Arps law firm. Lola did his work in North Carolina – reviewing documents relating to litigation pending in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio. Lola is a licensed lawyer in California, but is not admitted to practice law in either North Carolina or the Northern District of Ohio.

Lola sued both the staffing company and the law firm claiming entitlement to overtime pay. The defendants argued that Lola was exempt from overtime due to his status as a professional employee – "Any employee who is the holder of a valid license or certificate permitting the practice of law or medicine or any of their branches and is actually engaged in the practice thereof," according to DOL regs.

Lola argued that his work was not the practice of law because it was "mechanical" and "did not involve the use of any legal judgment or discretion."

The court said it needed to use state law standards in interpreting the federal "practice of law" rule.

And which state? The state where the work was performed (North Carolina). Not the state where the litigation was pending (Ohio), not the state where the law firm and staffing agency had their principal place of business (New York), and not where Lola had his law license (California).

According to a North Carolina ethics opinion, document review is the practice of law. But the 2nd Circuit pointed out that "inherent in the definition of 'practice of law' in North Carolina is the exercise of at least a modicum of independent legal judgment." The court interpreted Lola's complaint as alleging that he "exercised no legal judgment whatsoever," and "provided services that a machine could have provided." That's enough to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Obviously the court does not understand machines. Have they not heard of computers that can beat chess champions? Or experiments in which computers replace judges?

Free law school tuition, with a catch

Get a free legal education, with no guarantee that you can take the bar exam.

Indiana Tech Law School started out in 2013. Really close to the bottom of a long-term nationwide slide in the number of folks applying to go to law school. It's the fifth law school in Indiana. Interesting to see someone enter a market where demand is declining and supply seems to be pretty strong.

Indiana Tech has applied for ABA approval, which is needed so grads can take the bar exam. Approval has been declined. The school is re-applying.

Nobody is saying why ABA approval was denied, and the school says it is working to fix whatever deficiencies the ABA noted.

The school has now announced that every student who is enrolled in the school during 2016 will receive a 100 percent scholarship. Of course they still have to buy books and cover their own living expenses. And take the risk that ABA approval might not be forthcoming.

Free tuition was offered at U Cal Irvine during its first year of operations. As part of the huge and well-financed U Cal system, it seemed clear that ABA approval would be a cinch, and the school got approval on the fastest track available. The jury is still out on Indiana Tech.

Law school death spiral

As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Emory law prof Dorothy A. Brown has joined the chorus: "While faculty could be part of the solution to legal education’s woes, we are actually the problem."

Her Washington Post article, "Law schools are in a death spiral. Maybe now they’ll finally change.", contains some great quotes:

  • Law schools are currently in a bidding war for the students with the highest LSATs and GPAs because U.S. News heavily emphasizes those factors in its rankings.
  • poorer law students lose out on scholarships and end up paying full tuition, financed through student loans, subsidizing their richer classmates.
  • While law firms can fire lawyers, law schools cannot cut their largest expense: faculty.
  • Legal scholarship is in a terrible state, with counter-intuitive incentives for faculty. Status comes with publishing, but more publishing means less teaching and interacting with fewer students.
  • very few articles are cited for their ideas.
  • Law schools are run by the faculty for the faculty.
  • In three years, a top law school will close. Then watch how quickly things change.