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Law firm makes case for computerized legal advice


Your next “attorney” could be a computer. That's one conclusion to be drawn, anyway, from an announcement that Palo Alto, California-based Ross Intelligence has reached an agreement with major law firm Baker & Hostetler L.L.C., which is based in Cleveland, to retain use of its artificial intelligence legal research project.

According to its announcement, the Ross platform is built upon Watson, IBM's cognitive computer. With the support of Watson's cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities, lawyers ask Ross their research question in “natural” language, as they would a person. Ross then reads through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns “highly relevant evidence-based candidate answers.”

It also monitors the law around the clock to notify users of new court decisions that can affect a case, and — perhaps in an improvement over mundane human attorneys — continually learns from the lawyers who use it to bring back better results each time.

According to its statement, Ross Intelligence began as a result of research at the University of Toronto in 2014 with the goal of building an AI research assistant to allow lawyers “to enhance and scale their abilities.”

After receiving funding in June 2015, the company relocated from Toronto to Palo Alto. Ten months after it began teaching Ross bankruptcy law, it commercialized its first offering.

The company says it is now in the process of teaching Ross a variety of other practice areas, so “every legal practitioner in the world will have Ross as a member of their legal team.”

The statement quotes Bob Craig, Baker & Hostetler's chief technology officer, as saying the law firm believes “that emerging technologies like cognitive computing and other forms of machine learning can help enhance the services we deliver to our clients.”

One of the more interesting questions all this raises from the insurance perspective is what coverage, if any, there would be if Ross screws up. Would it come under law firms' cyber policies, their legal malpractice policies or both?

Meanwhile, we journalists have no cause to feel particularly smug. According to a column by Suzanne Lucas in Inc. magazine, a New York company called Articoolo Inc. claims it can create unique content “in a matter of minutes.”

Ms. Lucas quotes the company's CEO, Duron Tal, as stating: “At the stage we are in, our tool cannot completely replace human writers, especially not journalists and writers, but it can help them do their job quicker as it may save them time of basic content discovery and accumulation process.”

Which is not to say writers wouldn't be wise to start looking over their shoulders.

Meanwhile, we can't wait to see Ross in action in the courtroom. Watching it cross examine a witness should be particularly interesting — alas for any would-be Perry Masons out there.