Monday, May 23, 2016

What will robot lawyers mean for human legal education?

Though the story has been covered throughout the legal blogosphere, a few readers have emailed to request an OTLSS post on BakerHostetler's hotshot new bankruptcy attorney, a robot called “ROSS.”

I know that some specialists dispute the concept of machine intelligence, but this robot was smart enough to land a plum entry-level job in the profession without attending law school or incurring educational debt.

According to the Ross Intelligence, Inc. website: 
"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..  . . So what can ROSS do?  [It can] [p]rovide you a highly relevant answer, not 1000s of results, to your question posed in natural language. . . [and] [m]onitor the law for changes that can positively/negatively affect your case.  . ."
The advent of the robot lawyer might not be so delightful for those of the flesh-and-blood variety. ROSS’s skill set overlaps significantly with the job complexes of many junior corporate law firm associates and public sector research attorneys. Lawyers are said to devote, on average, nearly a fifth of their working hours to legal research and law firms spend $9.6 billion on research annually. That is a lot of remunerative work that will potentially be lost to our mechanical colleagues, and it does not even include the impact that predictive coding will have on document review.

Sputnik News has an appropriately sarcastic write-up (along with a very funny illustration of a robot lawyer), entitled "Law School Scam? $200,000 in Student Debt, Replaced by Job-Killing Robot."
"We are not even speaking about a profession that requires the completion of at least seven years of college, followed by an expensive test and an invasive background check, just for the benefit of staring down the barrel of a 15.5 percent unemployment rate and roughly $200,000 in non-dischargeable student debt. . . 
Instead, we are talking about the latest and greatest idea among the old-timers. . .who have already won the legal profession lottery, allowing them to seize an upper-middle class lifestyle after matriculating from law schools referred to as ‘third-tier toilets,’ or attending bastions of prestigious opportunity, like Harvard and Yale. . . 
The world’s first "artificial-intelligence attorney," touted as the newest member of white-shoe law firm BakerHostetler, threatens to spark a job-killing trend in a vocation where career prospects already frighten a terrorized workforce. BakerHostetler says will save time for lawyers who have to master a huge, growing body of legal literature.  The firm does not mention that nearly all of their 900 attorneys are paid for their time on an hourly basis, a pay basis on which BakerHostetler has generously offered to relieve them of."
Will law schools be forthright in acknowledging that the impending automation of a staggering amount of revenue-generating legal work almost certainly means less income and fewer stable jobs for lawyers, thus further devaluing a J.D. degree? Or will they instead peddle a fantasy that tech-savvy young law students, with the proper law school training, will be situated to take lucrative advantage of vast and exciting new opportunities as e-law providers, notwithstanding that few will possess true technical expertise? 

Consider the following quote from Andrew Perlman, the recently-appointed Dean of Suffolk Law School, whose bottom-rung atrocity of a school [1] generated much favorable publicity when it created an "Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation," along with a "Legal Technology and Innovation" concentration for its students.
"We want law students to think like entrepreneurs. . . There is tremendous potential for law graduates to fill new niches in the legal industry, such as founding an e-discovery company or creating a software process that makes law firms more efficient and effective. . . . New law-related jobs are emerging in which having a J.D. is a distinct advantage, such as jobs at companies and firms that engage in project management, e-discovery and automated document assembly. . . . We’re trying to give students an edge when seeking these kinds of positions as well as more traditional jobs."
Perlman and fellow high-profile law-tech enthusiast Indiana Univ. Law Prof. William Henderson draw on the work of British law and technology writer Richard Susskind, a champion of IT-based "delawyering" and "alternative sourcing." Indeed, Henderson relies so heavily on Susskind that I wonder whether he is a clunky robot prototype programmed for spouting Susskind, as well as for self-promotion.

Perlman and Henderson tend to depict the likely effect of disruptive or emerging technologies on our profession in suspiciously boosterish terms. They do not emphasize Susskind's more discouraging pronouncements, such as that he does "not see much of a future (beyond 2020) for most small firms." [2] Or that "law firms are likely to recruit young and aspiring lawyers in smaller numbers." [3]

And I certainly have not heard either propose applying Susskindian strategies to the legal academy, for instance by recommending that law schools disaggregate, alternative source, digitize, or robotize components of law professor jobs. [4] I mean, arguably all of law school could be replaced by some cool interactive learning apps, virtual reality simulations, and guided online discussion groups, all accessible from the comfort of home.  

It would be fine if more law students started thinking like entrepreneurs. It would be even better if more law deans stopped behaving like snake oil salesman. The new niches in the legal industry, and many of the old ones too, will be filled by ROSS and its robotic progeny. However, I suspect that it will be some time before we see the introduction of robot law school deans. The niche of getting rich by deceiving vulnerable kids is a distinctly human preserve.


[1] The overall 10-month-out employment rate for the graduating class of 2015 showed a minuscule improvement over 2014, despite a reduction in demand for entry-level lawyers, as a result of a significant year-over-year decline in the number of graduates. No improvement at Suffolk though. Rather, Suffolk's 10-month-out bar-required full-time placement rate declined from 46.2% to 43.3%, placing it among the bottom 20% of law schools.

Suffolk's 25th percentile LSAT is a scandalous 145, which is lower than all but 27 schools, and which prompts the unkind thought that its grads might not be bright enough to found e-discovery companies and so forth, even if the words "technology" and "innovation" appear on their law diplomas.

[2] Susskind, Richard (2013-01-10). Tomorrow's Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (p. 57). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[3]  Susskind at p. 142

[4] For instance, Henderson opposes weakening tenure for law professors, notwithstanding considerations of efficiency, flexibility, and what Susskind refers to as "The More-for-Less Challenge." (Susskind at p. 4-5) (As you may surmise, the "less" part implicitly includes compensation for professionals).

Indeed, during a "Legal Visionary" webinar, the "Most Influential Person in Legal Education" addressed tenure in his typical blustery, obfuscatory, and self-serving  manner:
"So I know that one of the most popular things is ending tenure, and I actually don’t think that’s a good place to start because it’s kind of a take-away mentality that doesn’t put people in a good mood to innovate, and really innovation is what we need. . . . I think the right way to do it is through visionary leadership, getting people excited about the good things that flow from adopting a change initiative and widely publicizing, you know, bright spots or examples of success. I just think we need to do it from a point of view of the possibilities and making the world a better place and making the industry better, rather than kind of take-aways."
Legal Visionaries webinar, "The Disruption and Transformation of Legal Education and Services" (March 2014) at 24:32-24:50, 25:49-26:15 (copious stutters, uhhhhs, and ahhhhs omitted). 
In other words, creative destruction and race-to-the-bottom economics for thee, but not for me. 


  1. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingMay 23, 2016 at 9:43 AM

    Nothing. It's not gonna happen. Folks seek out lawyers for their seasoned judgment and experience. If it were just about "facts, case law," and statutes, we would have been replaced by Univacs a long time ago. My practice is a lot more than just data and systematic results. The number #1 skill a good lawyer has in her quiver is the ability to get along and work with others in a complex system. The "law" is irrelevant in many circumstances. One may know the cases, but if you continually piss off the prosecutor, what good will that do for your client who blows a .22 after hitting three cars at the White Castle drive thru?

    1. I'm not a robot without emotions.
      I'm not what you see.
      I've come to help you, with your problems, so we can be free.
      I'm not a hero. I'm not the saviour. Forget what you know.
      I'm just a man, whose circumstances, went beyond his control

      Beyond my control. We all need control
      I need control. We all need control.

      I just need my client who blew the .22 to pay me.... so I can go back to White Castle for dinner

  2. I think the point is not that the machines will make the entire profession obsolete, but rather that a.i. is going to take away a ton of billable lawyer time and shrink the profession. I don't know how anyone could even argue otherwise. Every year in practice, I note that a machine would be competent to handle a smaller and smaller percentage of my work. Initially I would have been completely fungible. A machine would have been better suited to do almost anything I was doing. Now, I would trust a machine with about half. But now the people beneath me are billing for that work where a machine would do it more efficiently and effectively.

    I suspect dybbuk would agree that the rise of a.i. will hurt everyone badly. No matter what, business will be lost at every level. But it will especially harm those who do general work for cost sensitive smaller clients, and will especially harm new lawyers. But the schools will continue to pump them out.

    1. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingMay 23, 2016 at 2:08 PM

      You think we will take it on the chin? What's going to happen with self-driving cars take over? Think of all the folks who earn a living driving and the collateral professions and work. Everybody from PI attorneys to adjusters, to Insurance defense, repair people, new car production (to replace banged up cars), traffic court judges and prosecutors, aftermarket parts, sign companies, doctors, chiro---millions and millions depend on the automobile and its residual spin offs for work. 80% of my legal defense work is auto related.... when somebody fucks up behind the wheel. With no "me" around and no need for prosecutors, because IBM and Apple are perfect, there will be no need for Judges.

  3. Computers make legal research far easier for all, but the lay person still won't understand the law, the rules of evidence, the rules of civil procedure, nor will a machine try a case. Reading case law and statutory law makes sense to us because we have legal training and experience.

  4. "There is tremendous potential for law graduates to fill new niches in the legal industry, such as founding an e-discovery company or creating a software process that makes law firms more efficient and effective."

    A person who had never set foot in a law school could do those things every bit as well. Indeed, millions of people could them better than the sorts of dolts that sign up for a bullshit JD from Suffolk.

    1. Stonemason, Esq.May 24, 2016 at 2:57 PM

      such as founding an e-discovery company or creating a software process that makes law firms more efficient and effective.

      And the legal academy, which is well known for leaving its graduates with large pools of available capital and well-developed software programming skills, is perfectly adapted to help these people.

    2. It's a bizarre (and baseless) assertion, isn't it? Or do law schools other than the one I went to teach you how to code, run a business, and network with BigLaw people who (imagine this!) already have a robust web of vendors who already do these things in a market that is more-or-less already saturated?


      "Found an e-discovery company"--I mean, if doc reviewers can't so much as unionize, I don't think you're going to find more than a handful on the other end of that spectrum who are born entrepreneurs. (Indeed, it's almost as if they had that kind of spirit and skillset in the first place, they wouldn't have gone to law school in a bid to get a secure, if unglamorous, middle class job.)

      On the same topic, can we talk about how you can't expect every human being on Earth to be an entrepreneur? And even if you could, this would be a sorry state of affairs, since 90-99% of our all-entrepreneur population would still just wind up frustrated wage workers (at best) anyway?

    3. Indeed, relatively few people can set up a viable business. And that small group is not well represented at the likes of Suffolk Bullshit Law Skule 'n' All-U-Kin-Eet Chitt'lin's Boofay.

  5. "And the legal academy, which is well known for leaving its graduates with large pools of available capital and well-developed software programming skills, is perfectly adapted to help these people."

    Agreed. Also, lawyers are natural risk takers, and since their education is highly practical in nature, those new to the profession will need but a few moments on Shark Tank to round out the trifecta of disposition, talent, and means.

  6. There was an article several years ago on Constitutional Daily entitled "The Lawbot Revolution is Coming" You can read it here ->

    Basically the pain train has been chugging along the track for a long period of time. Having even in 2011 already reduced doc-review to about a fifth of its previous revenue.

    If you have a JD and are a doc-reviewer or your job can be described as 'shuffling shit paper' life is going to get hard(er?) for you.

    It won't be bad for everyone in the legal field though. If you're a Big law partner you can retain more profits for yourself and pay fewer and fewer associates as you are aided and abetted by your server farms of robot lawyers doing the scunt work that newly minted lawyers used to be tasked to do. If you're a shit law king with your visage and telephone number on the side of buses and on billboards you can churn more and more DUI's slip'n'falls, whiplash, and other cases with the help of a robot partner running on your own PC.

    1. I'm not sure how I would use a robot. Maybe it would be nice to feed a robot some facts and get an estimate of damages, support payments, or valuation—along with a list of precedents supporting the estimate. I'm not sure that robots are yet good enough to do that. They certainly cannot replace me.

      In the main, the students and graduates of most law skules do not operate past the level of robots. Unable to think, they cannot analyze or synthesize anything of any complexity. They consider "IRAC" challenging and sophisticated, whereas any real jurist considers it juvenile and worthless.

    2. @Old Guy -- "I'm not sure how I would use a robot"

      You could use it for document review, although a monkey would probably be cheaper.

  7. If a robot can replace you, you are not a lawyer.

    1. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingMay 28, 2016 at 7:07 PM

      We won't need Team AAMPLE anymore. Do you concur Old Guy?

    2. "If a robot can replace you, you are not a lawyer."

      Probably true, but:

      a) By that definition, a lot of lawyers are not lawyers. Note that document review seems to be ripe for this.

      b) A partner with a robot is a partner who needs fewer associates.

  8. Another way to use robots in law: Use them to teach classes instead of overpaid tenured professors, or even the lowly-paid disposable adjuncts! I'm surprised no one else seems to have thought of that yet.

    And as a bonus, robots can also make toast!

  9. Andrew Perlman said "There is tremendous potential for law graduates to fill new niches in the legal industry, such as founding an e-discovery company or creating a software process that makes law firms more efficient and effective"

    This is an interesting statement that begs the question 'Are law graduates well suited for founding e-discovery companies or creating software processes that make law firms more efficient?'

    I think this question can be answered with actual data. Using Google I found a website with a list of firms that are already competing in the e-discovery/lawbot space. The website is . They list 78 different software products by vendors large and small (I don't think 78 is exhaustive)

    Then I looked at career sections of their websites to see what kind of positions they were looking to fill.
    * Nextpoint is looking for 2 Software Developers, a Data Analyst with a background in Ruby on Rails, and a salesman
    * Logikcull is looking for 2 customer service people, 2 salesmen, and a marketer,
    * Iprotech is looking for 2 .NET programmers and a salesman
    E-Stat is looking for an eDiscovery analyst with some technical familiarity willing to work long hours and weekends, a marketing specialist, a Vice President of business development (essentially a salesman), and a legal technology consultant (With a J.D. and 2 years of sales experience)
    * Digital Reef is looking for a Linux Systems Engineer, a Java developer and a salesman

    I'm thinking that if you want to go into law robotics you are going to want to be an IT professional of some kind or failing that, a salesman.

    I also found some information about people who are the heads of lawbot companies.
    Servient's CEO holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia
    Their VP of Research and Development holds a Masters in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon and a BS in Electronic Engineering from Mumbai University
    Their SVP of Business Development has a BS in business from University of Connecticut and an MBA from the University of Richmond
    Their CTO has degrees in Computer Science and Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech
    and their VP of Strategic Alliances has a JD from the University of Texas.
    Their CEO's linkedIn is here ->
    He holds a J.D. From Cardozo; and also has 7.5 years of software development experience, and has even done a stint as a salesman.

    Are students of toilets like Suffolk actually good at law, despite their mediocre LSAT scores? Also do they typically have skills in software development, systems administration, cloud computing, or technical support? Do they know anything about sales? Do they have reliable friends that know these things?
    Do they also have friends with money, who are willing to loan it to them or give it to them in exchange for shares of their recently founded lawbot company?

    To answer this post's original question. No, students at Suffolk School of law are not suited to founding e-discovery companies or creating software processes that make the law more efficient. They are suited for click-click doc review that will die in the lawbot revolution. If you are currently attending Suffolk or any of its sister toilets you are going to want to drop out and learn to code, or learn to sell, or indeed learn to do anything else.

  10. When will these robots replace overpaid, underworked, lazy-ass "law professors"?!?! Hell, the lectures could be put online for a tiny fraction of the existing cost of tuition.

  11. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingMay 26, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    The problem is that law professors and government attorneys believe they are making a huge sacrifice in the name of public service because they compare themselves to an equity partner at Sidley or Jenner. When the comparison group should be us Solos, Micro Firms and the unemployed attorney. They are doing well and are wealthy compared to me.

    1. The hubris of these professors is comical.

      Partners at biglaw need to bring in big business, otherwise they're gone. These professors (who were on law review, had clerkships and were associates at top firms) WRONGLY believe that their "intellect" is all you need.

      You know that old saying "if you can't do, you teach" (or something like that). In the case of law professors, it's actually true. I seriously doubt stuck-up elitists without any common sense can court clients with deep pockets.

    2. Agreed 9:32. I recall reading a study somewhere that ranked law schools by the percentage of students landing Big Law who went on to become partners in Big Law. While HYSC and the rest of the T14 placed the lion's share of associates, the percentage of associates who made partner from top schools was surprisingly smaller than those who made partner from lesser schools like Loyola of Chicago, Texas, etc. I think the researchers attributed that finding to an inherent selection bias particular to sub-elite institutions. These lawyers from the lesser fraction of the first Tier were "grittier" and thus more committed to running the guantlet to make partner. Indeed they'd already beaten the odds with their ability to land Big Law from outside the T14, and clearly this wasn't attributable to their superior academics. Likewise neither was their making partner. I'd post a link if I could find it, but suffice it to say that empirical evidence suggests making Big Law partner isn't perfectly correlated with "intellect" as the hackademics would like us to believe.