5/24/17

More Robot Magic Silliness

Couldn't help myself. I encountered a tweet about a "robot lawyer" and took the bait. I'm a moron.



An unwise decision. Silliness promptly followed. To preview, Robot Lawyer LISA is just another document assembly tool. For what it is—consumer-facing doc assembly—the concept and content are fine relative to what else is available. The claims to be something more—an  AI robot lawyer—are absurd. The hyperbole, however, is effective (here I am writing about it like a sucker) and unsurprising given that we (hopefully) just passed the peak of another hype cycle.

As document assembly tools go, the Robot Lawyer LISA's UI and UX are reasonably slick if slightly buggy.* It's built on Neota Logic, a platform I like. With respect to the content, I outsource the analysis to the incomparable Mr. Contract, Ken Adams (see my previous post on Ken and online legal forms):
I had a look at the fruits of your dalliance with LISA the AI Lawyer. The best I can say is that someone who fraternizes with LISA might well end up with something more suitable than if they had grabbed an NDA at random from the great online junkyard.
The questionnaire offered is basic. The annotations offered are rudimentary. The guidance mostly comes in the form of an AI-free PDF. But that’s probably OK—LISA is aiming for the unsophisticated end of the market.
The language in the output document is Clunky Traditional, English Division. I could write a book about its shortcomings. In fact, I already have. That said, it would be delusional of me to fault the language because it doesn’t comply with my guidelines, given that my guidelines are still, uh, pioneering, particularly in England.
In the two minutes—really—I devoted to substance, I spotted two issues. A recital refers to information that might be “confidential or proprietary in nature.” The word proprietary doesn’t make sense in this context, as I discussed in this 2010 blog post. It’s an unnecessary mistake for LISA to make, given that the word doesn’t occur in the body of the contract. But it doesn’t bode particularly well.
And I noticed this sentence in the PDF: “The main reason and benefit of using a deed rather than a simple agreement is that confidential documents or information provided BEFORE the NDA is signed will be covered by the deed.” That strikes me as debatable: if as part of getting more confidential information I agree to keep confidential any information disclosed previously, my promise is supported by consideration without my having to resort to the magic-words contrivance of describing the contract as a deed.
Further rooting around would likely raise further issues. That said, the substance is likely treated no worse than it is in the mass of stuff out there.
I realize I’m setting the bar low, but we’re dealing with business contracts, where dysfunction is the norm, so you can set the bar low and conceivably still be useful. But don’t expect me to applaud. Given the brave-new-tech-world trappings, I would have expected something a bit more ambitious, in terms of technology and content, from LISA the AI Lawyer.
I didn't share Ken's expectations. Vain hope, sure. But no room for genuine disappointment. Grandiose claims about "robot lawyers" put my BS detector on high alert. "Artificially intelligent", "robot", and "lawyer" are vague terms that continue to be stripped of meaning by overuse. Robot Lawyer LISA takes this vacuousness to new heights.

AI is a broad field. I'm comfortable with expert system platforms like Neota Logic being considered a form of AI. I don't have the chops to argue otherwise. Still, I doubt it conforms to what most people today think of when they hear the term "artificial intelligence." We constantly move that goal post: "It’s only AI when you don’t know how it works; once it works, it’s just software."

At a recent conference, I presented with co-Geek Ryan McClead, a VP at Neota, who recounted many debates about whether his product qualifies as AI. His killer rejoinder (paraphrasing) is that it doesn't matter if the technology conforms to someone's subjective definition of AI, what matters is whether it solves a real problem better than what is currently available. Hear, hear!

The reason I had to try Robot Lawyer LISA for myself is because I could not elicit a coherent answer on what made it superior to the available alternatives. Like Ken, I found it, at best, comparable to what has been around for years. If Robot Lawyer LISA is AI, so are all the other consumer-facing dynamic document assembly platforms. Which is to say the AI label is not a useful distinguishing factor.

I made a good decision in staying out of the argument about what constitutes AI. Instead, I stupidly plunged into the "robot lawyer" abyss:



As the person behind the account surely knows, the definitions of "robot" are broad. Most people probably think of these:

 


But there are software robots. So I guess, technically, we can take the broadest definition and call any form of software automation a "robot", just as we can call it all "AI." This, however, makes AI robot both redundant and virtually meaningless as a descriptor.

There seems to be no statutory definition of "lawyer" in the UK (happy to be corrected on that). Yet Robot Lawyer LISA does not satisfy any of the plausible candidates I located:

From The Law Society:
Lawyer - a member of one of the following professions, entitled to practise as such:
the profession of solicitor, barrister or advocate of the UK
  • a profession whose members are authorised to carry on legal activities by an approved regulator other than the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
  • an Establishment Directive profession other than a UK profession
  • a legal profession which has been approved by the SRA for the purpose of recognised bodies in England and Wales, and
  • any other regulated legal profession specified by the SRA for the purpose of this definition.
From Slater and Gordon:
The term Lawyer is a generic term used to describe anyone who is a Licensed Legal Practitioner qualified to give legal advice in one or more areas of law.
From Oxford Dictionaries:
A person who practises or studies law, especially (in the UK) a solicitor or a barrister or (in the US) an attorney.
Best I can tell, Robot Lawyer LISA is not a member of any profession, not entitled to practise, not licensed, not qualified to give legal advice, and not a person, let alone a person who practises law. Indeed, the site delivers the disclaimers you would expect from an ordinary online document assembly service:
this App is made available to you strictly on an ‘as-is’ basis and we give you no warranty, guarantee or assurance of any kind about this App.
In particular, the information provided may be incorrect or out of date, and may not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law or practice in any area and the output of the App may not be suited to your particular purpose.

The information provided is not intended as, and does not constitute, legal advice in respect of any specific situation or for any particular purpose. You should take your own legal advice in respect of specific situations and conduct your own research into the suitability of lawyers before appointing them.
So Robot Lawyer LISA does not give legal advice. Instead, it counsels lay consumers to take their own legal advice (huh?) and do their own research before appointing a lawyer (and here I thought I already had a robot lawyer in LISA). Weak sauce.

I am sure someone from the Robot Lawyer LISA team can point me to a nebulous definition of "lawyer" that encompasses their app. But that will only prove that words have no meaning, and we are all living in the fever dream of a stoned college sophomore who is encountering Wittgenstein for the first time.

Whether there is some tortured, technical sense in which LISA can be called an AI Robot Lawyer is irrelevant (to me). What matters (to me) is that labeling LISA an AI Robot Lawyer does not convey any useful information to the consuming public.

This prompts two questions that share an answer:
1. Why do damage to the English language in order to call LISA an AI Robot Lawyer?
2. Why do I care?
Because it works. At least in the short term. These days, it would be hard to garner press coverage for launching yet another doc assembly app for basic contracts. You won't be invited to keynote any conferences for providing lay consumers a single mediocre form to fill out online. But put "AI" or "robot" in the press release, and the near-term coverage will be considerable. So you should probably use both. And it isn't just chumps like me who read everything. It is the headline skimmers in positions of power.

I run into too many legal operations folks in corporations and firms suffering from hype fatigue. They never bought into the hype themselves. But their superiors see so many article about AI and robot lawyers that orders come down from on high to investigate this promising new frontier. The superiors are expecting robot magic. The operations folks come back with a smattering of point solutions, most of which are useful, but none of which live up to the hype. This exercise in chasing shiny objects wastes everyone's time, including the providers, who actually have worthwhile, if narrow, products to offer.

Likewise, I've endured too many god awful keynotes where people run through some back issues of Wired and then conclude with "and it's coming to law", as in:
Watson won Jeopardy! And now he's not only curing cancer but also making gourmet meals. yada yada yada. Moore's law. yada yada yada. Alexa. Siri. yada yada yada. Augmented reality. People are controlling drones with their brains. yada yada yada. Blockchain. IoT. 3D printing. Quantified Self. Chatbots. Self-driving cars. Machine learning. Quantum computing. Cold fusion. Red mercury. yada yada yada. And it's coming to law.
I am so tired of sitting through these insufferable, interminable fluff parades. It's novelty porn. It's distraction. Yet it has a real cost. Attention is finite. The operations folks dispatched to uncover the dark mysteries of robot magic are not devoting their limited research time to solving actual problems. The vendors who have to entertain these fishing expeditions get derailed from speaking to legitimate prospects or from coming to terms with immediate market needs.

Despite my deep annoyance at Robot Lawyer LISA and my even deeper disappointment in myself for taking the bait, this is where I have to give the usual caveat that it is not all fluff. Document assembly and automation are still, decades later, underutilized in the legal space. Consumer-facing forms fill a genuine void. Neota Logic is a great platform that underpins all sorts of interesting offerings (e.g., the Akerman Data Center). There are other solid companies out there using various forms of AI to introduce needed tools to the legal market. And some of the best keynotes I've ever had the pleasure of attending have AI as a core theme (e.g., I witnessed Dan Katz's phenomenal ILTA keynote live and then watched it again online).

There is real innovation happening in legal that is well worth paying attention to. But this ain't it. This just adds to the deafening cacophony of hype-driven noise. Yet I can't blame the folks running Robot Lawyer LISA. Start-ups are hard. The legal market is an especially tough nut to crack. They found a way to get noticed. That their marketing annoys a curmudgeon like me is, for them, probably just an added bonus. Ultimately, I have to score this round for Robot Lawyer LISA because I just wrote a long post about a vanilla doc assembly offering with only one form.

_______________________________________
D. Casey Flaherty is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas. He is Of Counsel and Director of Client Value at Haight Brown & Bonesteel. He serves on the advisory board of Nextlaw Labs. He is the primary author of Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the ACC Legal Operations Section. Find more of his writing here. Connect with Casey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or email casey@procertas.com.


*Robot Lawyer LISA's UI and UX are solid. But, despite selecting the United States as my jurisdiction, I could not move forward without a "Company Number." I'm assuming this refers to a CRN. The U.S. has no meaningful analogue (I'm not going to put my EIN in an NDA). My text response—"don't have one"—made it into the assembled document.

In addition, I was required to provide a backup email for me and my counterparty. It is rare that I have a second email address for someone I am just starting to do business with.

I also did not see any esignature functionality, which, to me, is a key feature in the contract space.

Finally, I should probably mention that Robot Lawyer LISA's other differentiator is supposed to be impartiality. Instead of guiding only the author through the document assembly process, the counterparty can opt to walk through the same guided process. I'm unmoved. I don't know if its novel in this space. I've definitely encountered bilateral contract collaboration platforms on the corporate side. But maybe it really is some sort of gamechanger that I am too jaded to appreciate. If it ever gets to the place where it can help creatively resolve disagreements about contractual content (e.g., combining Ken's insights on contractual language with, say, the choiceboxing techniques of Marc Lauritsen, who happens to also be the godfather of legal document assembly), then I will revise my opinion and apologize for my rank cynicism.


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5/11/17

Midsize Firms Are Touting Efficiency, But They’re Not Hiring Efficiency Experts

[Ed. Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Steve Nelson, Managing Principal, Law & Government Affairs, The McCormick Group. - GL]

One of the big topics discussed recently in the legal press is how the very large firms continue to separate themselves from the rest of the AmLaw 200. In an article accompanying the American Lawyer’s financial disclosure reports for the AmLaw 100, the magazine revealed some pretty shocking statistics; while the top 50 firms reporting significant increases in revenue per lawyer, profit per partner and profit per lawyer, the next 50 firms reporting decreases in all of these statistical categories.

This is not a new phenomenon. Over the past few years, many observers have been writing about how the mega-firms are pulling away from the pack. You would think that a large number of midsize firms would be responding by illustrating how they are more efficient and provide very value to clients.  But a recent study performed by The McCormick Group seems to show otherwise.

Since around 2000, and particularly since the advent of the Great Recession of 2008, firms have responded to calls for efficiency by hiring three types of professionals, those handling practice group management so that each practice area can be run more efficiently and more profitability, pricing professionals to respond to corporate calls for alternative fee arrangements, and legal project managers to work directly on engagements to provide value to the clients and efficiency to the firm.

Of those three, one---pricing professionals, have become virtually de rigueur in the AmLaw 200.

Largely because the firm needs to have someone with a financial background respond to requests for proposals and other demands for alternative pricing, more than 80 percent of the AmLaw 200 have at least one professional focused on pricing.  And that has run the gamut from the very large firms down to the bottom of the AmLaw 200.

But the acceptance of practice group management and legal project management is much more uneven.  On the one hand, 60 percent of the AmLaw 50 firms have professionals handling each role, and 76 percent have one or the other.  And when one considers that nearly half of those who have not instituted such programs are either big New York-based firms or large one-practice specialty firms, the adoption rate among large multifaceted law firms is higher.

But as the accompanying chart shows, the percentage of firms having those professionals in place drops dramatically throughout the rest of the AmLaw 200; only 19 percent of the Second Hundred have practice group management professionals, and even less (13 percent) have LPM specialists.

Firms PG Mgt. LP Mgt. Both Either
Top 50 30 30 22 38
51-100 18 26 13 31
101-150 12 10 4 18
151-200 7 3 1 9

A few notes about methodology:

  • Firms were included as having these functions if they have professional personnel (not practicing lawyers) with identifiable responsibility over these functions, whether or not they included the words “practice group” or “legal project management.”
  • Professionals with a pricing or similar title were not included as having LPM responsibilities unless their title or profile included discussion of LPM. (At many firms, pricing personnel are supported by other professionals in the finance department who play a broader role within the firm.) 
  • On the practice management side, firms in some instances have designated just one practice (often IP) as having a practice group manager or business manager.  Those were included nonetheless, so the statistics may overstate a bit the number of firms having full-scale practice management programs. 
  • Of the firms in the top 100 that had no practice group management or LPM function, about half were either New York-based firms or were one-practice specialty firms.

The conventional wisdom among law firm experts is that the firms at the top are doing well because they often do bet-the-company work which commands whatever rates they wish to charge, and that alternative fee billing often works to those law firms' advantage in terms of success fees on major transactions.  But according to Susan Raridon Lambreth, Principal with the Law Vision Group, while the largest firms do bet-the-company work, many of them also do a lot of other work that is increasingly fee pressured by major clients.  Many of the largest firms in the US are actually facing more pressure from clients on rates and efficiency than the mid-sized firms — by the size of the matters they handle and the nature of their client base.
“It’s the clients with sophisticated law departments that are putting the heavier pressure on firms when it comes to providing client value and the vast majority of their outside counsel are in fact at large firms.  As a result, large firms have significant pressure to provide volume discounts, detailed budgets or caps even on multi-year, complex matters and more. This has resulted in write-offs or downs in the tens of millions to over $100 million in many of the AmLaw 100 firms.”  
On the other hand, many mid-sized firms have a larger percentage of their client base with smaller or more middle market companies, she says, where there is less pressure to provide fee alternatives or budgeting, so the smaller firms aren’t really feeling as much pressure to change their approaches.  Another law firm consultant Timothy Corcoran of the Corcoran Consulting Group, puts it more bluntly.  “There are still a fair number of law departments doing a poor job of managing outside counsel.”

According to some industry surveys, resistance to industry change has been greater among the smaller and mid-sized firms.  Lambreth says that law firm leaders in those firms often want to institute changes, but they don’t have the partner buy-in.  There are a large number of partners that simply don’t see any need to change and it can be harder to make the business case for change short-term, even when there are long-term warning signs.

Indeed, instituting a PGM or an LPM program will often add up to between 5-10 new professional positions, which will often have a material impact to those firms which are already under pressure just to keep up with the previous year’s financial results.  That, Corcoran believes, is exacerbated to the fact that a number of smaller firms are laboring under a false impression about their standing in the market. “They have spent the last few years convincing themselves that clients have determined they're just as good as the big firms and so now their philosophy is something along the lines of  ‘just as good as the big firms, but cheaper.’ ”  As a result, he says “they're not doing anything particularly creative, such as embracing LPM to prove they're just as good (or better).” Inevitably, they run the risk that another firm will come along that looks just as good and is another level cheaper and the client buys from them instead. Or the big firms that are embracing LPM and finding ways to generate higher profits at lower prices can now claim that they are in fact less expensive.”  So, says Corcoran, midsize firms are facing pressure “from above and below.”

So we seem to be at a crossroads:  the large firms that are doing the best economically have invested heavily in creating more value to their clients, while the midsize firms that are facing a more uncertain future are unwilling or unable to make changes so that they become more efficient.  That’s certainly not the narrative we tend to hear.

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4/28/17

WestLaw Story - The Musical

The talent at Columbia Law School apparently doesn't limit itself to legal scholarship. The Law Revue put together a musical rendition of which online legal resource is the best "to cite... to cite."

Whether it is the bribery of using Lexis, the snobbery of using Westlaw, or the lone man that uses Bloomberg, the Law Revue walks you through the law students' night of deciding which resource is best.

So pick up your Lexis/Westlaw/Bloomberg coffee cup and sit back and enjoy the show.


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4/24/17

Build or Buy? The Evolution of Law Department Sourcing

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy Jessen, SVP at Legal Business Solutions at UnitedLex about a survey recently completed with ALM on legal department insourcing, entitled "Build or Buy? The Evolution of Law Department Sourcing". Our chat was really interesting, different than what I expected. Here's what I learned.

We are all too familiar with the challenges facing law firms – the rise of competitive pressure, rate  squeezing, the need for better project management so as to be able to not only price and staff matters effectively but also turn a profit.  We also know of the impact of legal technology in the e-discovery space, in contract drafting etc. and all of the many AI applications that are threatening to take jobs away from lawyers. We think of these issues and many others as law firm issues rather than legal industry issues and look to the alternative model law firms, and outsourcing as the answer or at least on the path to legal market euphoria.  Nancy, and some of the ALM survey findings, point out, however, that legal departments face many of the same issues. 
For many years, law departments were immune from pressures and expectations that almost every other corporate function faced -- cost management, return on investment, justification for new resources, and technology-driven efficiency to name a few.  Then, 2008 hit and everything changed. Not just for firms, but for in-house departments, too. In-house teams were also being forced to demonstrate value, provide legal recommendations that supported business objectives, create internally efficiencies AND strategically direct external counsel.  A difficult task for
in-house counsel, just as it is for law firms trying to make sense of the new world order in legal.
Today, in 2017, managing e-discovery and other litigation software, supervising external counsel and overall legal spend is table stakes for in-house departments. Like their firm counterparts, today, almost 10 years later, General Counsels are focused (or trying to focus) on demonstrating value by increasing operational efficiency of the in-house team, from balancing high-cost/low-value staff against low-cost, inexperienced staff; dealing with the constant fear of the next budget cut  - something Nancy referred to as "death by a thousand cuts;" or the hardest part of it all, insourcing/staffing strategic lawyers who can sit with the C-Suite, make business decisions, help the company grow, avoid risk and support initiatives with the highest and best business impact.
The survey results, which include data from the ALM Intelligence 2016 Corporate Counsel Insourcing and Outsourcing Survey, highlight some of these moving parts:
·       In 2017, only 26% of law departments expect their annual operating budgets to decrease, while 32% expect an increase, and 42% expect it will stay the same.
·       In 2016, 34% of respondents said the number of full-time, in-house lawyers stayed the same, and 52% plan on maintaining that level in the next 12 months, indicating that increased insourcing within law departments may be slowing down.
·       In 2016, 39% of legal departments surveyed decreased their overall use of outside counsel, and 43% estimate they will do the same in 2017. Similarly, those who said their utilization of outside counsel would not change increased from 43% in 2016 to a projected 47% in 2017. Only 4% said they would increase the use of outside counsel in 2017.
·       Regarding Alternative Service Providers, 57% of respondents send work to ASPs. Of those, 25% said they plan on increasing the number of ASPs they use in the next 12 months, and 28% said the amount paid to ASPs will increase in the next 12 months.
In-house counsel, too, are subjected to shrinking budgets, doing more with less, engaging technology, and resourcing efficiently.
Just as many are calling on firms to radically change their paradigms, it seems the in-house departments are also looking to shift the paradigm. We see this in some small ways, with bold statements from in-house departments wanting firms to increase diversity. In-house departments can do more to change the archetype, but whereas firms have to deal with the complexity of the partnership models, in-house teams face obstacles around C-Suite buy-in, and personal reputation. 
GCs and firms both know they need to change. The question is, how can you best be strategic, deliver value, increase efficiencies AND operationalize all of it?  Would you buy it, or build it?

 

 

 

 

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4/21/17

Law Librarians Do It Best… And With A Smile

One of the best things I get to do as the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), is reach out to new members that have joined the association and talk with them on the phone. I find that the new members genuinely appreciate that someone has reach out to them, and took the time to welcome them to AALL. I have found that I, too, get a benefit from talking to the newer members because they give me some insights that I might otherwise never encounter. One such event happened to me recently and it helped me understand what we should be pushing as the real narrative of law librarianship and legal information professionals.

The person I was talking to was a Research Attorney (JD w/license, but no MLIS, so not a librarian.) We were discussing the overall structure of the departments, and how her role fit in with the librarians and other professionals on the team. We talked about the reaction from the attorneys and others within the firm, and she said something that caught my attention.

She mentioned that the lawyers would make comments about how “nice” and “helpful” the librarians and other researchers are. She said she commented back that that’s completely missing the point of the true value. These law librarians and other professionals are smart, curious, creative, intuitive, and brilliant in the work they do. They do not waste your time. They are efficient and effective in finding the correct answers, finding it quickly, and making sure that it doesn’t cost you more than is reasonable for the issue at hand. Yes, we can do that with a smile, but that’s the icing on the cake. The real value is that we do what we do better than anyone else. That’s what we need to push as the real narrative. Of course, we can still do that with a smile.

This discussion left me with a smile on my face as well. Even better, it left me with a clear narrative to make sure that smart, curious, creative, intuitive, and brilliant are included in that discussion.


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