Legal AI and Bias

Justice is blind, but legal AI may be biased.

Like many advanced technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the potentially negative aspects of AI regularly make headlines. There is a fear that humans could be replaced by AI, and that AI might take our jobs. (As pointed out in a previous article, lawyers are less at risk of such a scenario: AI would perform certain tasks, but not take jobs, as only 23% of the work lawyers do can be automated at present). Others, like Elon Musk, predict doomsday scenarios if we start using AI in weapons or warfare. And there could indeed be a problem there: what if armed robotic soldiers are hacked, or have bad code and go rogue? Some predict that superintelligence (where AI systems become vastly more intelligent than human beings) and the singularity (i.e. the moment when AI systems become self-aware) are inevitable. The combination of both would lead to humans being the inferior species, and possibly being wiped out.

John Giannandrea, who leads AI at Google, does not believe these are the real problems with AI. He sees another problem, and it happens to be one that is very relevant to lawyers. He is worried about intelligent systems learning human prejudices. “The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased,” Giannandrea said.

The case that comes to mind is COMPAS, which is risk assessment software that is used to predict the likelihood of somebody being repeat offender. It is often used in criminal cases in the US by judges and parole boards. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize winning non-profit news organization. It decided to analyse how correct COMPAS was in its predictions. They discovered that COMPAS’ algorithms correctly predicted recidivism for black and white defendants at roughly the same rate. But when the algorithms were wrong, they were wrong in different ways for each race. African American defendants were almost twice as likely to be labelled a higher risk where they did not actually re-offend. And for Caucasian defendants the opposite mistake was made: they were more likely to be labelled lower risk by the software, while in reality they did re-offend. In other words, ProPublica discovered a double bias in COMPAS, one in favour of white defendants, and one against black defendants. (Note that COMPAS disputes those findings and argues the data were misinterpreted).

The problem of bias in AI is real. AI is being used in more and more industries, like housing, education, employment, medicine and law. Some experts are warning that algorithmic bias is already pervasive in many industries, and that almost no one is making an effort to identify or correct it. “It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added.

Giannandrea correctly points out that the underlying problem is a problem of lack of transparency in the algorithms that are being used. “Many of the most powerful emerging machine-learning techniques are so complex and opaque in their workings that they defy careful examination.”

Apart of all the ethical implications, the fact that it is unclear how the algorithms come to a specific conclusion could have legal implications. The U.S. Supreme Court might soon take up the case of a Wisconsin convict who claims his right to due process was violated when the judge who sentenced him consulted COMPAS. The argument used by the defence is that the workings of the system were opaque to the defendant, making it impossible to know for what arguments a defence had to be built.

To address these problems, a new institute, the AI Now Institute (ainowinstitute.org) was founded. It produces interdisciplinary research on the social implications of artificial intelligence and acts as a hub for the emerging field focused on these issues. Their main mission consists of “Researching the social implications of artificial intelligence now to ensure a more equitable future.” They want to make sure that AI systems are sensitive and responsive to the complex social domains in which they are applied. To that end, we will need to develop new ways to measure, audit, analyse, and improve them.

Sources:

Digital Marketing for Lawyers, part 2

This is a follow-up article to an article we published three months ago, which also dealt with digital marketing for lawyers. In it, we explained why digital marketing is important for lawyers and we also focused on some of the tools lawyers have at their disposal: websites, blogging, SEO, social media, reputation management and reviews.

Marketing often is something that lawyers see as a necessary evil. To make matters worse, online marketing is substantially different from traditional marketing. Some of this was discussed in our ‘Why Social Media Matter‘ article. In it, we explained that “the old ways of turning visitors into customers are not the most effective in an online paradigm. In the new online marketplace, everybody offering products or services must realise that they also are publishers, and that potential customers are content consumers. The way to turn website visitors into customers is to turn them into regular content consumers first.”

In this new marketplace, lawyers must publish websites and blogs, and engage with potential customers on social media. They must take things into account like user experience and website design; mobile functionality and local search presence. They have to focus on online intake of new clients, on customer service and client experience, as well as on reviews, reputation and authority. And most importantly, they have to work on how to turn website and blog visitors into regular content consumers, before they can be converted to clients.

So, practically speaking, where does one start? The first step is to know your audience and competitors. One of the advantages of the online marketplace is that we can have better access to all the pertinent data. We can learn who visits our website or blog, as well as who we are connected with on social media. This allows us to create visitor profiles, which then in turn allows us to better accommodate their wishes and expectations. It is important to keep the focus on potential customers, when determining what content to provide. At the same time, it is also important to keep track of what the competition is doing, so we can a) differentiate ourselves sufficiently, and b) remain competitive.

The next step is to then define an engagement strategy. The adage that content is king still applies. Know where your potential customers are on social media, and offer them relevant content. What has changed in 2017 is that the content people are looking for is no longer limited to quality text content. They also want visual content: infographics, e.g., are more popular than ever before, as is video content. So, make sure you use those. (In a future article, we’ll deal more in depth with content marketing specifically).

The way to further finetune your strategies and to find out what works for your law firm is, again, to diligently keep track of the relevant metrics. Find out what pages on your website and blog are popular. Discover how people found them. Learn what posts on social media led to visitors of your website and blog.

If you are familiar with some of the more traditional marketing techniques, then Teresa Matich’s article on “How to Take Your Old School Marketing Techniques Online” on the Wishpond blog can be useful. She illustrates how online marketing uses different tools, and that we have to move:

  • from business cards to websites: 96% of people with a legal issue turn to the Internet first, and nearly 40% of people needing a lawyer look on the Internet first to find one.
  • from public speaking to blogging: you build a reputation by publishing high quality articles on the Internet.
  • from the phone book to online ratings directories: people no longer just want to find a lawyer, they want to know whether he or she is any good, and they will look for online reviews.
  • from bus stop ads to Facebook ads: people looking for a lawyer spend just over a quarter of their time doing so on social media, so it makes sense to advertise on them.

 

Alex Barthet, a Miami based lawyer, gives some additional useful advice, based on his personal experiences with online marketing.

  • Claim your online profiles: online services like Google, Yelp, and Avvo let you create profiles. Often these are among the first places potential clients go looking.
  • Also claim your social profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Be careful with paid profiles: they usually offer very little extra value.
  • Use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising carefully, and make sure to determine a maximum budget that cannot be exceeded.
  • Don’t fall for sales pitches from marketing companies that want to lock you into long-term contracts.

 

Sources:

The New Legal Career

Mark Cohen recently published an interesting article in Forbes Magazine on The New Legal Career. He observed how legal careers have evolved in three significant ways: 1. legal practice is now the delivery of legal services; 2. technology brings lawyers back to basics; and 3. legal delivery presents great opportunities. It’s worthwhile exploring these evolutions further.

Legal practice is now the delivery of legal (and other) services

For centuries, consulting a lawyer was equal to consulting an expert, who could give advice, and perform specific tasks, including legal representation, in his or her field of expertise. In the last few decennia, all of that has changed. Law practices are more and more being run like businesses, and as a result focus more on the delivery of legal services. And their activities are no longer limited to just legal services. As Mark Cohen points out: “legal delivery has been transformed into a three-legged stool supported by legal, technological, and process expertise.” We are dealing with “a structural and process change that involves the interaction of professional expertise, technology and process to leverage and scale the delivery of professional services.”

A while ago Deloitte published the results of its survey on “Future Trends for Legal Services.” One of its key findings was that the market for legal services is moving and growing. Another one was that the expectations that customers had of their legal services providers were evolving and expanding, too. The report concluded that there was a need for a new type of legal service provider.

The same sentiment was echoed in an article, published in May 2017, in Law.com, on “The 12 Core Competencies that Define the Future of Legal Operations”. The author concluded that, these days, the consumers of legal services expect law firms to also be proficient at:

  • Strategic planning;
  • Financial management;
  • Vendor management;
  • Data analytics;
  • Technology support;
  • Alternative support models;
  • Knowledge management;
  • Growth and development;
  • Communications;
  • Global data governance/records management;
  • Litigation support; and
  • Cross-functional alignment.

This implies that the traditional advice that lawyers should develop a singular deep expertise (i.e. an I-shaped profile) is outdated. Instead, lawyers should look to combine a legal expertise with a broader skill set (i.e. a T-shaped profile), which includes effective interpersonal and negotiation skills, business understanding and judgment, and empathizing with and understanding client’s psychological needs.

The Role of Technology

Lawyers have an unprecedented access to new technologies, like law firm management software, eDiscovery, Artificial Intelligence, and others, which are available to assist them in their profession. These technologies enable, i.a., lower cost delivery, budgeting, fee analysis, rapid communication, and understanding companies and industries.

In the last year, there has also been a dramatic proliferation in intelligent legal chatbots, and robot lawyers, which are offering legal services. While these may seem to be competing with law firms, it is worth pointing out that this type of automation takes over certain tasks, not jobs. With the currently available technology, only 23 percent of a lawyer’s tasks can be automated.

The result of these technological evolutions is that they allow lawyers to focus on more essential tasks, like engaging with clients, exercising professional judgment, providing counsel (not just in legal matters but more holistically), engaging in client representation before tribunals, or negotiating key commercial transactions.

The advanced use of technology has another beneficial effect: by increasing efficiency and productivity, Legal Tech helps make the law more affordable, and therefore more accessible.

Legal delivery presents great opportunities

Several of the articles mentioned above showed how law firms are confronted with a new demand for both legal and non-legal services.

Mark Cohen: “The new legal career presents a wealth of opportunity for those that combine practice excellence, ‘contemporarily relevant’ skills (process and project management, marketing, business basics, etc.), and people skills. (…) A proliferation of delivery models, products, markets, and opportunities will result in the creation of new jobs, new collaborative opportunities, and a global marketplace.”

The changing market offers other opportunities, as well. In the last 5 years, e.g., there has been a 484% rise in Legal Tech patents. Worldwide, 579 patents relating to new legal services technology were filed worldwide in 2016, up from just 99 patents in 2012. Many of these were filed by lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs. An interesting article in Entrepeneur magazine, on 14 June 2017, mentions 10 such examples of lawyers who are creating a revolution in Legal Tech:

  1. Haley Altman created Doxly, an automated document and transaction management platform
  2. Noory Bechor founded LawGeex, which specializes in AI contract review
  3. Ned Gannon created eBrevia, which provides contract due diligence and lease abstraction
  4. Michael Mills started Neota Logic Inc, an AI-driven, no-code platform for intelligent automation of expertise, documents and processes
  5. Chrissie Lightfoot founded Robot Lawyer LISA, a Legal Intelligence Support Assistant (AI)
  6. Nehal Madhani started Alt Lega to manage global IP filings
  7. Joseph R. Tiano created Legal Decoder, which provides analytic tools and data to manage costs of outside counsel
  8. Michael Sander founded Docket Alarm, which provides legal search, analytics and litigations alerts for the United States court system
  9. Andrew Arruda co-founded, Ross Intelligence, an AI legal assistant and research tool, leveraging IBM Watson
  10. Noah Waisberg started Kira Systems, which helps enterprises identify, extract and analyze business information from unstructured contracts

Sources:

 

The Mobile Lawyer

The combination of cloud technologies and mobile devices have profoundly changed the way lawyers work. Over the years, lawyers have started using their mobile devices more and more for professional purposes, while they’re not at the office. Law firms can now be accessible to lawyers and their clients from anywhere, 24/7. While this has led to the emergence of virtual offices, those are still a minority. Instead, what we have witnessed is the rise of the mobile law firms. Unlike virtual offices, mobile law firms still have physical offices but you don’t have to physically be in them to be able to work. Using cloud technologies, they offer the convenience and flexibility to work securely from anywhere and at any time. In 2017, the vast majority of lawyers are telecommuting, or mobile lawyers.

Let us have a look at some statistics from the latest survey published by the American Bar Association:

  • 94% of lawyers reported “regularly or occasionally using a mobile device for law- related tasks at home,” while 91% reported they also regularly use their mobile devices while in transit.
  • 33% of lawyers telecommute at least once a week. Solo and small firm lawyers were the most likely to do so, at 39% and 35% respectively.
  • Surprisingly, mobile devices are the most popular devices used at the office: 70% reported using smartphones, 66% use desktop computers, 51% use laptop computers, and 25% use tablets. (61% of solo lawyers mainly use laptops at work).
  • 40% of lawyers are using specifically legal apps on their smartphones, with legal research apps being the most popular. (Note that these apps exclude the apps that are part of their legal practice management software).
  • 40% also have downloaded general business apps to their smartphones, with document storage apps being the most popular.

A survey by Legaltech News revealed that lawyers mainly use mobile devices for increased productivity and increased flexibility.

The main tasks they perform online are practice management tasks. In 2017, most providers of law firm management software offer solutions that use cloud technologies, allowing lawyers to work from anywhere, 24/7. They use these mobile tools mainly to access their mail, their calendars, their contacts, and their case files. Other popular practice management functions include time tracking, billing, and expense tracking.

Mobile lawyers also use mobile apps for legal research, to store and share documents in the cloud, to work with PDFs, to scan documents and handwritten notes, to dictate and take notes, and to organize and present evidence. Many lawyers also have a legal dictionary on their smartphones.

 

Sources:

Blockchain and the Law

In our previous article, we explained what Blockchain is. In this follow-up article, we look at how it is pertinent for lawyers. In short, it is relevant in two ways: on the one hand, there are the legal aspects of using Blockchain: Blockchain is changing the way things are done in several industries, and lawyers active in those fields should be prepared for that. On the other hand, there already are new legal applications, like e.g. smart contracts, that are built on Blockchain. We can expect many more of those to come.

Legal aspects of Blockchain

A lot of the work lawyers do, has to do with helping to facilitate the secure transfers of assets. Blockchain was developed for exactly that purpose: it creates real-time digital records that verify and confirm that the transactions, detailing such transfers of assets, did happen at a certain time, and in a specific order. In other words, Blockchain offers proof that at present is as good as irrefutable.

In his book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business and the World, Dan Tapscott states: “anything of value – money, but also titles, deeds, identities, even votes – can be moved, stored and managed securely and privately. Trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than by powerful intermediaries like governments and banks.”

Blockchain has already started disrupting markets, and is expected to affect many more industries. In fact, it has the potential to affect most of them. The most obvious example is the world of finance, where Bitcoin and Blockchain started. Thanks to Blockchain, virtual currencies are a reliable alternative to traditional currencies. Blockchain is also being used in post trade settlements (Securities). Intellectual property, too, is a prime candidate for a Blockchain overhaul: applications are already being developed with regard to digital rights management which will affect music, eBooks, and other online content you purchase or rent. For trademarks, too, Blockchain technology can prove that a certain trademark was registered by a specific party at a specific date. Applications that rely on the Blockchain technology are being developed for real estate (transfer of title deeds), health care (patient data), insurance, energy (peer to peer market for energy), digital voting, gambling, etc.

If you, as a lawyer, represent clients in Blockchain-affected industries, you’ll need to get acquainted with how Blockchain affects those industries. Doing it early offers a competitive edge, as you become a greater resource as trusted adviser to your clients.

As Blockchain is changing the way business is being done, we can also expect the law to start regulating the use of Blockchain. A recent example of this was in the US, where the SEC made a ruling on 25 July 2017 in a case of an ICO, i.e. an Initial Coin Offering:  instead of launching an IPO (Initial Public Offering), a company wished to raise capital using a cryptocurrency instead of US dollars. The SEC ruled that “federal securities laws apply to those who offer and sell securities in the United States, regardless whether the issuing entity is a traditional company or a decentralized autonomous organization, regardless whether those securities are purchased using U.S. dollars or virtual currencies, and regardless whether they are distributed in certificated form or through distributed ledger technology.”

Legal applications using Blockchain

One of the areas where Blockchain is expected to make great strides is ‘smart contracts.’ OpenLaw, e.g., is a joint US and Swiss project that is working on a smart contract platform that will allow lawyers to make legally binding, and self-executing agreements. The platform uses Ethereum, which is an alternative to Bitcoin but is also built on Blockchain. In a first step, lawyers can choose one of many contract templates that can then be further customized online. If the parties for whom the contract is made agree, they can confirm and activate the contract on the Ethereum Blockchain, and then have the contract self-execute its key agreements via the same Blockchain.

Smart contracts are expected to start pitching up everywhere. For this reason, on 15 August 2017, a new legal Blockchain consortium, called the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium (GLBC), was launched. An array of law firms and leading legal tech companies are involved, and their goal is to discuss and consider the issues around the use of Blockchain and smart contracts.

All of this creates new opportunities for lawyers: your law firm can become a Smart Contract Firm, or a Smart Contract Mediator, and/or a Smart Title Company. Individual lawyers can become ‘Distributed Ledger Lawyers’ who are Blockchain law and policy advisors.

Sources:

 

An introduction to blockchain

You probably have heard about Bitcoin, and you may have heard about the underlying technology, Blockchain, too. But, if your clients asked you what Bitcoin and Blockchain are, could you explain it to them? In this first of two articles, we’ll explore what Blockchain is. In a follow-up article, we will look what its relevance is for lawyers.

Bitcoin is probably the best-known cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses encryption techniques to a) regulate the generation of units of currency, and b) to verify the transfer of funds. What is important about these virtual currencies is that, unlike regular currencies, they operate independently of any government or central bank. Blockchain is the technology that was developed to make this possible. And the technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we do business.  Some experts even predict that Blockchain will replace the Internet for doing business online. Add to that, that Blockchain technology is not just useful for virtual currencies. Many other uses are possible, including legal ones like self-executing smart contracts.

To understand what Blockchain is, it is necessary to understand why it was created in the first place, and that is to solve the problem of “double spend”. If I go to a bookstore and buy a printed book, the book is physically transferred from the bookstore to me. The bookstore no longer has that copy, I have. And it’s possible for the bookstore to run out of copies. But if I buy an eBook online, things are different. What I get is a copy, and the online bookstore I got it from can still sell an unlimited amount of copies. Digital products can be copied, infinitely. And that creates a special problem for digital currencies. What prevents me from spending one amount of 20 € three times, online? In this example, the bank does: if I go to an online store and spend 20 €, the bank will take that amount off my account and hand it over, often through intermediaries like credit card companies, to the store owner. But the whole purpose of Bitcoin was to be able to operate without any central bank or government. So, how can we make sure one Bitcoin isn’t spent more than once by the same owner? Blockchain is the technology that was invented to solve that problem. The way it is done, is by creating a secure register or ledger that keeps track of all transactions, and of which copies are distributed over a peer-to-peer network.

Blockchain can be described as a distributed ledger technology (DLT) that consists of a distributed data structure and algorithms, which create a decentralized ledger or registry of transactions, which is both permanent / immutable, and secure.

A distributed ledger technology

Instead of keeping one central register or ledger, Blockchain consists of a decentralized network of volunteer-run nodes, each of which keep an identical copy of the register. (The idea was that, to work with bitcoins, you need a bitcoin wallet, and every owner of a wallet should have a copy of the register). Each transaction that is registered gets a timestamp, and the network uses algorithms that ‘vote’ on the order in which transactions occur, and ensures that each transaction is unique.

Blockchain is secure and permanent / immutable

“Once a majority of nodes reaches consensus that all transactions in the recent past are unique (that is, not double spent), they are cryptographically sealed into a block. Each new block is linked to previously sealed blocks to create a chain of accepted history, thereby preserving a verified record of every spend.” (ZDNet). This ‘cryptographic sealing’ uses hash functions and digital signatures that work in one way only. Let’s take an example: on 4 August 2017, at 8:15:0000 AM UCT, wallet X transfers 1 bitcoin to wallet Y. Just as is the case with an online money transfer, this information is structured in a specific way. To that set of data, a one-way encryption is applied, that is irreversible. The result of the encryption is a unique string, let’s say, fictitiously, W(#MD31NAP^FV12. It is impossible to read from that string who paid what to whom. But if X claims he paid Y 1 bitcoin on 4 August 2017, at 8:15:0000 AM UCT, to Y, then the ‘key’ will have to be W(#MD31NAP^FV12. So, if that key is found in the ledger matching that timestamp, it is irrefutable proof that indeed that transaction occurred in that way. If X claims he paid 2 bitcoins, then the key would be different.

Blockchain uses ‘consensus algorithms’ to make sure each transaction is unique, which is needed in case of conflicting data. Because of the algorithms it uses, Blockchain comes as close to being unhackable as currently is possible. And while there have been instances where Bitcoin was hacked, Blockchain itself, i.e. the underlying technology, has not. Still, the consensus mechanism has one inherent risk, which has been called the 51%-problem. The nodes in the network vote by majority. If a hacker would succeed in taking over 51% of the nodes in the network, then he could start manipulating the votes to change records, i.e. replace them by modified ones. It would still be a hard thing to accomplish, extra security mechanisms have been built in. Which leads us to the next item.

Blockchain is permanent and immutable: each block of data in the Blockchain is time-stamped, and can only be added to the chain after the time stamp is applied and verified by the distributed computers across the chain. The practical effect of this is that a block of data can never be changed retrospectively, as all subsequent records would have to be modified as well.

Blockchain has many advantages: its decentralization makes it independent and secure. Because the whole process is managed by algorithms and no human interventions are necessary, the transaction fees are lower, and transactions themselves can be conducted more quickly.

In short, Blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt several markets, and lawyers will have to be prepared for that. There already are legal applications for the technology, as well. We will have a look at all of that, in a follow-up article.

 

Sources:

Legal Chatbots

One year ago, we wrote about the world’s first robot lawyer. Donotpay.co.uk was created by Joshua Browder. It is a website with a chatbot that started off with a single and free legal service: helping to appeal unfair parking tickets. When the article was published, the services was available in the UK, and in New York and Seattle. At the time, it had helped overturn traffic tickets to the value of 4 million dollars. Apart from appealing parking tickets, the website could already assist you, too, in claiming compensation if your flight was delayed. Since then, a lot has happened. By now, DoNotPay has successfully appealed traffic tickets to the amount of 10 million dollars. But, more importantly, its activities have expanded considerably. And in the last year, several other legal chatbots have seen the light of day, as well.

Let us start with DoNotPay. A first important expansion came in March 2017, when it started helping refugees claim asylum. Using its chatbot interface, DoNotPay can offer free legal aid to refugees seeking asylum in the US and Canada, and assists with asylum support in the UK.

A second, and far more massive expansion followed only days ago, on 12 July 2017, when DoNotPay started covering a much broader range of legal issues. Its new version can offer free assistance in 1,000 legal areas, and does so across all 50 US states, as well as in the UK. It can now, e.g., assist you in reporting harassment in the workplace, or to make a complaint about a landlord; or it can help you ask for more parental leave, dispute nuisance calls, fight a fraudulent purchase on your credit card… The new DoNotPay covers consumer and workplace rights, and a host of other issues.

Browder didn’t stop there. Because he wants to address the issues of ‘information asymmetry’ and ‘inequality of arms’, as of 14 July 2017, DoNotPay is opening up so that anyone can create legal bots for free, with no technical knowledge. If you want to create your own free legal chatbot, all you have to do is fill in this downloadable form, and send it to automation@donotpay.co.uk.

Another interesting legal chatbot, is Law Bot, which was created by a team of Cambridge University law students, consisting of Ludwig Bull, Rebecca Agliolo, Nadia Abdul and Jozef Maruscak. When Law bot was launched, it only dealt with aspects of criminal law in the UK. More specifically, the bot wanted to inform people who had been the victim of a crime about their legal rights. What had motivated the creators, was the observation that most advice from lawyers on legal rights of the victims of a crime felt like it was written mainly for the use of other lawyers, rather than to help inform the general public, who were in fact the people most in need of the information. The first version of Lawbot guided its users through a series of questions and answers that helped them to assess what, from a legal perspective, may have happened to them and what they should do next, such as to formally report a crime to the police.

A second Law Bot initiative was Divorce Bot. It asks its users questions via an internet-based interface to guide them through the early days of a divorce. The chatbot explores different scenarios with them, and helps clarify their exact legal position. It also explains legal terms that are commonly used in divorce, such as ‘irretrievable breakdown‘ and ‘decree nisi‘, and provides a comprehensive breakdown of the divorce process. It gives a breakdown of the costs and forms needed, too. This way, people (in the UK) know exactly what to expect, even before they talk to a lawyer.

One of Law Bot’s co-founders also launched an AI-driven case law search engine, called DenninX. The free application’s aim is to help lawyers and law students conduct legal research on English case law by making use of AI technology, such as natural language pre-processing and machine learning.

24 July 2017 is the launch date of a new and more expanded version of Law Bot, called Lawbot-X.  Lawbot-X will now cover seven countries: Great Britain, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. It will also be available in Chinese, for markets such as Hong Kong. The new bot further adds a case outcome prediction capability to assess the chance of winning a legal claim that the bot has analysed. The free legal bot will also operate from a new platform and will be hosted on Facebook Messenger.

Another useful chatbot for legal consumers is Billy Bot. Unlike the DoNotPay and Law bot chatbots, Billy Bot does not offer legal assistance, but helps you find a lawyer, barrister or solicitor, in the UK. Billy Bot was created by Stephen Ward, a career barristers’ clerk, and founder of clerk-oriented technology company Clerksroom. Billy Bot can interface with members of the public about some of the same preliminary legal questions that barristers’ clerks often handle. It can currently refer users to appropriate legal resources and pull information from the 350 barristers’ offices. Ward intends to give it access to other systems, including scheduling and case management capabilities. It currently answers questions on LinkedIn.

Next, we have Lawdroid, which was created by Tom Martin. Lawdroid is an intelligent legal chatbot that can help entrepreneurs in the US get started by incorporating their business on a smartphone for free. No lawyer is required. Lawdroid is available on Facebook Messenger. Lawdroid, too, has expanded its services, and the company that created the bot, now also makes legal chatbots for lawyers. They claim to have over 100.000 of them already on Facebook.

Sources:

 

On the lighter side – July 2017

Sometimes Law and Technology combine in ways that one does not immediately anticipate. Here are some recent items that have been in the news.

A hardware keyboard for lawyers

Lawyer Brian Potts got frustrated when he was writing a brief and had to insert a section symbol (§) into the text. As the symbol is not on the keyboard, it takes just enough steps that have to be undertaken to interrupt one’s train of thought. So, it dawned on him that having the section symbol as a key on the keyboard would be easier.  He realised that there were other things, too, that lawyers use every day, which would make his life a lot easier if he could access that functionality straight from his keyboard.

Potts created the LegalBoard, which has specially designed function keys and keys on numeric pad that can be used to insert commonly used legal words or symbols, or to perform specific functions, like

  • Adding a section symbol, a paragraph symbol or a copyright symbol.
  • Or adding words and phrases that lawyers frequently use (like court of appeals, plaintiff, appellant, etc.) with a single keystroke.
  • Adding a bullet.
  • Turning italics, underline and bold on or off with a single keystroke.
  • Changing the line spacing.
  • Inserting a footnote or comment with a key stroke.
  • Turning track changes on and off.
  • Using the find function.

A software keyboard for lawyers

Emily Montgomery is an attorney in Las Vegas and a graduate of UCLA Law, who had a similar idea. She came up with the Citepad, which is a software (on-screen) keypad, rather than a physical keyboard.  It also comes with buttons for commonly used tasks involving citing legal references, inserting some often-used symbols, and some formatting, etc. Citepad can work with e.g. Lexis Nexis and Word, OpenOffice,  Google Docs, and is available for Mac OS and Windows 10.

Napping Pods

Some big law firms in the US have been installing napping pods, and they are well-received. The “energy pods” are lounge chairs with a domed privacy visor and they can play “relaxation rhythms” while the user snoozes. After 20 minutes, the pods use vibrations and soft lights to wake the user.

Wearables

Lawyers are using wearables, like smart watches, to help their practice, in three different ways. Smart watches are used to keep connected (retrieve email, etc.). Some law firms are experimenting with Virtual Reality Headsets, e.g., for interviewing witnesses, or for multisite meetings. Inspired by dash cams, some are experimenting with smart glasses to record evidence in situ.

An AI ‘Workspace assistant’ for lawyers

A legal software provider recently announced the launch of Workspace Assistant, which allows lawyers to perform time management functions using the Amazon Echo or other Alexa enabled devices. So, it is now possible for lawyers to just say, ‘Alexa, Track My Time,’ and it does. At present, it can perform time management functions like tracking billable hours and controlling time entry. As this functionality is hosted by an existing legal service provider, confidentiality aspects are covered by the agreement you have with the provider.

Emoji Law

Did you know there already is such a thing as ‘Emoji Law’? At present, there are three relevant legal aspects to emoticons. A first is how the courts will deal with questions of interpretation raised by emojis used in communication. Courts have already ruled that emoji can convey content. (Noteworthy in this context is that Emojis change depending on the version of the OS of the device: one study showed that people interpreted an earlier implementation of a grinning emoji to mean “ready to fight” while the later version is more clearly smiling and happy. Therefore, someone on a newer iPhone sending that emoji to someone using an older version of iOS could unintentionally appear threatening).

A second aspect has to do with intellectual property that underlies the small, digital pictographs themselves. Emoticons are graphic works, and as such are protected by copyright.

Finally, the topic of emoji is also relevant in eDiscovery. Recent court decisions stated that messages sent by SMS, MMS or instant messaging all had to be included in the discovery process. At present, however, nearly all text-based legal research tools fail to capture visual communications.

 

 

Sources:

Digital Marketing for Lawyers

The Wikipedia defines digital marketing as an umbrella term for the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital medium.

In 2017, digital marketing is a must, and this applies to lawyers, too. The following statistics, updated for 2017, explain why this is the case:

  • 96% of people with a legal issue use the Internet first to find answers with regard to their problem.
  • 38% of people looking to hire a lawyer turn to the Internet first. (29% ask a friend or relative, 10% go directly to the local bar association, 4% rely on business directories like the Yellow Pages).
  • Once legal consumers have narrowed down their search to one or more potential lawyers, 74% of all legal consumers will visit that lawyer’s or law firms’ websites first, before taking action.
  • 74% of all legal consumers end up contacting a lawyer they found on the Internet, and of those 74%, 87% end up hiring that lawyer.
  • 72% of people looking for a lawyer hire the first lawyer they speak to.
  • 70% of law firms have generated new cases through their website in the last year.
  • Potential clients for law firms spend on average 16 minutes per hour on various social media platforms. (In other words, people looking for a lawyer spend just over a quarter of their time doing so on social media).
  • More than half of interviewed law firms grew their number of clients due to increased social media engagement.
  • When legal firms use video content for marketing purposes, web traffic from search engines increases by 41%. The current prediction is that by 2020, video will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic.

In other words, legal consumers are increasingly using digital media to find and hire lawyers, and you are missing out on potential clients if they can’t find you on those digital media.

So, what tools does a lawyer have, to engage in digital marketing? The most important ones are:

  • A website,
  • A blog,
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization),
  • Social Media, and
  • Reputation Management

Let us explore those briefly.

Website: in a previous article we pointed out that websites must have a quick load time, be mobile-friendly, contain relevant imagery, and have a modern design, and easy navigation. To convert visitors into content consumers and clients, the texts on your site must be client-focused, and must convey clarity, trust, relatability, and differentiation (i.e. they must explain why a potential client should choose you over others). Adding personal information helps build trust and relatability.

In 2017, having high quality video on your website dramatically increases your chances of receiving traffic, and of making a good first impression. Websites should include a ‘call to action’, i.e. encourage visitors to do something (subscribe to a blog or newsletter, follow you on social media, etc.). Make sure you can easily be contacted: have your telephone number and email address clearly visible, and include a contact form.

Blogging: in one of our previous articles, we showed how to start your blog. One of blogging’s biggest advantages is that it accelerates relationships and helps establish your reputation. Develop a strategy for your blog: write about items that are you passionate about, define your niche, and know who your target audience is. For lawyers, it is generally recommended that your blog is independent from the website of your law firm. (If it’s part of the website, it’s often perceived as a sales gimmick). Listen to your audience and engage with them. Remember to write to the medium, i.e. the writing style for a blog is typically informal. And make sure to build social media equity: your blog needs to be published or promoted on social media.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization is the mystical holy grail of success in reaching your target audience on the Internet. How does it work? Search engines scan your website and blog, etc., then create an index, and finally rank the results. There are many factors that influence that ranking. Some of the most important on-page factors include the URLs and the site architecture, the title tags, the body content, the internal linking structure, as well as page load speed. The most important off-page factor consists of the backlinks to your site, which include the backlinks on social media. For lawyers, local ranking is important, too, as people typically look for a lawyer in the neighbourhood. NAP information, i.e. Name, Address, and Phone, must be easy to find. Other factors that influence ranking are mobile-friendliness, and having a disclaimer, a privacy statement, and a site map.

Social Media: in two previous articles, we first explained why social media matter, and provided a short introduction on how to use them. Using social media to attract clients by engaging with them is fast, free, and it works. Find out where your audience is and where your messages will carry the most impact, and focus your efforts there. Using social media can be a balancing act, where you don’t want to come across as merely promoting your business: discuss general legal content, but also discuss firm activity outside of legal representation, and reveal something about your personality.

Finally, Reputation Management is an often-overlooked aspect of digital marketing. A first piece of advice would be to build a ‘wall of content’: provide enough information that potential clients want to retain you. Provide not only testimonials but also customer reviews, and allow clients to give online feedback. (Make a habit of asking your clients to give you a review. Online feedback is free research into how your clients perceive you). It also vital to learn how to respond to negative feedback: done correctly, a response comment communicates responsiveness, attention to feedback, and strength of character.

 

Sources: