Artificial Intelligence, Lawyers and What The Future Might Hold

The following post is related to the upcoming Vanderbilt Law School’s conference on artificial intelligence, April 13-14 in Nashville. More information and registration can be found on the event website.

Our robot overlords are actually much nicer than we anticipated. Helpful, even. And we’re excited to be part of a great event at Vanderbilt University Law School on April 13-14 talking about our digital friends. More on that in a moment.

Technology has rapidly become one of the biggest verticals within the legal profession, and in recent years we’ve all read the stories about how robots are going to take jobs from attorneys. Whether under the moniker of early case assessment tool, technology-assisted review (TAR) platform, or now artificial intelligence (AI), for several years we have seen dramatic increases in technological capabilities and how these tools and algorithms can handle some of the more laborious duties of our work. So yes, in a sense, technology has taken some work off the plates of attorneys.

But here is a fact: Counsel On Call – being one of the most robust users of leading technologies for efficiency, cost reduction and quality improvement initiatives – actually has more attorneys working now that in 2010 when this tech boom really took off. Significantly more.

That just reinforces what we tell our clients: that technology, when utilized properly and by attorneys familiar with the subject matter and the tools, is one of the main pillars of a high-functioning legal department. Yes, technology helps by allowing one attorney to do what used to take five or ten attorneys to do, especially in areas like discovery, compliance and diligence and on the front end of projects. But when looking at areas such as e-discovery, we ultimately use the same number of attorneys for the review portion, but they just spend less time and get results faster. They can handle more matters for a client because they’re more efficient. Their legal knowledge is still needed, their ability to manage and train these technology platforms is more important than ever, and their ability to track and report using detailed metrics to make better business decisions is essential.

So why do we bring this up? After all, we’ve been talking about these benefits for years. Well, we are pleased to announce that Counsel On Call will be part of the upcoming Vanderbilt Law School AI conference. As part of a panel with Catalyst CEO John Tredennick and Baker Donelson visionary Clinton Sanko, our Richard Stout will look at where technology stands today versus what is being reported and where we’re going in the near future. The panel is part of an excellent program that features Richard Susskind (new book “The Future of the Professions”), Andy Daws (Riverview Law), Andrew Arruda (ROSS AI platform) and Dan Katz (attorney/scientist/technologist), among others, and will discuss in detail how AI functions and where it’s taking us. It’s a unique program and one we should all be interested in.

That being said, whether it’s called TAR, CAL, AI or something else, it all comes down to an algorithm. We’re already using that algorithm extensively to create massive cost savings and quality improvements in the legal profession, and lawyers are the innovators leading the charge and training these tools in many cases. We’re optimistic about where AI will take us and how it will create opportunities for different types of attorneys.

So yes, we welcome our robot overlords and how they can help us do our jobs … and ultimately get better results for our clients.

Understanding Legal Technology Terms and Pricing

I am not an information technology vendor nor do I play one on TV. However, I do interface with many technology vendors and get asked by clients to interpret technology terms and pricing structures all the time. Here are some tidbits to chew on that may help you at least understand the issues and decision points that will need to be made (so you’re not making them in a vacuum devoid of pertinent information).

For all the IT professionals or vendors that may dispute what I say, remember that I am just trying to simplify for lawyers what you do on a day-to-day basis. Let’s start with some terminology that can cause confusion to lawyers.

What do these terms mean?

  • Processing – I have often heard from lawyers that this is the most mysterious component, the least understood and, quite frankly, the most questioned term when they look at the bills. Processing is what has to happen to take the documents out of their original/native system (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and move it to the review software (unpack it,  index it, etc.) – extracting the mysterious metadata.
  • Metadata – Everyone always says it’s “the data about the data,” which is about as helpful as your mother telling you to look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary. Here’s a simple example. When you create an email it has the message that you wrote. But it also has a date, a "To" field and a "From" field. That’s metadata. Or if you create a Word document you create the text of the document, but Word also captures you as the author and the date the document was created. That’s metadata. There’s much more to it, but that’s enough to get you started.
  • De-duping – For most vendors this is a normal function of eliminating or suppressing duplicate documents so the review team only needs to look at one copy of it (For example, think of an email sent to seven different people. The attorney review team will only look at one copy of it.) This greatly reduces review and storage costs, increases the overall speed of review and provides for consistency of coding between identical documents.
  • Early Case Assessment (ECA) – The most overlooked portion of an ediscovery project. This is the time you should be spending on reducing the volume of documents that need to be reviewed. Key word searching, eliminating irrelevant documents and sampling and validating terms are all part of ECA.
  • Predictive Coding – This means a lot of different things to different vendors. Basically it’s using the computer to help you get to the most relevant documents first instead of reviewing every document one at a time. It is often a means to prioritize the documents so you’re looking at the most relevant ones first.

The other area I am asked about a lot is how to compare pricing between technology vendor bids. What do all these terms mean? Processing. Monthly user charges. Per GB pricing. Production costs. PM time. It becomes almost impossible to properly compare pricing sheets.

The way I advise clients to handle this is to give each vendor the same task. Have them tell you what it would cost to deal with a case of 50-gigabyte size or 250,000 documents (mostly emails), and then what other parameters you might add that are unique to your project. Total technology project cost is the best way to truly compare bids that you receive.

See? It gets confusing quickly, and it’s easy to hide costs in bundled pricing offers. As lawyers in 2013, we have to better understand technology if we are to zealously represent our clients. Hopefully this is just a little start to help de-mystify some of the terms you will begin to encounter. This will help you on the road to a deeper understanding of the processes and things that are ultimately your responsibility. It is imperative to commit these terms and their definitions to memory in order to perform your job duties with excellence using most current methods available.


Cost Predictions Rely Equally on Technology and People

I’m a little late on this one, but this article outlines the use of technology to budget and control the cost of a document review project and could be helpful to some folks. It's sometimes an overwhelming topic, but there's no question that law-related technology tools have advanced in recent years and, when used properly, can drastically reduce the overall data set that is needed to review, code and produce. De-duplication, near dupes, key words, clustering of some type or another and document-ranking technology all can be very effective steps to take. In fact, if you are not using the available technology to reduce the data set needing to be reviewed, it’s practically scandalous.

I've seen more than a few very professional, normally sane in-house counsel practically lose their lunch when they hear about the initial amount of data that must be reviewed on a case. When the word "terabyte" is uttered, or there are three digits in front of "gigabyte," it can be somewhat alarming... that cash register sound starts to go off inside your head. But once everyone has calmed down, reason sets in and the processing stage begins. A majority of that data is going to be culled out. If using an early case assessment (ECA) tool, another huge chunk of data will be eliminated. All told, as much as 95% of the data could be vanquished. Now we have an amount of data we can work with. It can certainly be budgeted, too -- and if the review partner knows what it’s doing, it can be very accurate and for even less money than anticipated.

So technology by itself is not the final answer. Technology combined with knowledge and experience are the keys to understanding the complexities of such projects and bringing back a semblance of simplicity and predictability. Yes technology, used skillfully, can reduce the overall data set and the volume that needs budgeting. But when coupled with skilled, professional reviewers and experienced project management – known quantities that understand the entire collection, processing and review stages, software, and how to measure results and benchmark data – you can better prepare a cost forecast that can be relied upon for the duration of the project and on subsequent matters. I feel confident in stating that any in-house attorney who has worked with a good project manager in particular will gladly share how invaluable that PM has been to his or her department.

So if you aren’t using 1) e-discovery specialist project managers and attorneys and 2) data reduction and/or ECA tools, there are significant savings to be had.

Additionally, in the normal course of business you can also reduce the overall cost of a review project by creating and following a record retention policy, as well as using project management consulting to help with other pre-litigation planning. These measures reduce the overall data set, help you understand where your data is located, and give more certainty and predictability in later creating the review budget.

Data is key in today’s world; technology has made it readily available, but you also need a cohesive approach to tap all of its benefits. It might sound like a tall hill to climb, but there are some very simple steps that can be taken to start the process without causing too much pain. In the end, the cost savings and improved processes that are gained will make all that work worthwhile.