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BigLaw Firm Brings Artificial Intelligence on Board

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Welcome to the firm, robot lawyers!

Last week, BigLaw firm BakerHostetler announced that it was partnering with ROSS Intelligence to bring artificial intelligence to its Bankruptcy, Restructuring, and Creditor Rights practice. ROSS will be used to help BakerHostetler's non-robot lawyers research more quickly and intelligently. Will other firms follow their lead?

A New Kind of First Year Associate

When it comes to the law, many attorneys are skeptical of AI. After all, smart, machine learning programs will never have the charisma, experience, or gut instincts of seasoned attorneys. And many have predicted that the integration of AI into legal practice will be largely driven by client demands, not forward-thinking law firms.

But, some firms have bucked the traditional skepticism. Last summer, Denton's tech investment arm NextLaw Labs announced that it was teaming up with ROSS to help create artificial intelligence-based legal products. But BakerHostetler is the first to have publicly licensed ROSS's AI legal research technology. In a press release, ROSS explained that BakerHostetler's bankruptcy lawyers could now "ask ROSS their research question in natural language, as they would a person, then ROSS reads through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns highly relevant, evidence-based candidate answers."

Wait, the Guy From "Friends?"

If you're not familiar with ROSS, or artificial intelligence, or machine learning, here's some quick background. ROSS (the name, though capitalized, is not an acronym) is based off of IBM's Watson technology. Watson is a "cognitive computing" system, meaning that it learns as you use it. By attempting to recreate human learning, Watson-based programs observe, evaluate and decide on an iterative basis, getting better the more they're used. (Or that's the hope, at least.)

Watson is already able to beat Jeopardy! and create novel recipes for tech-savvy gourmands. ROSS Intelligence applies that same technology to legal research. Lawyers can ask the program natural language legal questions and get answers from ROSS, instead of having to search through dozens of statutes, documents, or cases.

So, now that BakerHostetler has broken the seal, will other big firms follow? Probably, but we expect the move to integrate AI into legal practice will still be a slow one. Dan Jansen, CEO of Denton's NextLaw Labs, says that the firm is interested in bringing on ROSS's technology, but "didn't see an advantage in being first."

"Everybody moves at their own pace," he told the American Lawyer. "Who pulls the trigger when -- we don't see it as a race."

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