Onit acquires legal startup McCarthyFinch to inject AI into legal workflows

Onit, a workflow software company based in Houston with a legal component, announced this week that it has acquired 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield alum McCarthyFinch.  Onit intends to use the startup’s AI skills to beef up its legal workflow software offerings.
The companies did not share the purchase price.
After evaluating a number of companies in the space, Onit focused on McCarthyFinch, which gives it an artificial intelligence component the company’s legal workflow software had been lacking. “We evaluated about a dozen companies in the AI space and dug in deep on six of them. McCarthyFinch stood out from the pack. They had the strongest technology and the strongest team,” Eric M. Elfman, CEO and co-founder of Onit told TechCrunch.
The company intends to inject that AI into its existing Aptitude workflow platform.”Part of what really got me excited about McCarthyFinch was the very first conversation I had with their CEO, Nick Whitehouse.

Original URL: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/n_Sq2t4A5EE/

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Two Recent ABA Ethics Opinions: More Law Firms Relying on the Cloud

The ABA released ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 482, Ethical Obligations Related to Disasters, on September 19, 2018. The opinion may be found at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_opinion_482.authcheckdam.pdf. In the opinion, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility clarifies the ethical obligations attorneys face when disaster strikes.
Lawyers must follow the duty of communication required by Rule 1.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires lawyers to communicate regularly with clients and to keep clients reasonably apprised of their cases. Following a disaster, a lawyer must evaluate available methods to maintain communication with clients. The opinion instructs that lawyers should keep electronic lists of current clients in a manner that is “easily accessible.” Most lawyers have taken that to mean that the lists should be stored in the cloud so they can access them from an internet connection anywhere.
Lawyers should pay attention to the duty of competency, Rule 1.1, which includes

Original URL: http://www.slaw.ca/2018/12/11/two-recent-aba-ethics-opinions-more-law-firms-relying-on-the-cloud/

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What Lawyers Need to Know About Blockchain

As I am writing this, one bitcoin is traded at about USD$17,600. In 2013, bitcoin traded at about USD$100. I thought it was a scam at the time and did not buy any. Since then I’ve changed my mind and started thinking, writing, and building about and around bitcoin and other blockchain technologies. It helped that I am both a computer programmer and a lawyer and that I had economics training. So if you are a lawyer and you missed the bitcoin rush but interested in catching up in your knowledge, read on.
Bitcoin is one way of using a more general technology known as blockchain. What is blockchain? In a 2016 article, I described it as “an escrow of conclusive transaction evidence.” I have a fresh definition for you today. Blockchain is a timestamped paper trail for mission-critical applications.
Paper trail. It’s a record of past events. They could be sales,

Original URL: http://www.slaw.ca/2018/01/16/what-lawyers-need-to-know-about-blockchain/

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GitHub Workflow and Legal Drafting

There are a few posts on Slaw about Git/GitHub and the law, including several posts by Tim Knight. In most cases, the discussion centers on using GitHub to publish legislation and track legislative changes. I promise this column isn’t merely a regurgitation of previous content.
On Slaw, and in any post on the Internet that talks about Git and legal content, the fact that some legal document has been posted on GitHub is seen as an indication that somebody is trying to make things more transparent or collaborative, or just trying to bring the law closer to technology.
I think we have yet to see the real impact of software-like version control and collaboration in the actual practice of law and in the legal publishing world.
Git, GitHub and Version Control
Git and GitHub (or similar software and repositories[i]) are fundamental tools for computer programmers.
Git is a software programmed by Linus Torvalds (of Linux

Original URL: http://www.slaw.ca/2017/04/21/github-workflow-and-legal-drafting/

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Logikcull raises $10M to let lawyers analyze documents at the speed of a thousand interns

 As entertaining and interesting as made-for-TV lawsuits (like the O.J trial) are, they always leave out one key element. The hundreds of hours of research that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for an important trial. Before any big trial a lawyer (and their associates and interns) has to find, organize and examine  thousands of documents. The process is officially called Discovery, and is… Read More

Original URL: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/h5RaurIXHBA/

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Legalist is making it easier for lawyers to find state court records

 Imagine a lawyer with a client who lives in one county and works in another. Or even a lawyer who litigates in multiple states. Both common occurrences, but situations that make it very hard to keep track of legal documents. Essentially, it should be easy to keep track of court records from multiple counties and states – but it’s not. In fact, it’s pretty awful. Most are… Read More

Original URL: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/sjwGHcnh2gc/

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The Oppression of Legal Technology?

I hate talking about “legal technology.”

I mean, I love talking about the possibilities and advantages that specific types of technology can offer, but I hate it when the various types of tools and programs are reduced to a single, amorphous entity. When we do that, it’s too easy to reduce it to just “good” or “bad”. To “useful” or “hype”. Soon it becomes a choice that people must make: are you pro or con legal technology? And then we start to make assumptions about the types of people that fall into each camp and make broad claims about them. “Lawyers are afraid of technology.” “Legal technology companies don’t know anything about the real practice of law.”

The reality, of course, falls somewhere in between the two. There are technologically competent lawyers, but there are also lawyers stuck firmly in the 20th century and happy there. Likewise, there are legal technology companies founded by people with a firm understanding of the needs and wants of those that practice law and ones that see a potential untapped market and are motivated only by a get rich quick ethos. In an ideal world, every piece of technology would be evaluated on whether or not it works, and works well. Likewise, every attorney that complains about a piece of technology would be assumed to not be speaking from a place of ignorance, but rather to be giving an informed analysis of a tool.

But, of course, we don’t live in an idea world.

I don’t know if you’ve heard it in the news, but we’re having a presidential election down here in the United States. Granted, I’m not that old and haven’t lived through too many of these as an adult, but it feels like this election cycle is particularly fueled by anger, more so than ever before. Anger towards the “establishment” but also anger towards those that are “the other.” I use the word “anger” but it’s not necessarily the type of anger that comes with being mad and yelling; it can just as easily be described as a “reaction to feeling threatened.” Sometimes it takes the shape of true anger, sometimes it takes the form of belittling and mocking and sometimes it comes out as just an outright dismissal of anyone that would support an opposite view as being “crazy”. It is becoming impossible to have a rational and calm discussions with someone on the other side of political spectrum or who supports another candidate.

I’m beginning to sense this same sort of reactions in conversations about legal technology and, just as it does in the political context, it makes me want to shy away from participating in any sort of broad conversation about legal technology. I fear that soon it will be impossible for anyone to have a calm and rational conversation about it.

What fuels these reactions? I think it all boils down to privilege.

Privilege is a very loaded word nowadays. In some circles if you bring it up, you’re labeled as an “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) and everything you say is discounted as the ravings of someone who sees oppression in every action. In other circles, it’s an accepted fact that everyone of a certain demographic has had an automatic pass into the higher echelons of society without any struggle. Again, the reality is somewhere in the middle.

To my way of thinking, privilege is a benefit conferred upon you by society because of the luck of your birth and other circumstances in your life. It can also be a way of thinking about yourself that allows you to ignore the struggles of someone who didn’t have the same advantages you have. And, as the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s what fuels the anger and the feelings of being threatened. When you think that you’ve earned what you’ve been given, the fact that other people get it, seemingly without “earning it”, it feels unfair. Thus, those that are deeply aware of the privilege that they don’t have often implore people to “check their privilege” and take a moment and think about what automatic advantages they may have had that others were not quite as fortunate to receive. Basically, use the underrated skill of empathy.

For example, I grew up on a tobacco farm in Appalachia and have ended up as a research fellow at Harvard Law School. Not too shabby of a come up, if I do say so myself. It wasn’t easy. I worked hard, overcame a terrible public education system, peer pressure against “appearing smart” and had several severe medical issues to survive. But I also realize that this path was only made possible in large part because I grew up in a supportive family who emphasized the importance of education, luck that my lab decided to take a chance on hosting a fellow this year and the extreme kindness of my funders who decided to provide financial support so that I could do that. I have had disadvantages that I was able to overcome through a combination of work and privilege. Not everyone gets the latter. That’s how you check your privilege.

Lawyers, no matter how hard they worked to attain their status in life or what their relative financial success in life is, have a position of privilege in society. As one of the “professions”, lawyers are given an exalted place in the world, much of it a carryover from the time when lawyers were one of a few people to get formal educations. So what happens when, technology – the great equalizer – begins to invade the practice of law? (Said with an acknowledgement that technology is also highly divisive and unequally applied in the world.) Could it be that some negative reactions to technology are fueled by a feeling that the high status of lawyering is somehow being diminished by the fact that “non-lawyers” or even software programs are able to replicate something that previously took an advanced degree to do?

Do some lawyers need to check their privilege before opportunities provided by technology are dismissed?

Original URL: http://www.slaw.ca/2016/06/02/the-oppression-of-legal-technology/

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Enhancing Old With New

It is timely that Vanderbilt Law School is hosting what is billed as the first legal conference on the topic: “Watson, Esq.: Will Your Next Lawyer Be a Machine.” The legal system, and the legal profession will need to dramatically lift it’s game if it is to keep up with client expectations as mankind prepares to take another big step. It led me back to an abstract of a Rees Morrison article I did almost 30 years ago:

Artificial intelligence and law: A conference report

The First International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law was held in Boston at the end of May 1987. Attendees at the conference included more than 65 academics, at least 22 software or hardware vendor representatives, and 48 visitors from foreign countries.

Systems demonstrated or discussed included:

  • A program for advising on torts.
  • A custom “shell” based on negligence under British law.
  • A system which retrieves applicable rules in the field of noise problems.
  • A model of the UK Emigration Act.

Commercially available inference engines are referred to as “shells.” With a shell, the processing is separate from the knowledge base. It seems that shells designed specifically for legal reasoning will be forthcoming eventually.

In fact, a group of Australian law professors and lecturers involved in the Datalex project have been trying to develop a general legal shell where lawyers can perform as “knowledge engineers.”

Researchers intuitively feel that some conception of the overall structure of the law must be understood for the building of sound legal AI systems. Others believe the thinking processes of lawyers must be mapped; after all lawyers employ deductive reasoning, analogical reasoning, common sense experience, intuition and other forms of cerebration.

Several talks and papers addressed AI techniques for legal data retrieval systems. Artificial intelligence developers recognize that the more work put into a database, the more structure and benefit it offers. A computer can establish a structure.

Conference participants also considered legal “decision support systems”. A decision support system would interface with an expert system to help a lawyer with administrative tasks (interviewing, drafting, billing, scheduling, corresponding) and with substantive legal advice. One example is a UK project aimed at helping those who draft legislation regarding Social Security benefits.

Few commercial legal AI applications exist because there is a short supply of both knowledge engineers — those who can take expertise and fashion an AI knowledge base — and legal experts willing to make available their expertise.

(Rees Morrison; THE LAWYER’S PC; 1 August 1987; pp1-6)

Again, an item that could have been written yesterday. So if they had AI, expert systems, and other “decision support” software then, why is it only becoming fashionable now?

Of course, machine learning and the internet were immature technologies 30 years ago. Insightful Sydney business lawyer and strategist Noric Dilanchian (@noricd) recently wrote a piece called ”Internet of things enhancing old with new”. Noric referred to a Harvard Business Review item titled “How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition.”

The image for his post is taken from that Harvard article. It shows how the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is enhancing the technology of the 12,000 year old industry of farming.


Click to see full size of this image.

Maybe tractors in the hands of farmers could be compared to basic computers in the hands of lawyers? While the tractors themselves are getting smarter and hence more capable, the fact they are a part of an emerging “system of systems” is new. That is the foundation of the “Fourth industrial revolution” a fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds through the “Internet of Everything”.

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before,” according to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. In the same Fairfax Media article on Sydney’s agriculturally focussed innovation hub with its “unlikely alliance” of participants, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel suggests ”The Internet of Things isn’t just a refrigerator connected to the internet. It is deep, it is complex and it is transformational.” But he also warned: “Keep in mind that like new medicines, everything good in technology has the potential for adverse side effects.”

Speaking of the growing need for lawyers, where are the raw materials and other components essential for the greater systematization of law? We are lucky here in Australia that the legal academics from Datalex mentioned above, re-directed their brilliance from AI and expert system tools, to freeing up the Law. That gave us AustLii in the mid 1990’s which now has 700+ free legal databases, and spawned the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM) world-wide.

They recognised that smart lawyers outside academia, and their tools, needed access to content to which they could add value. Providing access to primary legal materials became a priority, particularly when the legal profession, and clients were not ready for AI. Readily accessible legal materials are an important element of connected legal systems that will now flood into the legal world.

Noric Dilanchian noted that in 2016 there’s almost a quarter of a trillion US dollars of corporate investment expecting smart, connected things will create enhanced product and service offerings. It is estimated that “by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected by the internet – many of these benign machine to machine connections.”

Between legal solution components such as self-executing contracts, and automated dispute resolution, the legal system in one form or another, will be wrapped in this new “web” of connectivity, regardless of the state of readiness of the traditional service providers.

Original URL: http://www.slaw.ca/2016/03/15/enhancing-old-with-new/

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A Matter of Trust: Why the Time is Right to Adopt the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act (UELMA) in Florida

This this article, Law Librarian Patricia Morgan brings our attention to a group of prominently related issues on electronic legal research whose application are critical for attorneys, librarians and courts. In an era where cost-cutting has become increasingly important, there already exists an untapped resource related to legal research. More and more resources exist online (some exclusively). It has been a long time since the introduction of the Internet, but it is finally going to prove instrumental in reducing the cost of legal research. It is time to come to terms with the fact that most legal material should be readily available electronically and that there must be a way to verify that the material is authentic. As Morgan queries and answers – Uniform Law, Anyone?

Original URL: http://www.llrx.com/features/time-is-right-to-adopt-uniform-electronic-legal-materials-act-in-florida.htm

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