IBM Watson For Legal Research Coming Soon

IBM’s Watson is close to becoming realized in the legal research realm.

According to The Globe and Mail, a class project-turned-startup launched by University of Toronto students that uses IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer to do legal research now has backing from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Called Ross, the app uses Watson to scour millions of pages of case law and other legal documents in seconds and answer legal questions. Its founders liken it to a smarter version of iPhone’s Siri, but for lawyers, and say it could one day replace some of the grunt research work now done by low-level associates at the world’s top law firms. It is one of several attempts to apply what is called “cognitive computing” to the historically technology-averse legal profession.

And Ross is learning quickly. One of Ross’s developers noted: “It’s early days for sure.” “But what we are seeing is Ross grasping and understanding legal concepts and learning based on the questions and also getting user feedback. … Just like a human, it’s getting its experience in a law firm and being able to learn and get better.”

This will eventually have major ramifications for legal research as we know it. As mentioned in the article, this will likely replace much of the grunt research like finding particular statutes or cases by citation. But Ross is nowhere near being able to creatively use case law to form arguments. And there are many issues to be worked out with Ross storing proprietary information.

While there is no denying that Ross will help augment intelligence, he should be considered more of another tool in a lawyer’s toolbox rather than a replacement. Think of Iron Man’s JARVIS as opposed to The Terminator.

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SCOTUS Addresses Opinion Editing & Link Rot

banner_h120In May 2014, the NYTimes wrote about the Supreme Court continuing to edit opinions after release. Earlier this month, an NYTimes article noted that SCOTUS is now disclosing after-the-fact changes to its opinions.

The move on editing is a major development. Though changes in the court’s opinions after they are issued are common, the court has only very seldom acknowledged them. Many of the changes fix spelling or factual errors. Others are more substantial, amending or withdrawing legal conclusions.

Starting this term, a court statement said, “post-release edits to slip opinions on the court’s website will be highlighted and the date they occur will be noted.” The court’s website includes sample opinions to show how all of this will work. “The location of a revision will be highlighted in the opinion,” the statement said. “When a cursor is placed over a highlighted section, a dialogue box will open to show both old and new text.”

And in other wonderful news, SCOTUS is also addressing the problem of link rot in opinions.

The Court said it would also address what it called “the problem of ‘link rot,’ where Internet material cited in court opinions may change or cease to exist.” The Court will now collect and post the materials it links to on a dedicated page on its site.

Lawyers Say Legal Research Skills are Very Important

BAR/BRI has released the first of what it intends to be an annual survey on the “State of the Legal Field.” The objective is to “evaluate industry perceptions about the state of the legal field,” establishing benchmarks related to student practice readiness, employment expectations, employment trends, and law degree return on investment. Faculty, law students, and practitioners were surveyed.

As one law library director noted, “[m]ost telling for [law librarians], I think, is “key finding #2.” Key finding number 2 of the report noted that:

“Faculty placed very little importance on research, with just 4 percent citing it as the most important skill for recent law school graduates. In contrast, 18 percent of attorneys named research the most important skill a new lawyer should possess.

This survey conveys similar information as a survey from 2013 that said that:

  • Newer attorneys spend more than 30% of their time doing legal research
  • Approximately 50% of associates think legal research should be a larger part of the law school curriculum

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Recent Westlaw Announcements

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A few recent announcements from Westlaw:

Goodbye Classic For All Segments:

Westlaw Classic was officially sunsetted in all segments nationwide on July 31, 2015. Westlaw Classic was discontinued in the Academic segment on July 1, 2014.

Cloud Delivery Now Available With Dropbox

WestlawNext now allows you to save your files directly into your personal or business Dropbox accounts while researching. You will find Dropbox as an option when you use the document delivery at the top of the legal document you are viewing. Dropbox is a private, cloud storage service offering free and pay subscriptions. A separate subscription is required.

West Academic Online Study Aids

Effective July 1st, the first time a student clicks on the Online Study Aids (SAS) link they will be prompted to setup a West Academic account (example below) and sign in. The account creation process is quick and easy, and a wizard will guide them through the process. This is a one-time process, and when completed, a student will use their OnePass to log into http://www.lawschool.westlaw.com and seamlessly enter the SAS homepage as they have in the past.

It’s good news that Classic is gone for all segments. When it was discontinued for Academic accounts last summer but not for professional accounts, I worried that if an extern or recent graduate was sent to a firm, for example, that was still using Classic, it would be very hard to assist them with research help.

As to the Dropbox integration, I have been using Dropbox to deliver faculty research this spring, and it is a wonderful tool. I love that is has been integrated into Westlaw’s functionality.

West Academic recently split from Thomson Reuters, which is the cause of the additional account creation. It sounds like after students create the West Academic account, it should work seamlessly with their OnePass.

Fastcase Acquires Loislaw

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Robert Ambrogi over at LawSites just reported that Fastcase has acquired Loislaw.

LoisLaw subscribers began receiving notices over the weekend informing them of the news. The letter stated that WK will sunset the Loislaw product effective Nov. 30, and that “we are collaborating with Fastcase so they can offer comparable subscription plans on the Fastcase platform, including Loislaw treatise libraries, at the same or lower prices as your current Loislaw subscription.”

Reached by phone, Fastcase CEO Ed Walters confirmed the acquisition. He said that it was an assets-only purchase that includes the Loislaw brand and domain name and that will move Loislaw’s subscribers to Fastcase. He declined to disclose the purchase price.

Wolters Kluwer … is increasingly focusing its products on the larger-firm market and on highly regulated and specialized areas of law such as corporate finance, securities, tax, banking and health. Given that focus, it no longer makes much sense for the company to spend resources on a product such as Loislaw that does not fit with its market.

Subscribers will be migrated to the Fastcase service sometime before Nov. 30, when the current Loislaw site will be shut down. Existing subscriptions will be grandfathered at their current or better prices, Walters told me.

This seems like a great move by Fastcase to improve its platform by including the substantial resources available through Loislaw — after all, Loislaw was one of the first databases geared toward small firms with a lower price tag than WEXIS.