Most of the public may not recognize that major technology innovations are happening. They might think that after the mobile phone, everything else lies in just making things faster and smaller. But subtly, behind the scenes, Artificial Intelligence is developing into new fields that were previously unreachable.
We won’t see flashy special effects or cool new consumer tech with this round of progress. Instead, the new revolution is in knowledge systems, cognitive computing, the Internet of Things, and machine learning. One such field reaping the benefits of this fourth-wave AI frontier is the legal profession. AI systems are getting better with linguistic hashing, able to not only match patterns in written English but file away bits of data from context. Here’s a look at some of the assistive technologies deployed by attorneys:
Atrium has one of the best possible pedigrees in Silicon Valley. It was founded by Justin Kan, the innovator who gave the world the video-game-streaming platform Twitch. Kan has since become a partner in the legendary start-up factory, Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator. Atrium is working at building what one could call a knowledge system for lawyers. By taking frequently-requested items and reducing them to a set of known steps, Atrium tries to automate the repetitive parts of legal work.
A promising tech start-up founded by Jerry Ting and a union of Harvard Law and MIT talent, Evisort is named by combining the words “evidence” and “sorting.” It’s an AI-powered contract management platform, which has branched out into managing legal documents in general. Evisort scans in legal contracts and extracts the pertinent information into a database for easy retrieval, reducing the reading of a thirty-page contract to a few seconds. Billed as “Google for contracts,” Evisort has been profiled in Forbes. Additionally, they just received a boost of $4.5 million in funding from venture capital firm Village Global, which is backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Here again, we name-drop some star Silicon Valley talent: PayPal founder Peter Thiel is backing Legalist, a litigation financing company. This works by scanning in the initial filing of a lawsuit, then scanning a database to determine legal precedent and the odds that the suit will be successful. If it finds a good claim, it will financially fund the lawsuit in exchange for 50% of the settlement. It’s aimed at helping small businesses defend themselves from legal bullying. Legalist is another legal start-up backed by Y-Combinator.
With a name most apt for this list, LegalRobot seems to be aimed more at the small business owner or legal non-expert. It’s another legal document parser, which analyzes a given contract or other text and helps the user find pertinent points and key terms. A joint initiative operated by MIT’s Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center awarded LegalRobot $100K in funding. Like others in this list, LegalRobot uses AI language parsing to check contracts for errors, inconsistencies, and identify boilerplate vs. custom documents.
While other companies on this list focus on analyzing the individual contract or case itself, LexMachina attempts to be a legal data cruncher for the whole industry. It uses analytics to digest litigation disputes and emerges with current trends in judgments for a given field. It has access to some 150K cases and all the paperwork filed within them. This includes data on judges, courts, districts, and counsel. LexMachina is founded by Menlo Park alumni Josh Becker, who has also been a venture capitalist himself.
The legal field is one of the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to AI automation. Most of the work is still done the old-school way, with computers replacing typewriters but otherwise, little innovation is seen. Legal experts assure us, no AI will ever replace lawyers because the work is simply too complex. Instead, most legal process automation is geared towards taking a cognitive load off paralegals, clerks, and other assistants.
Technology has been a double-edged sword to the legal field. Thanks to the information age, the volume of text records that have to be processed in legal filings has ballooned past the threshold of all the junior lawyers in the world, with document reviews taking months when they used to take a couple of days. So it is fitting that AI technology is helping to digest some of that volume. Instead of instant information sharing, our next technology wave is better served screening out all but the most important information worth sharing.