Advocate's Studio - Musings on Technology in the Law, Research and Writing
It is, in fact, a little embarrassing. I have been writing about legal technology issues for probably close to a decade. However, I have never been able to get myself to Legaltech. Legaltech has been going on far longer than I and perhaps other readers may suspect – it all started in 1982 when Janet Felleman joined forces with Price Waterhouse to teach lawyers how to use tech in their law practice. Fast forward through a couple of handoffs and mergers, and it is now conducted by ALM. It also is part of a larger gathering called Legalweek, during which legal professionals discuss more than just shiny cool technology. But that is not the focus of this blog.
I didn’t quite know what to expect, but thought I would likely see lots of vendors with various offerings with some technology angle. I also thought I would see a few sessions on tech-related topics that might arise in the course of one’s practice. I was right on both of those accounts. I also anticipated more of a firm focus, rather than in house legal department focus. On that latter account, I was a bit off the mark. The conference started with a State of the Industry address offering a more global view of the legal industry, addressing firms, in house legal departments and the newer entrant in the space – Alternative Legal Service Providers. ALM analysts touched on current events in the legal industry to the present, as well as trends for the future. This included a striation of firms between “bet the company” top tier firms and ALS providers who can offer innovative and efficient solutions to higher frequency, lower severity or repetitive matters. Coupled with concepts of increased in-sourcing by corporate clients and their in-house legal departments, it is clear to see that the practice of law is changing dramatically and that trajectory isn’t going to flatten any time soon.Alberto Gonzales
Another nice surprise was the keynote from former U.S. Attorney Generals Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch. While it made an appearance in the discussions, the former A.G.’s did not focus on technology. I found the keynote very timely given our current climate and a nice “forest for the trees” view of the larger geopolitical legal landscape. And, as one might expect, cybersecurity is a top level concern of our government lawyers.Loretta Lynch
I still saw tech and lots of it. I visited almost 20 different vendors, with a focus on artificial intelligence, consulting and analytics solutions. I also got a chance to catch up with Nicole Black of MyCase and Bob Ambrogi of Lawsites, as well as Doug Kaminski of CobrATX. I was impressed with Fastcase’s Docket Alarm – an award winner at the show – that offers full text docket search and alerts, as well as analytics, for federal and some state courts. I also was intrigued by audio analytics tools. These were primarily advertised in the context of e-discovery, but I can see the potential behavioral analysis that expand beyond discovery and into predictive customer analytics. There were a few vendors offering this and I am interested to see what the future might hold there.
I attended a few sessions, but my favorite was an ILTA educational track session on how to innovate and get client buy-in on a budget, which is a particular focus of mine at present. I really enjoyed hearing how Andrew Price, COO of the Australian firm Barry Nilsson, approached innovation projects, as well as the more general tips offered by Gina Buser of Traveling Coaches and TJ Johnson of Olenick. Definitely some good information that I anticipate may help me in my in-house setting.
While it was a VERY long day, I really enjoyed my experience. Anecdotally, I was told that vendor exhibits seemed smaller and more reserved than in prior years. However, without that historical perspective, I found plenty to keep me occupied for a full day and could have easily returned for some of the interesting sessions offered on days two and three. I am hoping to return next year with the benefit of prior experience. In the meantime, I will continue to ask myself the question “What took me so long?”
Kudos to the Financial Times, that bastion of male writers covering male-dominated endeavors and industries! It recognized that there are women who might be interested in their articles! Also, it noted that not enough women experts were being leveraged in their articles! Finally, it recognized research that suggests that women might be put off by articles that quote heavily or exclusively from men! So, FT sourced the effort to correct this situation to a Bot – call it a “FemBot” if you will (my name, not theirs). This bot scans through the articles during the editing process to determine whether the sources named in the article are male or female. Editors are then alerted that they are falling short on including women in their pieces. Later versions might actually alert writers to their overly male tone as they type their articles.
FT isn’t stopping there. It is also examining the images it uses, and intends to press for more pictures of women. Because women are more likely to click through on pictures of women, then those only containing men. The Opinion Desk at the FT is also tracking behaviors, to note gender, ethnicity and geographical location – with the goal of supporting more female and minority voices in the publication.
The concept of bias baked into Artificial Intelligence systems from developers and data sets is an emerging issue and well-identified risk. However, FT appears to be embracing the bias in an effort to counteract it. Well done, FT!
Theoretically, certain documents are supposed to be freely accessible to the public, including documents contained in the dockets of the federal courts. Congress has permitted the imposition of fees for electronic access to this otherwise freely available documents, imposing a per page fee that, while not particularly excessive, can certainly add up. That access is accomplished through PACER – Public Access to Court Electronic Records.
The fees, their use, and any “profit” realized via the system, have been the subject of public debate and litigation. Suits include class actions and are premised on overcharges, proper application of collected fees and failure to abide by certain laws, such as the E-Government Act of 2002. While private companies, such as Thompson Reuters and LexisNexis offer paid access with extra bells and whistles, the debate fundamentally centers on what constitutes public “access” to public documents in this day and age.
Recently, in early September, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced a bill to increase transparency and access to these federal court documents. H.R. 6714, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, seeks to open up PACER to users for free. It requires documents to be added within five days after filed with the court, in a text-searchable and machine-readable format. It also mandates updates to the woefully cludgy system and interface, including improvements to the search function. The bill also seeks to consolidate the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. While this system was intended to improve efficiency within the judicial system, it is broken into different systems in different courts, which further obstructs locating records and documents. The Act would unify these disconnected systems under the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Finally, the Act will permit fees to be charged to States that wish to opt into the CS/ECF system.
Who knows if this Bill will pass and the moneymaker that is PACER forever opened up to the masses through free access. It will be interesting to see how this Bill fares and, if it does pass, what it ultimately will look like. You can take a look at the current version of the bill text here.