Technology can transform the law – but only if done right (ReInvent Law London 2013)


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In this short presentation from ReInvent Law London 2013 I outline a few likely pitfalls in legal technology especially when contemplating legal innovation from too narrow a perspective.

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  • This presentation is really a comment on the one by Sam Rysdyk at Reinvent Law Silicon Valley, and specifically this one 4th Amendment slide in it. Now, I should stress that I totally agree with his actual point – that law students, and really all students these days – should learn how to code.
  • But there was something about this particular slide that really bothered me. Cause there seems to be this notion about how law is like code that won’t go away. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Now, imagine a startup founding team of a random lawyer and a random tech person. I’d say they might react something like this:
  • So, one of them doesn’t understand what the other is doing with all these strange notations and the other thinks law is – or at least should be – like code. Especially the second one seems to be quite pervasive in the artificial intelligence and law community, which is where I sort of come from. So what’s the response I’d like to see?
  • Of course that none of the symbols are defined – by the way, I showed that slide to a colleague of mine who isn’t a lawyer and he gave the exact same response. You don’t have to be much of a constitutional scholar to know that personhood isn’t exactly trivial in that context. But vagueness in law is a feature and not a bug, and legal technology just has to deal with it.
  • And of course there is nothing new about this. So if logic isn’t the answer, what is? And don’t say developing a strong AI and putting that through law school. So how do you go about finding this experience and putting it into a computer? This should be pretty obvious but I think it’s worth repeating over and over again.
  • You start with a customer and some problem they have – even if they might not know it – and try to see what you can do about it and what the role of technology could be in that, whether people prefer to do things by themselves or still go through a lawyer. And this is really a key design factor.
  • Cause if you are designing for non-lawyers, it’s important to keep in mind that answering seemingly innocent questions may actually require expert legal judgments, like in this little experiment I did for my doctoral thesis. The system works perfectly when I used it, but not so with my students...
  • It’s also important to notice that technology can take different roles in legal innovation, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference. This following example really shows the difference between what Richard Susskind calls packaged services and commoditized services.
  • So, here’s LegalForce or Trademarkia, which you might also recognize from earlier editions of Reinvent Law. So there’s your basic search box, easily recognizable. You just type what you want to trademark and press Search, how hard is that.
  • And here’s our version. Doesn’t seem all that different, does it? Again there is the search box, but this time there’s an extra step where you have to give the products you want to use the trademark for.
  • And here are the results from Legal Force, says it isn’t registered and tells us to go ahead, and makes it all look really easy. But the search technology is just a basic exact-match database search. And here is our version:
  • Oops... The safety meter is the obvious difference, but you can also see the results in the order of legally relevant similarity. The whole thing is based on a system which can basically predict trademark opposition cases, but that’s not what we show to the user. So to recap the differences between these two:
  • Trademarkia has a really innovative and streamlined production process and technology is a key component, but they still have actual lawyers in India do all the hard work. In our version, the computer does the actual legal analysis, and it does it so well even trademark lawyers want to use it, because it makes things so much easier for them.
  • But of course there are skeptics, and these are some actual comments we’ve received. Fortunately for us, this has been like a 5 to 10 % minority of all the corporate counsel we’ve spoken with. So to get back to where I started, why should law students learn how to code?
  • Making intelligent legal technology really needs people who have the skills of a lawyer and who can express those skills in a way a computer can understand, whatever that might be. And of course many things still need the human touch. For example, it’s not that judges should or even can be replaced by technology, so don’t panic if you see headlines like these:
  • Of course there are things where computers can do a lot more even in the court system, like decision support or drafting routine verdicts, but I wouldn’t worry too much about computers taking over the Supreme Court. For now, anyway.
  • That’s it, thanks for listening!
  • Technology can transform the law – but only if done right (ReInvent Law London 2013)

    1. 1. Technology can transformthe law – but only if donerightAnna RonkainenChief Scientist, Onomatics,
    2. 2. What’s wrong withthis picture?
    3. 3. Stereotypical lawyer’s response:“The words sound familiar but thesyntax is strange, I hope the tech guysknow what they are doing...”Stereotypical computer scientist’sresponse: “Law is like code but with acrufty legacy syntax. I’ll just optimizeaway all this vagueness and ambiguitynonsense. (Or really the legislatureshould update their codingstandards.)”42013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    4. 4. Legal technologists’ response:Undefined symbol: personsWhat counts as a person and when*?• a corporation?• a minor?• a foetus?• an artificial intelligence system?• the insides of one’s cheek?* for the purposes of this provisionVagueness is a feature, not a bug!52013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    5. 5. “The life of the law has notbeen logic: it has beenexperience.”Oliver Wendell Holmes – in 188162013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    6. 6. In the beginning, forget all abouttechnology and the law!*customer (market)⇩problem (unmet need)⇩solution (value proposition)⇩...⇩profit* but do learn to code and don’t forget the law altogether72013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    7. 7. Don’t expect expert judgmentsfrom non-expert usersCase MOSONG: a fairly simple decision-support system on trademark similarityEvaluated on an expert user (me) and 132non-expert (non-law) students (Ronkainen2010 and forthcoming):Expert: works 100% correctlyNon-experts: works slightly better than tossinga coin (but gets better after an IP intro course)82013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    8. 8. Legal technology can be adisruptive innovation in itself –or it can facilitate disruptiveinnovation by other means... and it’s not always easy to tell thedifference.92013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    9. 9. 11
    10. 10. 12
    11. 11. 13
    12. 12. Trademarkia/LegalForce:• technology used mainly as a marketing andcommunications tool• knowledge-intensive work still done by lawyers(but in a cheaper country)• innovative process and business model – butmostly for SMEs without a trademark lawyerOnomatics/TrademarkNow:• innovation is primarily in the intelligent technologyitself• computers do knowledge-intensive work ⇒scalable, efficient, instantaneous, objective• designed to figure out things too complex for thehuman CPU• even good enough for in-house counsel and othertrademark lawyers142013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    13. 13. Of course there areskeptics ...“But I’m much more sophisticatedthan that.”“This can’t be done.”“This devalues my 20 years ofprofessional experience.”... but fortunately they are a smallminority.152013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    14. 14. The end of lawyers?Not quite• intelligent legal technology doesn’thappen by itself: it needs peoplewho know the law and can expressthat knowledge computationally• there will always be a point wherecases get too complicated for acomputer – or even just infrequentenough to make domain-specificsolutions economically unviable162013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London
    15. 15. 17(New Scientist,18 May 2013)
    16. 16. Thank you!Further reading:• @ronkaine on Twitter• (my research blog)•• Ronkainen, Anna (2010): MOSONG, a Fuzzy Logic Model of Trade Mark Similarity• Ronkainen, Anna (2013): Redefining Trademark Clearance with Intelligent LegalTechnology. IPRinfo 1/2013.• Ronkainen, Anna (2013): Intelligent Trademark Analysis: Experiments in Large-Scale Evaluation of Real-World Legal AI. Presented at ICAIL-2013• Ronkainen, Anna (forthcoming): Scaling Intelligent Trademark Analysis fromPrototype to Production: From MOSONG to Onomatics Quick Search. Presented atthe 1st International Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property.182013-06-14Anna Ronkainen - @ronkaineReInvent Law London