Wednesday, January 11, 2017

AI & The Duty of Technological Competence

The use of artificial intelligence has many potential pitfalls regarding attorney professional responsibility rules. One such pitfall has to do with the duty of technological competence. 

As Robert Ambrogi points out over on Law Sites, there are now 26 states that have adopted the duty of technological competence for lawyers - first noted in Comment 8 to ABA Model Rule 1.1. 

The ABA version states: 
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject. (Emphasis added.)

While the states may differ in the exact language of their rules, these rules will likely have an ongoing effect on a lawyer's duty to learn various aspects of ever-changing technology. 

Down the road, there may be a time when attorneys must know and understand how artificial intelligence works to be able to rely on technology to perform the more sophisticated functions of law practice. 

As lawyers begin to use ROSS, say, to perform legal research or even draft simple memos, it is not unreasonable to presume that a lawyer would need to understand how ROSS decided on a particular issue to have true algorithmic accountability. Because something like ROSS cannot be subject to the same professional responsibility rules as a living, breathing lawyer, it is up to the lawyer to maintain a duty of technological competence to understand and vet the work of the software. 

This is tricky because we are currently at a point where most algorithms are proprietary and there is little transparency about the results that are generated. It is unlikely that this competing issue with be resolved anytime soon. 

Until such time when the AI developers release the very decision trees for how an algorithm came to a particular result, law librarians will be helpful in teaching lawyers to understand the current state of AI technology. During our legal research instruction, we should offer pointers to lawyers on the results generated and how to spot possible issues, such as bias.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ravel Law for Judicial Analytics

In December, the ABA Journal reported on a new judicial analytics tool by Ravel Law.

As mentioned, currently, the field of judicial analytics mainly focuses on individual judges and what their histories and tendencies are, so that lawyers will be able to make more informed decisions regarding litigation strategy. 

Ravel Law knew that the individual-judge strategy was cumbersome and limited. With that, Ravel Law launched Court Analytics, a comprehensive analytical tool that covers more than 400 federal and state courts. Court Analytics allows users to search through a jurisdiction, filtering out over 90 types of motions and topics. The tool analyzes case outcomes, language patterns and citation history, among other things, to give practitioners insight as to how courts and judges throughout a jurisdiction have ruled on certain types of motions or cases in the past. The tool also highlights the most-cited precedents and cases within a jurisdiction

Ravel Law intends for the analytics tool to be used to determine the best forum or whether the case should be filed in state or federal court. “You can look at the stats to see what are the best courts to file in. Are they plaintiff-friendly? Do they have experience in a certain area?” Lewis says.

There are also other creative uses of the analytics. For instance, users can hone in on specific fact patterns and case law to determine their likelihood of success within a given jurisdiction. If a lawyer wants to see every mesothelioma case within a certain court system where there was a successful motion for summary judgment, Court Analytics can identify common patterns amongst those cases, including the language the judges used in their decisions and what standard they applied, among other things.

As I prepare to teach a civil trial research course for the first time this spring, I absolutely plan to show my students the features of Court Analytics. I spend a class period discussing forum selection and venue, and Court Analytics will be a perfect companion to that lecture with hands-on application showing use of a very practical tool.

This is just the beginning when it comes to the possibilities of legal data mining. It's a perfect example of technology being used to make lawyers more efficient by taking a historically cumbersome process and making it as easy as a few clicks of a mouse.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Rollout of Staff-less Libraries

In Dublin, Ireland, twenty-three library branches will offer a new Open Library service in 2017, meaning libraries will stay open and operate without staff during the evenings and weekends.

This initiative has made the library staff uneasy. And the librarians have come out against the initiative stating “We truly believe that this move is the beginning of the end for our Public Library Service.”

This has become a bit of a hot-button political issue as the Dublin City Councillors voted against the initiative to show support for librarians and library staff. However, the Minister of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney said, “There will be no closure of library branches as a result of the Open Library service. Similarly, there will be no reduction in staffing levels or staffed hours as a result of the service, either in the short or long term." He added that “funding is allocated to libraries on the basis of applications received from local authorities interested in rolling out the service in their respective areas. My Department received 27 applications under the My Open Library initiative following a call for proposals from interested local authorities in June 2016.”

It's a difficult situation because of the potential future ramifications of such an initiative. In the short-term, it's wonderful that the libraries will be open to the public during the evenings and on weekends for greater access to materials. In the long-term, however, if the initiative is deemed successful by the powers that be, what's to say that the Minister of Housing won't cut staff as a future cost-savings measure?

Library staff are such an important part of what makes a public library the heart of any community. To cut the very people who are the glue of the institution would be a grievous error. If this initiative is truly about creating greater access to information, then bravo! We should, however, keep a watchful eye on this trend.

To learn more about staff-less libraries, see a forthcoming book to be released in March 2017.

From the book's description:
Staff-Less Libraries: Innovative Staff Design considers the challenges of this approach, its pros and cons, identifies international experiences, and discusses best practices. It presents a step-by-step approach to implementing a staffless library and/or services, and seeks to inspire professionals to share experiences and optimize their library. Staff-less public libraries, enabled by technological developments, represent a significant and innovative aspect of the development of public libraries. The concept radically enlarges the availability of user access to public libraries. Some Danish public library branches have, for example, increased their weekly opening hours from 20 to 80 hours per week. In Denmark, the concept has been quite successful, increasing the number of staff-less libraries from 81 public library units in 2011 to 260 in 2014.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Examined Life: A Reading List

A fairly recent Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal started out by noting: We all ask each other a lot of questions. But we should all ask one question a lot more often: “What are you reading?”

It’s a simple question but a powerful one, and it can change lives. Here is a sampling of my reading list for the past year:

"It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of Homegoing, and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight."

—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck."

“An exhaustively researched, vividly realized and above all, unignorable book—after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing.”

—Jennifer Senior, New York Times

"The Good Girls Revolt is as compelling as any novel, and also an accurate, intimate history of new women journalists invading the male journalistic world of the 1970s. Lynn Povich turns this epic revolt into a lesson on why and how we've just begun."

—Gloria Steinem

  • Tribe by Sebastian Junger

"I first read about this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger's excellent book, TRIBE. It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled."

―David Brooks, The New York Times

"Drawing on anecdotes from her adolescence and adult life, Adichie attempts to strike down stereotypes and unpack the baggage usually associated with the term. She argues that an emphasis on feminism is necessary because to focus only on the general "human rights" is "to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded."

—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

The author of the Saturday Essay noted, At the trial in which he would be sentenced to death, Socrates (as quoted by Plato) said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you.

Each of these books have given me the wonderful opportunity to examine this life and learn about myself and the world around me.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Law Librarians Teaching Research Skills for Hire

It appears that the legal industry is starting to understand how to parse through potential hires to find those with the best legal research skills. The Thomson Reuters Legal Solution Blog recently posted a series of tips for evaluating a potential hire's research skills. As noted, one of the key tasks that an attorney will be expected to complete throughout his or her career is legal research. When hiring or interviewing prospective candidates, a Partner will often want to ensure that the candidate has top notch legal research skills that can be put to use by the firm. 

These skills include:
  • Flexibility - knowing when to use natural language versus boolean searching
  • Creativity - using creativity to distinguish or analogize a case to a results list instead of searching for the "perfect case" that may not exist
  • Familiarity - looking beyond cases and statutes to other sources such as Trial Court Documents
  • Exhaustive - knowing when to stop researching
These skills are important skills that law students must learn from law librarians. There is inevitably a "back and forth" that goes on in legal research. Legal researchers must be able to find meaningful sources AND analyze results to understand what they still need to find. 

Law librarians must bridge the knowledge in action gap to ensure that law students can find familiar resources while maintaining flexibility. Students must also have the analytical skills to creatively find answers and know when to stop researching

If law librarians leave it up to legal writing professors to teach the analysis portion, we are doing the students a disservice by providing the steps to find resources without having them practice the difficult task of analysis and revising searches. The students must struggle through the entire process to truly absorb the skills necessary for effective and efficient legal research. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gaming the Article Title

In past posts, I have highlighted the importance of a well-optimized article title and abstract for discoverability. Titles, in particular, are important because researchers often use keyword searching in the title field to find articles that are highly relevant to their research.

Not only is a title important for discoverability, it's also important to catch the attention of a potential reader and up article views and downloads for impact purposes.

Brian Leiter over at the Law Professor Blogs Network recently highlighted a story illustrating how to game the article title to increase downloads.

I have an article with the (admittedly extremely boring) title "Rethinking Assignor Estoppel" coming out in the Houston Law Review. It has been on SSRN for nine months. I have posted about it twice on Facebook and Twitter, and it has shown up in all the SSRN journals. In that nine months it has garnered 982 views and 172 SSRN downloads.

Late Friday afternoon, prompted by some friends teasing me for the boring headline, I posted the exact same article, with the exact same abstract, but with a new, click-baity title: "Inventor Sued for Infringing His Own Patent. You Won't Believe What Happened Next." I did this in part as a joke, and in part as an unscientific test to see how susceptible law professors were to clickbait.

The answer is, quite susceptible indeed. In less than two hours on a Friday night the number of views for this "new" article surpassed the old one. In 26 hours, by late Saturday, more people had downloaded the new article than the old one, even though before downloading you are exposed to the same old boring abstract. And by the end of the weekend, the article had been viewed nearly six times as often as the original and downloaded three times as often as the original.

The article will soon appear in the Houston Law Review under its old, boring title. But it sure looks like titles matter.

Authors would do well to keep this in mind when naming an article. This, coupled with a long, jargon-filled abstract, may just be the key to article impact success.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How the Librarians Saved History: Harvesting Government Information

The NYTimes recently highlighted the work of the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016 -- a volunteer, collaborative effort by a small group of university, government and nonprofit libraries to find and save valuable pages now on federal websites.

With the arrival of any new president, vast troves of information on government websites are at risk of vanishing within days. The fragility of digital federal records, reports and research is astounding. 

Currently, no law protects much of it, no automated machine records it for history, and the National Archives and Records Administration announced in 2008 that it would not take on the job. “Large portions of dot-gov have no mandate to be taken care of,” said Mark Phillips, a library dean at the University of North Texas, referring to government websites. “Nobody is really responsible for doing this.”

Enter the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016. The project began before the 2008 elections, when George W. Bush was serving his second term, and returned in 2012.

The ritual has taken on greater urgency this year, Mr. Phillips said, out of concern that certain pages may be more vulnerable than usual because they contain scientific data for which Mr. Trump and some of his allies have expressed hostility or contempt.

And this small group can use all of the help it can get. People can contribute to the effort by proposing a web page for preservation by the archives. Proposed pages should be on federal websites, since many states also use .gov in their addresses. A simple tool for nominating a page is at

As the article author notes, for the 10 people working on laptops at the academy, hunting for important federal records, another title might serve: How the Librarians Saved History.

Friday, December 2, 2016

AI as Premature Law Librarian Disruptor

Law librarians do similarly creative work as lawyers, so a computer program like ROSS won’t be able to replace us in the near future. That being said, there may be a time in the future when computer programs will be more adept at many of our tasks.

Artificial intelligence relies on machine learning, which is highly dependent on natural language processing.

There are three main levels of natural language processing:
  • Syntactic (sentence structure/grammar)
  • Semantic (understanding phrases)
  • Pragmatic (understanding context)

Computer science experts and philosophers have estimated a processing curve based on where computers are now and when computers will master pragmatic natural language processing.

Based on the curve, we see that computer programs are currently at the end of the syntactics curve and are just beginning the semantics curve (think Siri). We still have a long way to go before computers do the high level pragmatic natural language processing, with estimates being close to year 2100 and beyond.

Even when a computer program starts to do pragmatic-level natural language processing, it will still take time for it to master and emulate what the human brain can do on the pragmatic front. The more low-level tasks of lawyers and law librarians will go quickly (think finding a case by citation or party name).

But the high level, context driven, creative tasks will take much more time for computers to master. We may inevitably need fewer lawyers and law librarians over time, but AI will mostly work to augment our human brains. Personally, I would love them help.

What we all must be cognizant of is the notion of "premature disruption" – losing valuable players (lawyers and librarians) before the technology is truly ready to replace them. ROSS, for example, is really good at PR, but stakeholders must be careful to avoid premature disruption. ROSS is a great tool that will augment lawyers and librarians, but it will not replace us. And it won't replace us for the foreseeable future.

It's important that we all arm ourselves with this information so that the various stakeholders understand AI's current capabilities. I will spend December & January finalizing a full-length piece on this topic. More to come...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Legal Research Clinic Bridges Gap to Help Community

Cornell Law School has started a Legal Research Clinic where 2Ls & 3Ls help local residents, nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs with specific questions that do not require full legal representation. The students also assist public-interest lawyers who need legal research assistance, which is a wonderful way to provide greater access to justice.

The director of the Legal Research Clinic, Amy Emerson, noted that she was often trying to construct artificial issues for students to research. At the same time, people from the community were coming to the library with legal questions, but librarians are not supposed to give legal advice.

As Emerson noted, the Legal Research Clinic was a way to bridge the gap. The Clinic meets the community's needs while giving the students very practical experience.

The broad range of topics is what makes this legal clinic unique, said Emerson. Most clinics focus on a defined area of law, forcing them to turn away requests outside of their specialty. In this clinic, students and their instructors (students cannot give legal advice, so the instructors, who are attorneys, are always present) research and offer answers in many areas of law to specific questions, large or small.

Great work Amy Emerson & Cornell! There is no better way to teach legal research than with real clients asking a wide variety of questions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ABA Journal Names The Ginger (Law) Librarian to Blawg 100

Editors of the ABA Journal announced today they have named The Ginger (Law) Librarian to the Blawg 100  -- one of the 100 best blogs for a legal audience.

“For 10 years, the Blawg 100 has helped shine a light on the stunning breadth of legal topics and voices to found in the legal blogosphere,” Acting Editor-Publisher Molly McDonough said. “Journal editors have selected yet another stellar list of blogs. We hope you’ll find legal information sources in this list that are completely new to you and bookmark them for regular reading.”

Other law librarian honorees include, Dewey B Strategic, Jean P. O'Grady; In Custodia Legis, Law Library Congress; and beSpacific, Sabrina Pacifici.

Thanks to the ABA and Molly McDonough for this wonderful honor.

About the ABA Journal:
The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, and it is read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month. It covers the trends, people and finances of the legal profession from Wall Street to Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. features breaking legal news updated as it happens by staff reporters throughout every business day, a directory of more than 4,000 lawyer blogs, and the full contents of the magazine.

About the ABA:
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.