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5 Solid Links for Getting Smart on what Watson Means for Legal

5 Solid Links for Getting Smart on what Watson Means for Legal

In the last 18 months or so it seems artificial intelligence (AI) jumped from the movie screen to the news feed scroll.  More and more articles are exploring what it means for humanity.

“The Wikipedia entry for “artificial intelligence” will make you wish you had an AI tool to interpret the entry,” according to Dennis Kennedy, in a panel discussion for Law Technology Today5 Questions on Artificial Intelligence.

AI is progress according to one side; it’s a disaster on the other.  A vast number of educated views exist in-between.   AI is a bit like the notice on review mirror:  objects may be closer than they appear.

In June, a computer’s dialogue with programmers about ethics, morality and integrity made headlines. It ended when the computer became “exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human inquisitor.”

In terms of legal, Watson comes up often in industry discussions, in news, in blogs and at conferences. If you’ve missed (or ignored) the conversation around Watson and AI, Ron Friedmann, of Prism Legal, has a whole series dedicated to IBM Watson worth perusing.

In addition, we’ve been saving links and have boiled a long list down to these five. It’s a cheat sheet of sorts for getting smart on what the developments might mean for the legal community:

1. Adam Smith, Esq.: Watson: Boring or Terrifying?

Legal economist Bruce MacEwen opens his ideas on Watson with some skepticism to the premise: whether or not technology can or should “learn from us.”  He later expands that thought in saying “after Watson learns everything we have to teach, won’t he expect to move on towards greater things and leave humanity in the dust?”  His focus however is far less apocalyptic – will Watson create or destroy jobs?  “Perhaps the ultimate question we need to address is whether technology will really help us excel at what humans are best at—judgment, nuance, discernment, insight, serendipity, pursuing insatiable curiosity—or whether technology will, by seemingly serving our every need, ultimately denature us and cause our skills to atrophy.”

 2. Corporate Counsel: IBM’s Watson: A Natural Assistant for Patent Attorneys?

 Two IBM in-house attorneys examine what Watson might mean for in-house work and say the benefits boil down to natural language processing (NLP).   In understanding language the way humans do, it “could be harnessed in order to automatically generate a proposed glossary of all significant claim terms, which, once finalized, would become part of the issued patent.”

3. Legaltech News: IBM Watson’s ROSS: Legal’s Best Friend or Worst Nightmare?

 “In the legal vertical, Watson hasn’t made any headlines other than some theoretical discussions around helping with eDiscovery, complex litigation matters or perhaps helping with aspects of legal research,” according to William Caraher, the CIO & director of operations for von Briesen & Roper s.c. He writes that is changing and the “disruptive force of computing on the legal industry may actually be here sooner than expected.” Beyond legal research, he seems to take the question of whether or not computers will replace lawyers seriously.  “The fact that the system has been built is reason enough to consider the far-reaching ramifications not only to legal research but the industry as a whole,” he wrote.

Related Posts:
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Porter’s Five Forces for the Legal Industry 
5 Steps on the Road to Leveraging Machine Intelligence in Legal 

4. 3 Geeks and a Law Blog: Watson Graduates Law School, Returns to America

Guest writer Matt Coatney says a group called Ross Intelligence “has been hard at work training the system to understand law.”  Mr. Coatney interviewed the group’s executive team which said the applications is “starting small with bankruptcy.” Will it replace legal research?  The comparison is “apples and oranges” in that the system “serves up insights based on a more natural dialogue between the lawyer and its Watson-based system.”  With a few firms signed up to pilot, the program relies on associates to “provide feedback on whether ROSS’ answer was helpful. If it is not, the result is dropped and the next most relevant one is shown.” Greg Lambert, one of the 3 Geeks, calls this feedback loop the “weak link” in the comments.

5. Above the Law: The Robots Are Coming For Your Jobs  

Last year, editor Elie Mystal pointed out “it’s not just Watson. There are a lot of technologies floating around that threaten to make much entry-level associate work obsolete.”  The legal space has already experienced this to some degree, jettisoning boxes of paper and sticky notes in eDiscovery. “Imagine a firm with something approaching a 1:1 or 2:1 associate to partner ratio. The firm can turn basic documents and tasks overnight because it never sleeps and has people working 24-7. Partners spend all of their time thinking about only the highest and most complex problems in the field.”  The challenge here may be, even the most seasoned lawyers began as junior attorneys.  If technology does have such broad adoption, how will the industry grow and develop the next generation of trusted advisors?

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What do you think Watson or AI mean for the legal community?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
4 Key Implications of Early Case Assessment Technologies

Photo credit:  Flickr, Jeff Keyzer, Hello, I’m a Robot. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.


  1. […] posts about the prospects of Watson for law practice, I highly recommend a click-through to read Five Solid Links to Get Smart on What Watson Means for Legal, by Frank Strong, posted on The Business of Law Blog on August 11, […]

  2. […] all significant claim terms, which, once finalized, would become part of the issued patent.” [12] In other words: dictation software needs language understanding. [11] As Pierce said around 55 […]

  3. […] all significant claim terms, which, once finalized, would become part of the issued patent.” [12] In other words: dictation software needs language understanding. [11] As Pierce said around 55 […]