Sunday, July 22, 2018
As I often tell my students: lawyers can't afford to keep ignoring technological innovation. Two leading professors, Dana Remus and Frank Levy, study the tech threat to large law firms. Their recent paper concluded that if we put just the existing legal technology to work and maintain the status quo, nearly 15% of all lawyer hours would instantly disappear. Imagine what that number will be in five years, or ten?
But we have an option. Instead of letting technology replace what we lawyers do, we can instead use technology to help us do even more for our clients and the public.
Step into any law firm today and the fingerprints of technology are obvious. No longer do banker's boxes fill the halls, overflowing with papers. Emails have replaced phone calls. Attorneys meet over vast distances via high-tech video conferencing setups. Millions of documents are exchanged with the click of a button.
But the changes to how we write and research don't seem so drastic. We still type out our briefs, largely from scratch. We look for cases on Westlaw and Lexis using reference systems based on the old print versions.
Worry not, though. Technology is coming for legal writing and research. Last post, I offered some baby steps to help you start using more technology. Today, I've got more bold tools that can push you to new legal writing heights. Some of these are harbingers of what may be coming: technology so powerful that the way we write and research will never be the same.
To start, the boldest of all: AI, machine learning, big data, analytics--all the exciting technology buzz words of today. Let's start with Ravel. I've mentioned this program in passing, but the company recently rolled out new features that make it one of the most powerful and exciting legal research tools in existence. Ravel describes itself as "a new category of intelligent tool that combines legal research and analytics." Under the hood, Ravel is cutting edge: machine learning, computational linguistics, and data engineering give you access to entirely different ways of researching and understanding the law.
I could spend an entire post gushing over all the things Ravel is doing, but let me just point out a couple for now. Ravel can tell you which authority--or even which particular language--persuaded your judge in prior cases. We legal writing professors tell students to "write to their audience." But we mean this as general guidance. Can you imagine knowing the precise cases, phrases, and language that convinced your judge to rule a certain way in the past?
Ravel can lay out your judge's entire decision history for you, including what the judge has done in cases with similar legal issues to yours. It can tell you the chances of winning on a motion to dismiss in a security case before a particular judge. It can even analyze your judge's judicial writing.
Ravel also has something it calls "page by page citation analytics," which allows you to leap to authority that interpreted the specific language that you care about in an opinion--like Headnotes on crack. And as if all the data analysis wasn't enough, Ravel has a unique visual legal research platform that allows you to make intuitive connections between distinct pieces of authority that you would never pick up on your own:
And this just scratches the surface of what Ravel can do, much less what the company has planned for the future. Ravel is a prime example of the tumultuous shift that we may start seeing in legal writing and research (once a few more kinks are worked out and lawyers start widely adopting these new tools).
ROSS is another powerhouse in the AI and analytics space. ROSS's platform can automatically track legal issues you care about and ping you with new developments. More astounding, type in a legal question in prose--ROSS will spit out a legal memo that is astoundingly well done.
ROSS also developed EVA--a brief analyzer. EVA scans your document and not only checks all of the authority to make sure it's good law, but it then does its own legal research to find better cases to support your positions. Casetext has a similar AI, CARA, which can analyze various sorts of legal documents (from complaints to briefs) and carry out top-notch legal research on its own.
Another company that I'm excited by is Ailira. Ailira is developing a free AI that answers folks' legal questions. As someone who spends a lot of his time working to educate the public about navigating the system, tools like this can't come fast enough.
This is only a small sampling of the exciting new AI and analytics tools out there for legal writers. But I want touch on a couple other sorts of technologies you might not have thought about, too.
First, consider replacing your paper legal pad with a digital one. There are a few sleek digital writing pads on the market that will nearly trick you into thinking you're writing on real paper. The upsides? No running out of ink or paper. No more crinkled-up pages on your desk. And no more searching in drawers or the trash can for your old notes. Not to mention that you now have thousands of documents at your fingertips to peruse and markup just like if they were printed out.
To give you an idea about what it might be like to give up that ugly yellow pad, I'll share my experience with Sony's Digital Paper.
Sony sent me one of these to try, and I put it through the ringer. For weeks, I took it everywhere: court, meetings, brainstorming in my office, class. I outlined briefs, scribbled on documents, and graded law student papers.
In the end? I can't see going back. Sony's version is on the big side, but not much bulkier than a full-size legal pad. The text on the screen looks (and to some extent feels) like the real thing. Writing is as natural as paper. It took a bit of adjusting for the first couple days, but after that, I generally forgot it was a screen.
Being able to pull up documents and write on them is just incredibly convenient. And the ease of switching between pages or documents is worth converting to the digital world, trust me. Riffling through legal pads full of notes from different cases or projects is horrible. Not only can you lose track of what's what, but you can lose precious notes altogether.
In terms of which digital pad to try, after trying Sony's and the other main competitor, I bought Sony's for myself, if that tells you anything. But both are great.
At bottom, if you haven't tried one of these digital writing pads in your day-to-day, it's worth your time. And don't think that you can just use your iPad or Surface--it just isn't the same. There is a reason you brainstorm your legal-writing ideas on a pad (even when your computer is inches away). You need that full-page screen so that you don't have to zoom or move things around. You need the feel and smoothness of writing on what at least feels like real paper. At least, that has been my experience.
Next, consider learning how to use Microsoft Flow (or, if you don't use Word, If This Then That).
Flow and IFTTT are tools for setting up multi-step tasks (called recipes or templates) that run automatically. For example, you can create a recipe like: IF it's raining outside, THEN text me a reminder at 8:00 a.m. to grab my umbrella. It's like having a little robot on your computer.
To fully explore all that these tools can do for you as a legal writer, we need a whole post. But here are a couple ideas to get you started. Really, the only limit is your imagination:
- Do Not Disturb: Writing! Create a button on your desktop that will automatically cease all notifications and message back anyone who texts or emails that you are busy for a set amount of time. You can even include settings so that certain people can break through your do not disturb (like your boss). This way you can hunker down for your writing time without distractions--and not worry that you might be missing something important.
- Editing Reminders. Create a task that will automatically send you reminders to edit at regular intervals before your legal writing project is due.
- Draft flow. Setup a task so that whenever someone sends you an email with the word "draft" in it, the attachment is automatically downloaded into a draft folder on your desktop for you to start editing.
- Grading Help. I have a recipe setup so that when a student emails me an assignment, it is automatically downloaded and sent to a folder for me to grade. After I markup the assignment, another recipe automatically sends it back to the student with a pre-filled email reminding the student to read my comments!
- Appellate Advocacy Blog updates. Setup a task to shoot you an email every time there is a new AAB post!
I could list dozens of legal-writing-related recipes like this. But I think the best way to get started is to try making one for yourself. Then once you get the hang of it, spend some time brainstorming about the repetitive tasks you do each day--like checking email, downloading documents, or setting reminders. A lot of this can be made easier with an automated recipe (or some other tool).
Finally, consider downloading a program for your desktop that will help you organize all your documents and papers. Law firms often have document management systems, but I'm talking about something to replace the folders you have within Windows or Mac itself.
For Windows users, the best I've found is XYplorer. This will replace the normal file "explorer" that you're used to. Why switch? How about tabbed browsing? That's right: tabbed folders, just like your favorite web browser.
XYplorer also has an advanced search for you to find those old drafts quicker and easier, a better ability to preview documents, an interface that you can customize for your preferences, and even options to automate tasks. This program has helped me become so much more organized with my legal writing. It's much easier to keep track of documents--both those that I'm working on now and past projects.
That's probably more technology that anyone can take in one sitting. But if nothing else, I hope you consider making technology a core part of your legal writing process. Set aside some time every now and then to try out a couple of the newest tools. You will be happy you did.
Joe Regalia is a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law and regularly leads workshops training legal writing and technology. The views he expresses here are solely his own and not intended to be legal advice. Check out his other articles and writing tips here.