IS AI Ready for Law

AI in law

When Elon Musk says AI is more dangerous than nuclear weapons, one wonders whether mankind is really creating a ‘cyberdyne systems’ which will bring it to the brink of extinction. Hence, must we depend on a Sarah Connor, or an Arnie as the Terminator to save the day? But then one must not forget that Elon Musk also loves to get into his futuristic car and instruct her to drive him wherever he wants to go. Isn’t that a contradiction?

How can Elon Musk differentiate between good AI and a bad AI? Hollywood movies have taught us that even machines are corruptible! Mark Zuckerberg, however, thinks Elon Musk is being an alarmist; AI will not unleash the terminators. We just have to wait to find out who is right.

Whether AI is a “killer”, or a “saviour” of our species will continue to be an ongoing argument, but in the world of justice, lawyers and law itself, AI is taking baby steps. I had written a blog on AI in legal research sometime last year, and surprisingly not much progress has been made since then! So every time, someone tells me that AI is going to take over my job as a lawyer, I am pretty confident that it is not happening anytime soon.

Most legal tech companies are currently focusing on compiling large volumes of data which helps them to analyse it to give lawyers a greater visibility on their contracts, cases, etc. Some tools help in drafting contracts, and even prepare basic petitions that can be filed in the courts. Beyond that there is very little of AI being put into use.

A blog site called, Wardblawg.com lists the best AI software for law firms. Most of the software listed there just analyses data, but to carry that out, you don’t need AI at all. In other words, technology is not as advanced to make a computer learn and learn more from the vast data out there and implement that learning in a different setting altogether.

However, I was intrigued by a digital tool called ‘rradar’ that is listed on Wardblawg.com. The blawg says that ‘rradar’ is supposedly an “[a]ward-winning legal advice, tools and training to spot, manage and minimise business risks; educating your business to stay on the right side of the law and guiding it to safety if legal problems do arise.” I dug deeper to find that rradar is an “in-house development professional work (which works) alongside our lawyers, design and media specialists and build exciting and innovative ways to share our legal services, risk management advice and knowledge with our clients.” There’s nothing artificial about using human intelligence to power an AI tool! Anyway, it just shows that AI for legal services is still in its nascent stages.

I will attempt to explain why AI might not be ready for lawyers yet.

Lawyers will tell you that most of the cases they are dealing with are unique. Complexity of any case depends on how complicated facts are in each scenario, and how best lawyers can apply law and facts and obviously their intelligence and experience to solve the case. Sometimes, one precedent (case law) can be used both “for” or “against” a principle of law depending on facts of a case. For computers to analyse and apply a legal principle will require access to not only the case laws, also court filings from maximum number of cases.

There are several challenges for that to happen. First, in India, court documents are not yet digitised. Second, assuming that documents are digitised, we will need a kickass OCR software to read through and recognise the fading government records. Assuming this is achieved, AI will have a tough time of analysing the statements of witnesses in evidence.

Another challenge is the language: the number of Indians in India who speak English, far exceeds the entire population of USA, but we have our way of speaking it; and it is reflected in the court documents. Add to it grammatical and spelling mistakes, the poor computer will be all at sea and runs the risk of misunderstanding the statements made in the documents. Judges can seek for clarifications, but mostly they understand the essence of a petition filed before them. Can the computers do it?

Most lawyers are verbose, and would prefer to emphasize a point. Here’s an example:

Yellow cartoon robot thinking about something.

A formal reading of the plaint makes it manifestly clear that the suit as brought out is vexatious, meritless and the same do not disclose a clear right to sue. The plaintiff has no locus standi to file this suit against this defendant. This suit is a flagrant misuse of the mercies of law. This is litigation inspired by vexatious motives and altogether groundless. The plaintiff has sought partition and separate possession over the suit schedule properties. This bogus litigation is required to be shot down at this stage itself.”

Difficult to comprehend isn’t it? Let me make it easier for you. “The plaintiff’s claim lacks merit, and the plaint is time barred and therefore, it must be dismissed,” is all that the above paragraph tried to say but then legalese is something that even experienced lawyers find it difficult to decipher.

Scott Adams

Here is another one and forms part of a judgment:

“However, the learned counsel appearing for the tenant/JD/petitioner herein cannot derive the fullest succour from the aforesaid acquiescence occurring in the testification of the GPA of the decree holder/landlord, given its sinew suffering partial dissipation from an imminent display occurring in the impugned pronouncement here at where within unravelments are held qua the rendition recorded by the learned Rent Controller” Pawan Kumar Sharma vs. Sarla Sood and Ors. (05.12.2016 – HPHC): MANU/HP/2760/2016.

I challenge the AI to understand the meaning of this exchange! I gave up! Of course, I am picking up some tough examples to highlight my point, but the challenges are real. There are 22 languages listed in the Constitution, and each regional language has multiple dialects, for a computer to make a distinction between dialects, and apply uniform principles of law, will be a tough ask.

So, the point my Lord I have been trying to make, is that we are still a long way from AI invading law courts.

I rest my case.

AI in Law Series

Chapter – 1 Evolution of Legal Research

Oh boy, have times changed! #LegalTech has brought-in precision and accuracy to lawyers’ fingertips, which hitherto was available only to the top law firms and experienced legal practitioners. Law is still heavily dependent on human capital. However, with technology, the gap between experienced and young lawyers has reduced, at least in legal research.

Early-Internet Days

When I was in Law school, I used legal commentaries and volumes of books of case laws, to do legal research. Doing legal research was like a treasure hunt, we had to hunt from one clue to another across several books. Then, piece together a plausible story, interpret and apply law, to a legal issue.

I remember doing legal research for a Willem C Vis Commercial Arbitration Moot Court back in the 90’s. Access to the Internet was limited to now defunct internet cafés and browsing was at snails’ pace. To load even one page of #UNCITRAL rules and regulations took ages.

Mind you, Google had not yet arrived! In the pre-google days, we used engines such as Ask Jeeves, Yahoo! and Altavista to do our research. The experience was more cumbersome than doing research in a library surrounded by books. These search engines were good for generic research but not for legal research. We also had to contend with the fact that the content available on the Internet then, was limited in comparison to what is available today.

Beginning of Change

Then came a time when I started using a legal data base called Jurix. Jurix came on a CD ROM. We had to install the entire database onto our Personal Computer. The PC ran on Windows 95, and buggy 98. We had a CD Key in a Floppy Disk, which allowed Jurix to be installed only on one machine.

Jurix had 50 years of case laws, and came with four updates every year. Each quarter, Jurix would send us updates by post with newer case laws. The search was limited to a couple of phrases, and Jurix would throw up all the cases in the 50 years, featuring those phrases. We still had to browse through all the cases. And, we couldn’t just copy the case laws to Microsoft word, Jurix allowed us to copy the entire case law onto a clip board, and then we could type it in a blank document on MS word. That was one complicated tool.

Online Databases

Ten years ago, I was introduced to Westlaw, and LexisNexis as the Online Databases. Several lawyers could at once access the websites. And there was no end to information on case laws from across the world. This was truly revolutionary.

Westlaw and LexisNexis did not provide Indian cases, so I used them mainly to write research memos and briefs for law firms in the US and UK. Westlaw gave an option called Natural Language Search, and we could literally type a research query in English language. There was a very good chance of getting the case laws having all the search terms. In India we had online databases such as #Manupatra, #SCConline, etc., but they were not as evolved as Westlaw or the Lexis.

Getting There

Westlaw became #WestlawNext, the search became more intuitive. It suggested key terms to help lawyers look for answers. WestlawNext made legal research easy. The number of searches that one had to run; reduced. The tool looked for keywords from our searches, and at the same time pulled out cases that was very close to our query.

Here’s an example of searches in Westlaw and LexisNexis using natural language:

spouse can restrain sale of community property bought from the common fund.”

The search engine would pull out cases using all the terms, but the first few results would have almost all the terms from case laws in a single sentence. This was a big step forward for online legal research.

The search engine at Westlaw was already good, the transition from Westlaw to WestlawNext was seamless, and felt like a natural progression.

Revolutionary

LexisNexis launched Lexis Analytics, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven legal research tool. LexisNexis acquired Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) start-ups such as Lex Machina, Intelligize, and Ravel Law and integrated their capabilities into Lexis Analytics.

Lex Machina mines litigation data, giving insights about judges, lawyers, parties and subjects of the cases. The majority of the data provided by the program is optimized for patent information, copyrights, antitrust cases, and trademarks.

Intelligize offers a web-based research platform that provides content, news collections, regulatory insights, and analytical tools for compliance and transactional professionals. The platform can be used for securities and exchange commission filings, agreements and other exhibits, analysis and trends, regulatory materials, mergers and acquisitions, etc.

LexisNexis claims that Ravel Law can extract persuasive language from court opinions, challenges and motions. The language judge analyzes 100 motion types and examines millions of case-law documents to reveal powerfully persuasive language relevant to a case. Isn’t that amazing!

Westlaw has an AI based product of its own called the Westlaw Edge. The AI-powered version of KeyCite (citator) provides warnings when cases are no longer good-law which traditional citators would not have identified. WestSearch Plus, an AI-driven legal research tool, guides lawyers to answer specific legal questions, quickly. Integrated litigation analytics provides detailed docket analytics, covering judges, courts, attorneys and law firms, for both federal and state courts.

Here’s an example of the questions that one can ask on Lexis Analytics, and Westlaw Edge:

How can I best challenge an expert’s testimony?

There are videos on YouTube showcasing the use-cases of Lexis and Westlaw, and it is amazing.

Today, we have IBM’s Watson, which is essentially a cognitive (question-answering) computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. A couple of years ago, I heard some chatter that students from a university in Toronto, Canada, were developing and integrating legal databases with #IBMWatson, developing a capability to provide solutions to legal issues with case-law support. This is, essentially, “legal advice”!

It is now a reality! and it is called #Ross intelligence. With Ross, lawyers can ask research questions. Ross can read over a million pages of law, case laws etc, within a second, and give answers. Ross is currently limited to Bankruptcy law in the US, but the day is not far when all legal research can be done by a computer.

Today, most of the innovation in #LegalTech using AI is limited to the US legal system. Sometime soon in the future, with the kind of advancements we are making with homegrown technology, I hope the Indian legal system will also be able to use AI for legal research.

ai-in-law

Justice at your fingertips

Fingertips

We live in an age where everything is available at the flick of a finger, where door-step, speedy deliveries are the norm. Amazon, Uber, Flipkart, Swiggy, Airbnb and other such new age companies have revolutionized the way we shop, be it products or experiences. These companies have taken customer satisfaction to new heights.

Delays in delivery of services, or even a slight deficiency in service are taken very seriously by consumers. Any mis-step has the potential to go viral, thanks to 140 characters. In this age of instant gratification and drone delivery, people find it hard to acclimatize to the traditional justice system.

They expect similar rapid service from the justice system with quick turnarounds and resolutions. Many of my colleagues, and I face impatient clients, who look for quick solutions to their problems. They do not want to wait months or years for their problems to be resolved. I understand the urgency but expecting resolution of complicated cases within a span of few months is not possible. Let me explain.

Cases vs. Judges

28 Million!

That is the total number of cases pending across India. In Bangalore alone, around 250k cases are pending in the trial courts where there are just 148 trial court judges (includes all judges barring the High Court of Karnataka) to decide these cases. Let’s just analyse a day in the Trial Courts.

Courts work for 5 ½ hours daily, starting at 11 a.m., and breaks for lunch for an hour between 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., and close for the day at 5:30 in the evening.

As I write this, 11533 cases were listed today (October 25, 2018), which means that each judge on an average had 78 cases listed before his/her court. Now, this also means that the Court has roughly about 4.2 minutes per case!

That is not humanely possible. At 11 a.m., as the proceedings start all the cases listed for the day are called in the first hearing, most of them are adjourned for assorted reasons, including issuance of summons, notices, or when the lawyers seek for time, etc. etc.

Typically, the first hearing takes around 45 minutes to an hour, this effectively means that the actual working hours of the court are reduced to 4 ½ hours. During this time, the judge records evidence of the litigants, which also includes lengthy cross examination of witnesses in complicated civil and criminal cases. And the judge also hears arguments from the lawyers. On any given day, a judge can at best record evidence in 4-5 cases and hear arguments in 10 cases. This is a best-case scenario.

All courts have Second Saturdays each month off, and civil courts have Summer, Dasara, and Christmas vacations.

This sounds bad isn’t it? How is that we work for over 9 hours a day, and judges get away by working only for five and a half hours a day and get summer and Christmas vacations!!

Well… judges can hear only a few cases a day. Recording of evidence is a complicated and an important process, one that requires time, patience, and diligence, and it takes a chunk of their time.

Similarly, when lawyers present their arguments, judges must make notes (of all the cases that are argued on any given day), and take the files back home, for deliberation, before they pass the judgment in the case.

This effectively means that judges are working for 10 hours a day, if not more. Some trial judges work on Sundays too, as the police produce the accused before judges after arresting them. A judge must accommodate hardcore criminals when they are produced by the police, and sometimes, at odd hours at night!

Judges are overworked, underpaid, understaffed and there is an immediate need to hire more judges if we have to address the pending case problem in the country.

It is physically impossible for judges to hear nearly 70 cases a day, and pass judgments on each one of them within a span of even one year. This is the reason why sometimes months pass before a case comes up for hearing before the Court.

The cases that are litigated include gory murder trials, badly fought matrimonial cases, child custody cases etc. When people believe they are right, they expect justice to be delivered at the earliest, and few clients refuse to understand that there is an appeals process, and every losing party has the right to appeal!

Unless we have more judges we cannot have speedy justice delivery system, until then, I can only say have patience.

Cancer Causing Fruits and Where to Find Them

Cancer Causing Fruits and Where to Find Them

Fruits can be nutritious or poisonous.

I learnt about this truth quite recently. During one of my visits to the nearby supermarket, I saw one of my friends pick up an argument with the store manager claiming that he had ripened the fruits with calcium carbide. Calcium carbide as we all know is a corrosive chemical compound which causes cancer.

The manager surprisingly didn’t deny the charge but told my friend that if he wanted pure mangoes, he should probably try buying it from a store which sells organic fruits.

This begs the question whether we would buy fruits off the counter if we were informed that they have been ripened with Calcium Carbide, and that this chemical can cause cancer?

As we all know, the law prevents the sale of poison to the masses even if in the guise of a fruit or a vegetable!

The law of torts imposes a duty (a legal requirement) on the seller to adhere to a standard of conduct in protecting others from unreasonable risk of harm. The concept of “duty to inform” practically does not exist in our country!

Indian Penal Code (“IPC”) Section 269 says: “Whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to “spread the infection” of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”

IPC Section 270 states that: “Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life -Whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

I am sure one of the arguments of a defence counsel in a criminal trial will be Your Honour! Cancer is not an “infection” in literal terms!!!

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (which keeps a tab on births and deaths in the country) is tasked to implement several people friendly policies, including but not limited to:

a.       Improved food security;

b.      Increased production of nutritionally rich foods such as pulses, oilseeds, and ragi, and protective foods such as vegetables, fruits, milk, poultry, fish and meat, etc.

The side-effects of drinking milk that contains growth hormones, and effects of consuming animal products dipped in antibiotic, is another worrisome topic.

The BBMP (Bengaluru’s protector) appoints health officers, who as a part of their job (sigh!) are required to investigate and inspect the trade establishments, and issue health licenses. Effectively, the health officers, or health inspectors have a duty towards the citizens to ensure that the trade establishments shall not sell cancer causing agents to unsuspecting people, certainly not without adequate warning.

The other question one can ask here is who takes the moral responsibility when cancer-causing fruits and vegetables are sold to hundreds of thousands of people daily? Can we blame the farmers, or should we blame the vendors, or should the blame reside with the Government?

The answer to this question in a developing nation such as ours is quite complicated, and I am not even attempting to answer it here.

We are told to stop eating processed food, not eat foods that have monosodium glutamate but are encouraged to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. No one tells us the nearly deadly effects of eating fruits and vegetables that contain poison, artificial colours etc. We are indirectly inviting cancer to our homes, to our children, and yet authorities have chosen to remain mute spectators.

In my opinion, selling cancer-causing fruits and vegetables is akin to genocide. Cancer kills people, and it does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, religion etc. Thousands of articles are written on the apathy showed by the authorities, but nothing gets done.

Therefore, the “duty to inform” under the law of torts must be strictly enforced. Shopkeepers should be directed to disclose the source of fruits and vegetables, and how they were ripened. When we require the packaged food industry, and the pharma companies

(barring homeopathy and ayurvedic medicines) to disclose the ingredients, why can’t we enforce the same standard to our vegetable vendors?

Five reasons to get a Will done

Five reasons to get a Will done

Getting a Will written is arguably the best gift that you can give to your family after your lifetime.  Whenever we think of a Will, we are often confronted with the very real fear of our own mortality, so, we do our best to avoid thinking about it.  Nine out of 10 clients that I interact with do not have a Will written.

We do want our loved ones to be cared for even after our lifetime, and isn’t that the reason we get those numerous insurance policies?  A Will is equally, if not more important, to ease their pain and suffering after we are gone.  But if you are still looking for reasons to be convinced, here are a few:

  1. You get to decide how you distribute your assets

A Will is a binding document, wherein you get to choose how and to whom your movable assets should be distributed.  When a person dies intestate (without a will i.e.) you cannot be assured that the property will be divided or distributed to only those people that you want it to go to!

  1. You get to choose the guardians of your minor children

A Will make you take an informed decision as to who looks after your minor children in case of an untimely death.  Without a Will, the courts will have to interfere in appointing a minor guardian, and you may not have a say in who takes care of your children, or for that matter how your property will be looked after until your children attain a majority!

  1. You get to leave out people you don’t want to enjoy your assets

Oh Yes! you also get to disinherit those people who think they have a birth right over your property.  You will ensure that your property does not fall in wrong hands after your lifetime.

  1. You can donate your assets to charity

We all want to make donate a part of earnings to charity, and one way to ensure that your wish is executed after you is to make a donation through will.  Without a Will, there is no guarantee that your oral wish to donate would be executed.

  1. Avoid lengthy probate proceedings

When a person dies intestate, his property is not automatically transferred to his survivors, there could be several claimants to your property, which could possibly result in a lengthy and a nasty court battle.  If you have written a Will, the rightful and legal beneficiaries can nip those unwanted claimants from laying a claim against your property!

Did I mention that you can amend your Will as many times as you want? But make sure that you have left your last will and testament with your trusted attorney, and ensure that all the previous ones are destroyed or nullified.

Well… let 2018 be that year where most of us will get our Wills written!