Don’t Leave it to the Lawyers: The 2017 CodeX FutureLaw Conference

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Codex, Government, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Stanford Law School, Thomson Reuters


STANFORD, Calif. — Once again the team at CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, put on a first-rate annual event, FutureLaw, with an agenda that reflected the various ways that technology is changing the law.

The day began with a keynote address by Prof. Gillian Hadfield of USC Gould School of Law. Prof. Hadfield’s talk took a wide view of the origins of law, and the need for transformational changes: “10% change is just tinkering,” she said. “10x change is what will solve the big challenges.”

But her “Rules for a Flat World” (also the title of her book) are deceptively simple:

1)     Change the conversation

2)     Don’t leave it to the lawyers

3)     Change the rules

4)     Catalyze and fund research

5)     Invest in legal innovation

The second of those rules became a thread running through the rest of the day at FutureLaw. If there is a single unifying thought that unites the CodeX community and the attendees of this event, it’s that lawyers alone can’t solve the challenges that today’s legal systems face. The data scientists, the developers, the process engineers and the designers all have a role to play in providing more legal services to those who can’t afford them, and better legal services to those who can.

CodeX FutureLaw is one of the few places where the lawyers and the technologists can meet and get excited about innovation; to date, however, this kinds of forum is still all too rare.

Here are just some of the ways the “Don’t leave it to the lawyers” theme came through in the various sessions:

  •        Predictive Analytics — This session showed the diversity of applications for predictive analytics, with examples from judicial analytics (Lex Machina); criminal justice data (Measures for Justice); legislation (Skopos Labs); and private practice (Proskauer Rose). All of those applications are in service of lawyers and legal systems, but are driven by the skill sets of scientists, not lawyers. As Proskauer’s e-Discovery Counsel Dera Nevin put it: “The people this industry needs most are not lawyers.” But Gipsy Escobar, Director of Research and Analytics at Measures for Justice, pointed out the challenge of analytics in the law: “The scientists in this field need to be better at communication — you can’t explain data to others like you explain it to colleagues.” Of course, the same could be said of lawyers. Clearly, embedding data science into the law may be more a matter of mutual communication than of technological change.
  •        Rules-Based Systems and Chatbots — A panel on rules-based computational law systems was followed by a session on legal chatbots. It was an interesting juxtaposition; the thoughtful, philosophical discussions on the nature of rules-based technology were followed by the pragmatic, “let’s just build this” attitude of chatbot creators. Examples presented included bots for resolving traffic tickets, applying for immigrant visas, or navigating health insurance rules. It all came to a head in the only real controversy of the day when Josh Lenon of Clio warned of a potential “Reign of Tech Terror” from letting chatbots determine serious legal consequences. He provided a litany of risks: from bots’ failure to account for geographic differences in laws, to the ratio of user convenience to the risk of bad consequences. He also noted the privacy and security dangers inherent in the level of disclosure that chatbots encourage. If other sessions were beating the “Don’t leave it to the lawyers,” drum, Lenon’s message was “Don’t leave the lawyers out.”
  •        Legal Design — In a “Lightning Round” of shorter presentations, Margaret Hagan of Stanford’s Legal Design Lab, turned her attention to the sorry state of web sites for courts and other public bodies, which are often the primary sources of information that citizens turn to first. Her version of the “Don’t leave it to the lawyers” theme: Involve more non-lawyers in the process of designing public web sites. That includes end users, but also court and legal help webmasters, and search engine and social media experts.
  •        New Blood —In another Lightning Round session, Jeannette Eicks, Co-Director of the Center for Legal Innovation at Vermont Law School, highlighted the many law schools that are incorporating technology and other disciplines into legal education. And in a session focused on legal tech customers, Microsoft Assistant GC Lucy Endel Bassli pointed out that the modern GC office fills many operational roles that require a mix of legal and technical expertise; and noted that she’s paying attention to the rise of those types of interdisciplinary programs in legal education.

CodeX FutureLaw is one of the few places where the lawyers and the technologists can meet and get excited about innovation; to date, however, this kinds of forum is still all too rare. Outside the legal tech echo chamber, lawyers and technologists don’t easily rub elbows.

At events like FutureLaw, however, there is a growing acknowledgement that the path toward improving legal innovation will have to be paved with better communication and interaction between legal professionals and the allied disciplines that are increasingly central to the future of legal systems.

For more coverage of the Codex FutureLaw conference, see our interview with James Sandman of the Legal Services Corp.