Andrew Arruda: a man for our times

Andrew Arruda is the CEO and co-founder of Ross Intelligence. He is a former Canadian lawyer whose product is in the vanguard of the field of Artificial Intelligence by deploying IBM’s Watson – initially in the field of US bankruptcy law. He is a good – and seemingly tireless – communicator. In the course of the last month he appeared at a CCBE conference in Paris and at a TED conference held by IBM. He also appeared (albeit by video) at the JustWired conference in Ontario in September.

The TED talk was streamed on the net when it was given on 15 November but a video is not yet to be available. Mr Arruda’s presentation to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe can, however, be seen. This has the advantage that it is short, around 8 minutes; designed for a non-specialist lawyer audience; and without the messianic tone which can make TED talks so tiresome – at least for worn out Europeans.

Mr Arruda has a simple set of messages for the CCBE.  First, he reminds his audience of what artificial intelligence actually is (I have been to CCBE events: this was probably helpful to the more established and less informed section of his audience). Second, AI is no threat to lawyers’ jobs: it will enhance lawyers by allowing services to be provided to the ‘latent legal market’, those who might be tempted to buy services at lower than current prices. AI, he argues, will ‘ create jobs”. Thus, three, AI will increase access to justice, allow us to get ‘more for less’. It is ‘not to fear’ and we should embrace it ‘with an open mind’.

Arruda’s defines AI as incorporating four main elements: machine learning (the ability of a programme to absorb feedback into its future performance); natural language processing (the ability to decipher the meaning behind words and thereby to respond to the substance behind them); speech recognition and visual recognition. He is clear that AI is about software not hardware: AI may be used by robots but he clearly shivers at terms like  ‘Robolaw’.

Ross’s application of AI is designed to answer legal research questions. Ask and you shall be given not only case references, potentially in multiple jurisdictions, but also the relevant case segments. Ross may ask you supplementary questions on research so far and respond further to your responses.

Ross Intelligence’s website (with an attendant video) reinforces the pitch that AI enhances a lawyer’s work rather than threatens it: down will go unbillable hours of research – up will go service to the client. You can download a ‘white paper’ from the site which further sets out Ross’s pitch for the impact of AI:

The Future of AI and Legal 

While AI might seem an option in the distant future, we’re already working with this technology daily. There are many things to which AI can be applied now: contract review, legal research, dra ing of legal documents, e-discovery and more.

We’ll likely see more tasks where lawyers can be assisted by AI systems. Imagine having an AI assistant that allows you to become better at drafting and acts as a coach and guide enabling you to do more with legal research. It might also help with creating and practicing oral arguments.

Beyond the Machine

While the interest in AI focuses so much on what the machines can do, it’s important to remember that it’s what they can do for people that’s exciting. It can improve efficiencies and drive down the high costs of legal services, which are now suffering from outdated processes, tools and fee models.

The resulting efficiencies and costs can close the gap in access to justice; 80 percent of Americans who need a lawyer currently can’t afford one.

The history of Ross as a business is covered in a useful Artificial Lawyer article. Arruda’s co-founder is Jimoh Ovbiagele, a computer programmer who teamed up with his future partner when he was an articling student in a local Toronto firm. Part of Ovbiagele’s motivation was the messy break up of his parents’ marriage in the absence of their having too little money for proper legal representation – an access to justice issue. The firm subsequently relocated from Canada to Silicon Valley.

Mr Arruda’s considerable media exposure is no accident. He has got a product of the moment. He is an excellent communicator. He is an enthusiast: ‘AI will be bigger than the internet,’ he told Artificial Lawyer. But, there are two issues where time will tell whether he is right which have been raised here before. First, the application of AI must surely have a contradictory effect: it will enhance the lawyers who survive while causing the demise of the many who will not. The purpose of its introduction into commercial practice is precisely to lessen staff costs. There would seem no way that this effect will not significantly reduce jobs for trainees, paralegals and junior staff. Given the disproportionate number of trainees taken by the large corporate firms, reductions in their number will have a wider impact on entry. Second, there remains the question of whether the cost of developing AI systems will mean that its deployment is restricted – as one would imagine would be likely – to areas of law where the financial payoffs were clearest in the commercial field. Mr Arruda would presumably argue to the contrary: we shall see.

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