Legal Upstarts

Last Friday I attended a symposium on alternative business structures (ABS — and not to be confused with anti-lock braking systems, American Bureau of Shipping, the absolute value of a number regardless of its sign, etc.) hosted by the Law Society of Upper Canada. I hope that over the next few days, I and a couple of other Slawyers who were there, can fill you in on some of the interesting stuff that we heard (though I’m happy to say that broadly speaking none of it would have been news to a dedicated reader of Slaw). But today I want to bring three new law businesses to your attention, in part for what they actually offer, but more, perhaps, for what they portend about the growing law and law-related “zoo” of commercial ventures. (I’ve picked these three from a dozen such examples in a presentation by James Peters, Vice-President of New Market Initiatives for LegalZoom.com, Inc.)

  • Ravel Law – Ravel promotes itself a “new view on legal research.” And “view” is right. With the decisions of a number of U.S. jurisdictions (and some annotations) in its database, a Ravel search offers up a visual map of results. Circles of various sizes represent cases of various degrees of importance (judged by number of citations), with links to and from these precedents of varying thickness depending on the “amount of citations between cases.” Links to the cases, along with keywords, appear in a sidebar. Simplest perhaps, is to see it in action. Here’s a search for “defamation.” In all, this is reminiscent of what we’ve recently seen from CanLII in such experiments as Cite-Fight, though with access to the full text of cases and not simply the metadata.

    Ravel offers three levels of service, featuring different content in the database. At the moment it appears everything is in beta and free, though the plan clearly is to charge for the higher levels of service.

  • LawGives – This “find a lawyer” service is not so much a novelty as it is an attempt to take the biz of connecting clients and lawyers up market. The founders are Oxford- and Stanford-educated lawyers and they boast a slick website and some interesting partners, such as Mozilla, along with the vague but laudable aim of making legal information more readily available. Clients or potential clients are able to communicate with lawyers for a brief period for free and able to get answers to basic questions free, as I understand it. Also, as I understand it, clients and lawyers needn’t ever meet in person but can conduct their business entirely online.

  • Lex Machina – This is the most unusual upstart of the lot. Lex Machina, as the name suggests, claims to be able to assist businesses or lawyers by using computers to predict with great accuracy the outcome of a dispute over IP. It can, as a “lesser” result, of course, simply provide as much relevant data as the client wishes.

    Having its origins in a Stanford University Law School and Computer Science Department project, Lex Machina analyzes data from a large number of sources and instances and, using a predictive algorithm, projects the outcome of a dispute constituted by a certain set of client facts. The “machine” crawls PACER to inhale all new patents and IP decisions and then processes these with a natural language algorithm to turn them into machine readable data. This is “big data” coupled with “big smarts,” and to my mind clearly signals one vision of the likely future of law. I’m particularly interested in its use of “smarts” from algorithms and not just from the number crunching power of current processors.

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