You may have heard about the Artificially Intelligence Judge (we covered in a previous podcasts, you can listen to it HERE), and you’ll discover more about how AI and the law are coming together in this interview with Jimoh Ovbiagele, Cofounder/CTO at ROSS Intelligence.
ROSS helps human lawyers perform faster, more accurate legal research, especially in the area of Bankruptcy and contract law and saves law firm’s countless hours of research time.
ROSS is intuitive and simple to understand and can be mastered in minutes. Listen to the podcast below for detailed interview and make sure to subscribe and post a review.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. This is Richard Jacobs. I’m here with Jimoh Ovbiagele. He is the co-founder and CTO of Ross Intelligence. A company that is working in the legal field using artificial intelligence to make the legal field evolve into the next generation. Whatever that is. Welcome Jimoh. How are you doing?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m doing great.
Richard Jacobs: Good. Yeah. It’s a really good opportunity to get to speak to you. What is Ross Intelligence doing in the legal field? What is the latest project that’s going to be?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Ross Intelligence develops and sells Ross, an artificially intelligent lawyer that can answer complex legal questions. We have some of the top law firms in the world as our customers like Dentons, the world’s largest law firm by head count and Latham & Watkins which is the world’s largest firm by revenue. So we help them work more efficiently and effectively.
Richard Jacobs: What’s an example of a recent project? Are you looking to replace attorneys on their team or advise them? How does that work?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Typically an associate spends about 30% of their time researching and this is not the best use of their talent. The way a research typically goes, a client comes to a lawyer and has a legal issue, the lawyer has to research what the courts have said about that legal issue, so they open up a keyword database to find potentially relevant legal cases. Then they spend hours reading through hundreds of pages of cases just to find the passages that answer the legal questions. Ross does that for them so they can focus on more value added activity. So Ross isn’t a replacement for associates, it’s really an augmentation or a power up for human lawyers that already exist.
Richard Jacobs: So you know, if it’s so intelligent, what will it do? Will it be instructed by the attorney to read through a whole corpus of cases that are related and look for keywords or how does it work?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Lawyers ask Ross their question in natural language as they would ask a colleague who has experience on that matter and Ross will read through and find precise answers through that corpus of case law. In order to do this we developed our own legal AI framework called Legal Cognition. The way Legal Cognition works is it analyzes the relationships between and in the meaning of words in order to read through and understand millions of laws. That’s the high level of the magic behind Ross.
Richard Jacobs: Wow! What areas of law is the Ross AI tuned to work on? Anything? or only certain kinds?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: We started off with Bankruptcy, the reason being that in a Bankruptcy, there are many cost and time constraints as would make sense because a company is going bankrupt and people are trying to get as much money as they can back, so the way that we thought about it was that if we could help bankruptcy lawyers, we could help any lawyer. So we started at about a year ago on that project and it was successful, now we are moving into other areas of the law like Intellectual property, employment and labor, in short because our technology, we didn’t teach it what the laws were, we just taught it how to read the law, so it can be scaled to other domains.
Richard Jacobs: When you say it works in Bankruptcy and it was successful, what does that mean? Does it actually suggest motions to bring in a case? What does it suggest? Does it simply point out anything dealing with this type of asset or bankruptcy?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: When our customers or users work with Ross on their Bankruptcy cases and they have a research question. For example, like can a student loan debt be discharged in the event of a bankruptcy in New York city. Ross will bring back the exact passages where a judge or a lawyer in that case specifically addresses that question, so this is fundamentally different from what they’ll have to do where traditional legal research tools just bring back cases that contain the keywords and then you have to read through them in order to find those passages but oftentimes, most of the cases that you read through are completely irrelevant to you and you have to dispose of them.
Richard Jacobs: So when Ross brings back search results, are there other times when it’s bringing back way too many results or are you able to tune it that it’s bringing back enough results that are useful. What are some examples of what it’s brought back. Have you been able to tweak it?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: I don’t remember any search results off the top of my head but in a matter of minutes, Ross is able to place lawyers dead center on the issue. The way Ross works now is that it brings back the 10 most relevant passages from the law. Most of the time, in those 10 passages, you are going to have what you need to place you dead center on the issues. It serves as a basis for exploration in your research.
Richard Jacobs: How do you get all of the law into Ross to process? I mean there are so many states. Even within one area of the law, laws are often different by state and the case law around there, you know recent decisions. How do you gather all of this data to train it?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: That is a great question. We formed a partnership with a legal publisher that we’ll be announcing shortly that provides us to a pipeline of that data. That way, we can focus on artificial intelligence rather than data collection. Data collection is just very hard and it’s essential but we are focused on artificial intelligence. Kind of how we like to think about it is it’s like the petroleum industry. There are companies that focus on the exploration and mining for oil, then there are companies that refine petroleum and turn it into products like rubber and fuel and other petroleum based products.
Richard Jacobs: Are you able to give any estimation on the amount of data that is needed for your system to work properly?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: It could work on a corpus of any size but what I really think you are getting at is the machine learning fee because Ross learns how to answer questions by looking at a training data set of questions and answers which it tries to find patterns in and applies to new questions that come in. So Ross has been trained on tens of thousands of questions. So it has a lot of experience unto itself.
Richard Jacobs: What do you think about moving on to other areas of the law? Let’s say criminal defense and beyond just research, do you think that an AI may turn into an attorney itself or litigation support. Let me give you an example. Let’s say in a criminal case, using Ross at some point, we’ll be able to look at the fact pattern of the case and all the law before it and make recommendations like file a motion to do this and you’ll have a high likelihood of success or don’t do that or you should plead in this case because it’s a 90% likelihood that it’ll go best for you that way?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Absolutely. That is our vision and that’s what we are working towards. We don’t ever see Ross interacting or working without a human with clients. Humans will always be at the center of our system and will also always be that support team for that lawyer. We think that’s really important because if you look at the legal industry right now, 80% of people in the United States that need legal help can’t afford it and this is an unacceptable number and we are going to bring this number down. The constitution says liberty and justice for all, not liberty and justice for some. This is what drives us at Ross. We want to help the lawyers that we have now help more people.
Richard Jacobs: Makes sense. What’s your background? How did Ross come to be and how did you get into this?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: I’ve been interested in AI for a while. I was 18 when Watson beat the world champions at Jeopardy and for my generation, I think it was like watching NASA send a man to space, watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon. So that really inspired me. After that I read every single research paper that came out of that project and I continued to study artificial intelligence in University. When I was there I started to think more about how AI was going to change the world and then I remembered back to the struggle that my single mother endured under crippling legal bills when she and my father split up. I wanted to bring the power of AI to the legal industry. So that’s how the idea for Ross came about. I joined up with a fellow computer science classmate while studying at the University of Toronto called Parves Daouliou and a rising lawyer in Toronto called Andrew Rudolf of Canada who brought the intelligence to bring Ross to life.
Richard Jacobs: Back to how Ross works. Is it using natural language processing to understand the law itself?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Yes. Natural language processing techniques is a field in computer sciences where we try to understand and break down language.
Richard Jacobs: Were there any hiccups along the way in the development of it? Things that stuck out to you as curiosities or surprises as you’ve been grading the software?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Yeah. Language is an incredibly hard thing. I think what I’ve realized over the course of developing Ross is how absolutely amazing the human mind is, while trying to recreate it in a way. We do things without even thinking about it, we take them for granted. Simple things like, in a conversation to annul based on the context, who someone is talking about when they say they or him or who. Those are hard things that it comes so easy to us which is pretty incredible.
Richard Jacobs: What do you see in the next year or so that Ross will work on? What sort of cases or what areas of law? What’s the expansion plan?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Now that we have our foundation down, we are going to be marching steadily forward, expanding to other areas of the law, broadening Ross’ scope. We are going to be deepening Ross’ intelligence, the AI space is developing very quickly, a lot of great research is coming out of universities and we are going to apply that to what makes Ross smarter but also legal research is just the beginning for Ross. our legal cognition framework is something that we’ll be applying to other activities in a law firm like knowledge management, like helping law firms leverage the work that they’ve already done and stored inside their firm helping with due diligence, contract review and other things. So that is the direction that we are going in and we are really excited about it here.
Richard Jacobs: What do you think will be the toughest hurdles going forward? Are there any areas of the law, the things that an attorney does that you just don’t think Ross is going to be able to help with or to emulate or take over for?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Right off the bat, the things that comes to my mind is, right now, we are teaching Ross how to write memos or legal briefs but the one thing that it’s hard to teach a machine is writing persuasively because that takes a lot of context and understanding to your audience and understanding humans. So I think that even though Ross is helping with research and will help more and more with research. In fact, I think lawyers will always be ahead of AI in that aspect and so that’s one of many things but that’s the first thing that comes to my mind because it’s something that I was working on here with the team most recently.
Richard Jacobs: Do you think eventually, in courtrooms, an AI can be a third party. Let’s say, you have the judge, you have counsel, the attorneys on both sides. what if you had a 3rd entity or a 4th one, AI that anytime an issue came up in the courtroom, it could immediately quote all the applicable law based on what’s being said, this is actually what’s out there. So people wouldn’t need to leave and do research and come back. It would actually be in the courtroom. Do you ever see that happening?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Absolutely and I think it’s going to be coming real soon. I wouldn’t put it as it will be a 3rd party . AI would be something that would be for every party. The judge will be equipped with AI and then all the lawyers would be equipped with AI so we could get that real time information in the courtroom and we already know that courts are overloaded, so we could make our court systems more efficient that way and also fair. Yeah, so I think once that happens, that is going to become the standard. There is going to be no going back from that.
Richard Jacobs: Have you spoken with many lawyers about this? Is there resistance or fear of what your system can do or is it being welcomed so far?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: It is being welcomed but we have met people who are afraid of it but I think that just comes from a misunderstanding. I think it’s kind of like when there is a new guy on your team and you are trying to figure out where that person is going to fit on your team. You are trying to figure out whether that person is going to compete with you because you don’t really know your strengths or weaknesses relative to them. What we try to educate lawyers about is the strength of AI and also the strengths of humans and when they see that, their fears disappear and then what we say, on a macro level is that back to what I said, 80% of Americans cannot afford access to legal services meanwhile demand for legal services in the existing market is going down. So, law firms are looking for new markets to expand their business in. So having the support of AI will help law firms expand into this massive untapped market which is worth billions of dollars. Not only is it the economical thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. So what we like to say often is that AI isn’t the end of the law like people are saying, it’s the beginning of it.
Richard Jacobs: You said you think the need for attorneys is going down. What do you think is happening that is causing the need for attorneys to go down meanwhile there are just too many people unrepresented?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: There are a lot of different forces in the legal market today. There are more competitors out there, there are more law firms, there are non law firms like consulting firms who provide some form of legal services. Companies are building legal teams in house. Generally clients are smarter and they are more cost sensitive. One thing which is interesting is that clients increasingly refuse to pay for the time of an associate especially time that’s spent on research. so whereas doing research was once a source of revenue for a law firm, now it’s an operational cost. There are a lot of different pressures going on in the legal industry that’s causing them to rethink how they do business.
Richard Jacobs: Historically, in the legal profession, all the legal work itself obviously was handled or is handled by an attorney and there are licensing requirements for someone that is not an attorney can’t “practice” law but I guess your intelligent system would be okay. It wouldn’t be practicing, it would be providing research and the attorney is supposed to do the work or the legal representation itself.
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Exactly. Yeah.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. Very Good. Last question. what do you see as happening, I know you are partially incident but in the next 2 or 3 years because things move so fast. Where do you see Ross going?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Like I said that I think that although our system is very capable today and other AI systems that we are seeing right now. We are still in the very nascent stages but there is so much potential ahead of us. So I see Ross becoming more capable, being more able to help lawyers more. I see that partnership and that trust between machines and lawyers growing where it becomes commonplace where now we have a great group of earlier doctors who are innovators in this space but I think that in the next 2 years, AI in the legal industry will be mainstream.
Richard Jacobs: Wow. That’s a big change. Okay. So for attorneys that want to get in touch with Ross and maybe try out their system, use it for legal research, what are some ways to get in touch with your firm or you?
Jimoh Ovbiagele: You could visit our website at www.rossintelligence.com and if you’d like to speak to me, my email is email@example.com and you could also follow us on Twitter, our handle is @rossintel and my personal Twitter is @findingjimoh. It’s a play off Finding Nemo.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. Very Good. I appreciate your time and I’d say it’s very fascinating, very unusual. It’s going to be interesting what’s going to happen in the next few years so thanks for your time.
Jimoh Ovbiagele: Thank you, Richard.
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