We recently attended the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) in Austin. This is a conference which celebrates the innovators within the legal profession, and brings together legal information providers, many of whom are tackling the big question of how we should be applying computer science to the law to improve accessibility and efficiency of legal information research.
Following the conference, it was great to see Robert Ambrogi, founder of Law Sites, lawyer, and prominent speaker and writer on legal technology, attribute AALL as one of the leading legal technology conferences. We caught up with Robert to hear his thoughts on AALL, and the overall trends in legal research technology.
What most impressed me at AALL was not a single technological innovation, but rather the sum of innovation on display there. In many ways, the law library has become the epicenter of legal innovation. Legal research has become a dynamic field that encompasses artificial intelligence, analytics, and other advanced technology tools. As I wrote on my own blog, the AALL conference has evolved from a leading legal information conference to a leading legal technology conference.
Artificial intelligence is the technology that has the potential to most dramatically transform the delivery of legal services. AI is still in its infancy, so it is premature to say that it most impresses me today. But the potential of it cannot be denied. Over the next decade and beyond, AI will radically change the practice of law.
A major challenge to legal researchers is the lack of understanding of how search algorithms work. I was struck by a talk given at AALL by University of Colorado law library director Susan Nevelow Mart about the vastly different results delivered by different legal research platforms. Two factors exacerbate this. One is that legal research companies are not fully transparent about how their search algorithms work. The other is that many legal researchers lack sophistication about conducting research. They expect it to be as easy as a Google search. It is incumbent on legal research companies to be more open about their algorithms and it is incumbent on legal researchers to better educate themselves about what they’re dong.
For decades, advances in legal research focused on content. Now, much of that content is widely available, and advances are being driven by technology. Technology is turning case law into data and giving us new ways to see and analyze that data. Thanks to technology, we can now see legal principles in their broader context and be more strategic about how we apply them.
What strikes me are the tools that come along that no one would ever have thought of. At AALL this year, the product-of-the-year award went to CARA, a tool that analyzes briefs to reveal cases that are relevant but not cited. If you had asked 100 legal professionals what’s missing in legal research, I doubt any of them would have suggested something like CARA. But now that it exists, its value is readily apparent. Rather than predict the future of legal research, I would prefer to sit back and enjoy the show as it unfolds.