Now Lawyers Can Say, ‘Alexa, Track My Time’

You may think of Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa as a fun accessory for your home, allowing you to ask for a song or check the weather. But a new tool from Thomson Reuters might encourage you to take Alexa to your law office, where it can now track your billable hours and control time entry.

This week, Thomson Reuters Elite, part of Thomson Reuters Legal, introduced Workspace Assistant, a tool that allows lawyers to perform time management functions using the Amazon Echo or other Alexa-enabled device. Workspace Assistant works only with Workspace, an enterprise-level product for large law firms that integrates information from the financial and matter management platform 3E and other Elite and third-party products.

Workspace Assistant allows lawyers to enter and track billable hours using voice-only inputs. Functions include the input of billable hours to a specific client matter, the use of a timer to calculate and post time spent on a given client matter, and the ability to ask Alexa various questions that relate to billable hours.

Some of you may be wondering, “What about confidentiality? Isn’t Alexa listening to and recording much of what I say?” Already, we’ve seen prosecutors subpoena Amazon for Echo recordings.

In a statement about the new Workspace Assistant tool, Eric Ruud, managing director of Thomson Reuters Legal Enterprise Solutions, addressed this concern. “The function is hosted by Elite, so it’s just a low touch into the Amazon environment,” he said. “Alexa listens and interacts with time entry and reporting, but always within the firm’s security walls.”

Workspace Assistant can be downloaded from the Amazon Alexa store. There is no fee to use it, and Thomson Reuters says it is easy to set up.

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  • Bill Kearney

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Alexa voice recognition is NOT handled locally. It’s /always/ being shipped up to the Amazon Web Services cloud. AWS is not on-site. So unless there’s an ‘on-site’ version of AWS for Alexa then it’s more definitely NOT being “always witin the firm’s security walls”.

    Not that this is a ‘bad thing’ but let’s not mislead people here about what actually happens.

    • qning

      So you just anonymize the command…

      “Hey Alexa, start tracking time for client matter 56432.65873.”

      “OK, I’ll start tracking time for client matter 56432.65833.”

      What could go wrong?

      • Bill Kearney

        Right, because everyone knows all of their client matter numbers. I mean, if you’re going to make this easy then it ought to be simpler than that. Of course with that comes potential security issues.

        The article mentions being ‘always within’ and I don’t think that’s accurate. Using cloud services is always going to have a degree of information sharing involved. But it does a disservice to the target audience here to claim something when that may not be what’s actually happening.

        I think being able to use systems like this to ease the drudgery of time tracking is a great idea. Just know what you’re getting into with regard to who’s going to have access to that information. Don’t just ‘assume’ it’s secure.

        • Bob Ambrogi

          Actually, the article doesn’t say “always within.” The quote says it’s a “low touch into the Amazon environment.” So clearly part of the communication is with Amazon.

          • Bill Kearney

            “In a statement about the new Workspace Assistant tool, Eric Ruud, managing director of Thomson Reuters Legal Enterprise Solutions, addressed this concern. “The function is hosted by Elite, so it’s just a low touch into the Amazon environment,” he said. “Alexa listens and interacts with time entry and reporting, but always within the firm’s security walls.””

            To add some background, I’m familiar with the Alexa developer software environment and networking security practices. The Alexa framework has lots of great features. Not sure that end-to-end enterprise security is at all one of them.

            So, where’s the definition of “low-touch” and “always within the firm’s security walls”. Or are we playing fast-and-loose with what we’re calling “firm’s security walls”?

            Puff pieces don’t always get things like this right. Best not to have people assuming something, especially in light of risks involving cloud services.

          • qning

            The “always within” comment was referring to the firm’s security walls. Maybe this deployment has Alexa confined behind the firm’s firewall? Like http://stackoverflow.com/questions/37981362/how-to-run-amazon-echo-inside-a-private-network-without-aws

        • qning

          That’s why I intentionally typo’ed Alexa’s response. I was being sarcastic. This thing is fraught with peril as they say.

          Anyone who has Alexa in their law office is violating at least two ethics rules.

          But kudos to Thomson for trying. Being a first mover on the API can only help.

          • Bill Kearney

            Agreed, it’s an encouraging sign to see a player that understands the market innovating with new technologies like this.

            It’s even more encouraging to see firms understanding the risks and seeking ways to mitigate them.

  • 55YearBroncoFan

    The next Alexa function will be: “Alexa, review my paralegals’ hours and cut their time. Then, Alexa, schedule them for a meeting. In that meeting yell at them for not billing enough time.”

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