Ever since LexisNexis acquired the legal research startup Ravel last June, its plan has been to integrate Ravel’s caselaw visualization technology and data analytics into Lexis Advance. Earlier this year, I published a preview of the integration of the visualization technology. Today, LexisNexis is formally launching that integration and beginning to roll it out to customers.

The name given to this new tool within Lexis Advance is Ravel View. It looks and functions very much like Ravel did as a standalone platform, but with one significant difference — the Ravel visualizations now include Shepard’s citation information.

Ravel’s concept all along has been to display search results visually, along a cluster map that shows the relationships among cases and their relative importance to each other. This visual depiction provides researchers with a quicker understanding of the overall landscape of relevant cases and also helps identify the cases that are most important.

In the standard search-results view, click the icon in the upper right corner to switch to Ravel View.

Now in Lexis Advance, when a user conducts a query, the default results page will remain the traditional list of relevant cases. But the user will be able to click an icon in the upper rate of the screen to toggle the visual view, which displays the cluster map on the left side of the screen and the list of cases on the right.

Ravel View shows search results visually, with cases represented by circles on a cluster map.

Ravel View maps the top 75 cases relevant to the user’s search. Each case is represented as a circle, with lines between circles showing the citations between cases. This visualization shows:

  • Citation frequency. The bigger the circle, the more frequently that case has been cited by other cases, a measure of its importance.
  • Chronology. Ravel View maps cases across time, revealing trends and patterns in the development of precedent.
  • Jurisdiction. The vertical axis shows the Supreme Court at the top, followed by federal and state courts below. This shows the governing relationships among cases based on their court hierarchy.
  • Relevance. The higher a circle appears within each jurisdiction band, the more relevant the case is to the search.

When a user clicks on any circle, Ravel View displays the case name and citation relationships, and elevates the case to the top of the search results in the right panel so users can read the full  description.

Hover over a line connecting two cases to show the Shepard’s treatment.

The incorporation of Shepard’s comes by way of the lines connecting each case. The lines are colored green, yellow or red to correlate to Shepard’s signal colors for positive and negative treatments. By hovering over a line, the user can display the language from the citing case that illustrates why Shepard’s assigned that treatment.

Ravel View will become available to every Lexis Advance subscriber on a phased-in basis over the next couple of weeks. By mid-July, it should be available to everyone.

Ravel CEO Daniel Lewis, who conceived the visual legal research platform while a second-year student at Stanford Law School, told me earlier this week that he is particularly excited about the integration of the Shepard’s citator information into Ravel’s visualizations.

“The highlight is the cool combination of taking the technology we had and adding it to the content and expertise that Lexis has to create this mashup,” he said.

Still to come is the integration of Ravel’s analytics into Lexis Advance. Ravel’s suite of analytics included court, judge and case analytics. The first of those integrations will come out over the next couple months, he said, in the form of a new product on the Lexis platform. That effort is being led by Ravel cofounder Nick Reed.

For now, Ravel continues to operate as a standalone platform. But once the integration is complete, Ravel’s customers will be transitioned to Lexis, Lewis said. “The things you liked in Ravel you will be able to do better in Lexis,” he said.

Daniel Lewis was just in his second year at Stanford Law School when he had an idea for a different way to do legal research, as I recounted in this 2014 ABA Journal article. His idea was to display search results visually, along a cluster map that shows the relationships among cases and their relative importance to each other. Shortly after he graduated in 2012, he and classmate Nicholas Reed had launched the legal research platform derived from his idea, Ravel Law. Last June, five years after its founding, Ravel was acquired by legal research giant LexisNexis.

By that time, Ravel had also developed a suite of analytics that included court analytics, judge analytics and case analytics. At the time of the acquisition, Jeff Pfeifer, VP of product management for LexisNexis, told me that the acquisition — which followed the acquisition of another legal analytics company, Lex Machina — was part of the company’s broader vision “to create the data-driven lawyer of the future.”

From the outset, the plan was to integrate Ravel’s data visualization technology and data analytics into Lexis Advance and other Lexis products, and to bring those integrations to market starting within the first quarter of 2018.

They are, it seems, right on schedule. At Legalweek in New York this week, I met with Pfeifer and Lewis and saw a preview of the integration of Ravel’s visualization technology into Lexis Advance. The integration is scheduled to be released early in March, said Pfeifer, who reaffirmed the company’s commitment to enabling “data-driven law.”

Preview of Integration

The two images that follow are a preview of this integration.

In the first image, you see what will be the default view after a user conducts a search. This looks much like it would look today, but with one notable change. The circle to the right of each result is what Pfeifer jokingly called the “Shepard’s donut.” It uses the colors of Shepard’s signal indicators to give the user a quick visual overview of how the case has been treated in subsequent citations.

By clicking View Mode in the upper right corner of the screen, the user can switch over to the search visualization mode based on the Ravel integration. This will look familiar to anyone who has ever seen Ravel. It uses the same cluster map of larger and smaller bubbles showing connections among cases and relative importance of cases, all arranged along a timeline.

One notable addition to the visualization is Shepard’s citation data. Now, the lines connecting cases include a colored dot, with the dot reflecting the Shepard’s signal indicator. Click on the dot to bring up a selection of text from the citing case that shows the basis for the Shepard’s treatment.

Analytics on Experts

As I said, the visualization will become available in Lexis Advance in March. In a second phase, scheduled for May, Ravel’s analytics tools will be incorporated into Lexis Advance. This will allow Ravel’s court, judge and case analytics to be used within Advance, and will extend the reach of those analytics to a broader selection of state, as well as federal, trial courts.

The May release will also use Ravel’s analytics to provide a greater depth of information about expert witnesses.  expand the analytics to include expert witnesses. A current product, LexisNexis Litigation Profile Suite, will be replaced by an updated product with a new name — as yet to be decided — that marries Ravel’s analytics with the existing profiles to provide more information on experts, such as how often they have been challenged, how often they testify, and more. The new Profile Suite product will also have more in-depth analytics on parties, judges and neutrals.

(Profile Suite will continue to be available for current customers who prefer not to move to the new product, Pfeifer said.)

Harvard Case Data

Before its acquisition by LexisNexis, Ravel had embarked on a project with Harvard Law School to digitize all U.S. case law. As I reported at the time of the acquisition, both Harvard and LexisNexis committed to completing that project, carried out under the auspices of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.

The scanning of all those cases wrapped up nearly a year ago, but the final clean-up and digitization was just completed, Pfeifer and Lewis told me. Those cases have now been added to the Lexis Advance database. The total collection from Harvard was 5-7 million documents, and a “few hundred thousand” of them were cases not previously included in Lexis, Pfeifer said. That brought the number of case documents in Lexis Advance from 13.5 million to nearly 14 million.

In addition, later this year, Lexis Advance will be adding PDFs of all the cases from the Harvard collection. These include cases from before the American Revolution up to 2016.

Part of the agreement between Ravel and Harvard was that access to these cases would remain free to everyone. After the acquisition, LexisNexis and Harvard confirmed that commitment. Pfeifer and Lewis said this week that the Ravel website will be maintained as the primary site for the public to access those cases.

 

LexisNexis is today announcing the launch of Lexis Answers, a feature that brings artificial intelligence to the Lexis Advance legal research platform. With Lexis Answers, a researcher can ask a natural-language question and get back the single-best answer in the form of what Lexis is calling a Lexis Answer Card.

LexisNexis says that Lexis Answers uses powerful machine learning, cognitive computing and advanced natural language processing technologies to deliver the single best and most authoritative answer, in addition to comprehensive but more precise search results.

“Lexis Answers is designed to help a lawyer get more complete information from a query by parsing the query to understand its intent and then delivering a precise answer to the question that’s been asked,” Jeff Pfeifer, vice president, product management, told me on Friday.

The answer is delivered in the form of an Answer Card, which both provides the answer and links to the specific text within the document that is the source of the answer. In addition, Lexis Answers suggests related topics and concepts to help the researcher expand the search.

Lexis Answers is available to all Lexis Advance subscribers at no extra cost. Users need do nothing to activate it — if the user enters a query in Lexis Advance that is suitable for Lexis Answers, the Answer Card will appear as a query result.

Parsing the User’s Intent

With today’s launch, Lexis Answers works only with questions that fall into one of five common categories: standards of review, burdens of proof, elements of claims, standard legal definitions, and core legal doctrines.

For example, the question, “What is the burden of proof for fraud in New York?” would produce an Answer Card with the specific answer, as well as standard search results and suggestions of related topics.

“Previously we would have run that query as a natural language or Boolean search,” said Pfeifer. “Now we parse the language of the query to identify the user’s intent so we can provide a specific answer.”

Users are not required to enter fully formed questions, Pfeifer said. Rather, the machine learning application parses the query and dynamically mines the underlying data set for the answer. Answers are not pre-processed and stored, but answered in real time.

“Because the user’s query is linguistically dissected as opposed to term-matched, we can present a better answer as well as related terms and concepts,” Pfeifer said. “Instead of dissecting a query, we’re understanding linguistically the intent of the query.”

The machine learning that underlies Lexis Answers has been trained using content from case law and legal dictionaries. Over time, it will be expanded to include additional content.

Related Concepts

For Lexis Answers, Lexis has constructed a Knowledge Graph – a graph of relationships and associated concepts – that helps it present recommendations of related legal concepts. (This is the “see also” section in the image at the top of this post.) In the future, the graph will display related entities, documents and other material.

“The knowledge graph grows and relationships are created over time as additional content is processed by our machine learning algorithms,” Pfeifer said.

I have not yet seen or used Lexis Answers, but as Pfiefer described it to me, it sounded similar to ROSS Intelligence, which has garnered much attention in the past year for its AI-powered legal research. Both Lexis Answers and ROSS use AI to help researchers find the “best” answer based on natural language queries. (I also have not used ROSS, although I’ve asked the company to provide me with access or a demo.) Pfiefer also hasn’t seen ROSS, but he agreed that the two research tools may be similar in that they are both based on machine learning technologies that try to map the intent of the query against a set of trained data.

More AI to Come

Lexis Answers was developed over the last 18 months at LexisNexis’s Raleigh Technology Center, where a team of data scientists, computational linguists, advanced engineering and product management professionals are developing various AI products for lawyers. LexisNexis says that it will be releasing additional AI products throughout this year and beyond.

Future development of Lexis Answers will also benefit from LexisNexis’s recent acquisition of Ravel Law, Pfeifer said. Already, the LexisNexis Raleigh team and Ravel’s development team have started working together and plans are underway to add new question types to Lexis Answers based on Ravel’s court and judge analytics.

“We’re excited about this because it really represents the beginnings of a fairly foundational transformation in the way people query large data sets,” Pfeifer said. “In the past, the focus has been on constructing Boolean searches or using the right keywords. Now, we’re at a pivotal point in interacting with large data sets. The interaction becomes more dialog-like — the interaction will be more like human interaction.”

Lexis Answers is LexisNexis’s first foray into cognitive computing, but Pfeifer said he cares less about labels such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and more about the utility being delivered to the end users.

“The end result for the attorneys should simply be better answers to their questions,” Pfeifer said. “The idea that it has to be a machine-learning application is less relevant than that the user of the machine-learning technology is delivered a better answer.”

As I reported yesterday, LexisNexis has acquired legal-research start-up Ravel Law. One of Ravel’s most significant projects over the past two years has been its collaboration with Harvard Law School to digitize Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law, said to be the most comprehensive and authoritative database of American cases anywhere outside the Library of Congress.

As I reported when the digitization project started, part of the agreement between Ravel and Harvard was that access to these cases would remain free to everyone. Ravel could sell access to advanced tools for case analytics and research, but the basic ability to search and read these cases would be free. LexisNexis said yesterday that it was committed to maintaining that free access.

Today, Harvard released a statement confirming that public access to these cases would continue. The statement quotes Jonathan Zittrain, vice dean for library and information resources:

We embarked on this project knowing that a startup as smart and bold as Ravel Law could be acquired by any number of businesses, including those long involved in commercial legal research. Our agreements were inked with these possibilities in mind, and key benefits and obligations of those agreements will now flow to LexisNexis. We look forward to completing this project according to its long-planned timetable, and to exploring other opportunities with anyone interested in promoting free and open access to primary legal materials, which in turn promotes the cause of justice.

This is as I suspected — there were contractual commitments to keep this information public and LexisNexis will inherit those commitments.

In major legal-industry news, LexisNexis Legal & Professional today announced its acquisition of Ravel Law, the legal research, analytics and visualization platform that empowers users to contextualize and interpret large amounts of legal information to uncover valuable insights.

Rumors of the impending acquisition have been circulating for weeks. This morning, I spoke with Jeff Pfeifer, VP of product management for LexisNexis, and Dan Lewis, CEO of Ravel Law, who provided details of the acquisition.

Notably, the acquisition moves LexisNexis further in a direction it has been heading for a few years now of expanding its suite of legal analytics products. In addition to its own analytics products, LexisNexis MedMal Navigator and LexisNexis Verdict & Settlement Analyzer, LexisNexis last year acquired Intelligize and Lex Machina.

“This acquisition builds on investments we’ve been making to deliver deeper analysis for today’s lawyer,” Pfeifer said. “Our vision is to create the data-driven lawyer of the future. Daniel and I deeply share that same passion and deeply share that interest in driving new insights out of technology that were not previously available.”

Pfeifer said LexisNexis will be fully integrating Ravel Law’s judicial analytics, data visualization technology and unique case law PDF content from the Harvard Law Library into Lexis Litigation Profile Suite and Lexis Advance. Those first integrated offerings should come to market in early 2018, Pfeifer said.

After acquisition, Ravel Law’s analytics offerings will continue to expand and be fully integrated into Lexis Litigation Profile Suite, delivering new insights around judicial behavior that complement the product’s current expert witness intelligence, LexisNexis said.

Additionally, Ravel Law’s case law data visualization tool will be integrated into Lexis Advance, expanding the platform’s current visualization offerings.

“For our part, one of the things I’m most excited about is not to consider this a finish line for Ravel,” said Lewis, “but rather a next step, and through LexisNexis’s global reach to extend our reach to millions more people than we otherwise could.”

Since 2015, Ravel Law and Harvard Law School have been engaged in a joint project to digitize all U.S. case law. All of that case law content and PDF images of original case opinions will become part of the already expansive case law collection available from LexisNexis. Ravel had committed to maintain free and open access to that historical collection, and LexisNexis says it is committed to continuing that access.

“LexisNexis is truly leading the development of the field of Legal Analytics—through our content, tools, and engineering expertise,” said Jeff Pfeifer, vice president of product management at LexisNexis. “With the acquisition of Ravel Law, we’re gaining more than technology and content—we’re also gaining exceptionally talented people. The Ravel Law team has a proven track record of innovation, and we’re excited to have them on board.”

“The Ravel Law team is excited to join LexisNexis for many reasons, chief among them is that we share a vision for the role of technology in the practice of law in which innovative, highly effective and easy to use tools help lawyers make data driven decisions,” said Daniel Lewis, CEO of Ravel Law. “We look forward to bringing our expertise and technology to that effort at LexisNexis.”

Ravel Law and its team will continue to be based in San Francisco. All Ravel Law employees have been offered positions to remain with the company.

I will have more on this later.

The legal research service Ravel Law today announced the launch of a new feature, Firm Analytics, that provides insights on law firms’ litigation histories that can be used for competitive intelligence and research into firms’ litigation activity.

I am traveling today and have not seen this new feature. Ravel CEO Daniel Lewis says it can be used to:

  • Understand a firm’s litigation history by case type, venue, motion win rate, and judge.
  • Rank and compare firms by their case volume and motion win rate across more than 30 practice areas and specific venues.
  • Create custom comparisons and reports using an array of variables.

By way of example, Firm Analytics can be used both by firms and by in-house counsel to gain insights into firms’ experience and performance. It could also be used by an associate working on an employment law case to quickly find the previous employment law cases the association’s firm handled, understand the motions involved and past win rates, and discover the arguments that worked best.

Lewis says that Firm Analytics provides a new Ravel framework for integrating with firms’ internal document management systems, making possible the combination of public and private material for an even more comprehensive and seamless research experience.

Firm Analytics also provides rankings of firms across key variables, including practice area, case volume, venue experience, and motion win rates. These leaderboards allow comparisons of firms across substantive performance metrics.

This is Ravel’s fourth analytics product. Last year, it launched Judge Analytics, Court Analytics, and Motion Analytics.

 

RavelCourtAnalytics1

The legal research service Ravel Law, which last year launched Judge Analytics to provide analysis of how individual federal court judges make decisions, today is launching Court Analytics, a similar feature that applies analytics to an entire court, including all its cases and judges.

(For more on Ravel Law’s Judge Analytics, see my posts here and here.)

With Court Analytics, you can see, for example, a court’s most-cited opinions and judges, as well as the opinions and courts it most frequently cites. It also lets you identify how courts and judges have ruled in the past on particular issues or motion types.

Court Analytics includes the ability to apply filters by motion types, keywords, topics and date ranges. There are a number of predefined filters by topics of law and motion types, but you can also enter any keyword to apply it as a filter.

To use Court Analytics, you begin by selecting a court. Thank’s to Ravel’s digitization partnership with Harvard Law School, its case law collection includes all federal and state courts.  (Go here for a full description of Ravel’s court and date coverage.)

RavelCourtAnalytics2

Once you select a court, you come to a page showing its opinions arranged by how many times they’ve been cited. In the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, the most-cited case is U.S. v. Zannino, 895 F.2d 1 (1990), which has been cited by 1,476 opinions.

I can move away from this opinions view by selecting a tab labeled Analytics. This gives me three sets of analytics:

  • Opinions, showing the opinions — from whatever court — that the 1st Circuit most frequently cites in its own opinions.
  • Courts, showing the courts that the 1st Circuit most frequently cites. As you might expect, it most frequently cites itself, followed by the Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit and the 5th Circuit.
  • Judges, showing the judges whose opinions are most frequently cited by the 1st Circuit.

A third tab, About, brings up a list of sitting and retired judges from the court. Select any judge to bring up the same types of analytics discussed above — most-frequently cited opinions of that judge and the opinions, courts and judges that judge most frequently cites.

At any point using any of these analytics, you can apply any of the various filters or multiple filters. If you want to see how a judge or a court has ruled on employment law matters, select that filter to show only those cases.

How would an attorney use these analytics? I put that question last week to Daniel Lewis, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Ravel Law. He described two primary use cases:

  • Forum comparison. If an attorney is forum shopping and wants to compare how different jurisdictions have dealt with a particular issue or motion.
  • Argument crafting. If an attorney is arguing a matter to a court, the argument can be made more persuasive by knowing which authorities that court or judge finds most persuasive.

“Attorneys will be able to use it to see how a court has dealt with cases on a particular topic or motion, what they key cases are they should know about, and the particular rules, standards and language that are most important in that venue,” Lewis said.

Although basic access to Ravel Law is free, its Court Analytics and Judge Analytics features are available only to paid subscribers. Ravel does not publish its pricing on its website but requires customers to call for  information on subscription plans.

Later today, Ravel will be hosting a launch webcast to share more details about Court Analytics. The webcast is today (Dec. 5, 2016) at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Register here.

CowleyvPulsifer
A Massachusetts case from 1884.

An update today on the joint project of Harvard Law School and Ravel Law to digitize Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law, which they say is the most comprehensive and authoritative database of American cases anywhere outside the Library of Congress.

Today Ravel posted the complete digitized court opinions of Massachusetts and Delaware, adding to the New York and California cases already posted. This means that, for the first time ever, the full collections of these states’ cases are now available online and available to anyone for free.

Ravel plans to have all the states digitized and online by early in 2017.

“We’re on a quickening march of releasing caselaw,” Ravel CEO Daniel Lewis told me yesterday. “We’re digitizing through the rest of this year and into early 2017. We’re going state by state.”

Ravel has also started digitizing early federal case law from the 1800s and early 1900s and will be posting that online as well, Lewis said.

As Ravel adds new cases, it also incorporates them into other parts of its legal-research platform, including its Judge Analytics feature, which allows subscribers to explore analytics showing how judges make decisions.

Access to the Harvard cases through Ravel is free to anyone. Ravel charges a subscription for access to its advanced features such as analytics.

Harvard and Ravel call their joint project the “Free the Law” initiative. While Harvard is providing the cases, Ravel is providing millions of dollars to support the scanning project.

JudgeScreenshot

Judge analytics is the new black. Or at least that’s what I wrote in a post last summer that discussed several products that could do things such as help you predict how a particular judge might rule on an issue or which cases that judge was likely to find most persuasive.

One of the products I covered in that post was Ravel Law’s Judge Analytics, which promised to provide “never-before-available information and analysis about how individual federal court judges make decisions.”

Today, Ravel Law introduced an update to its Judge Analytics product that adds both new content and new functionality. The update adds:

  • More judges. In addition to all federal judges, Judge Analytics now includes appellate judges from New York, California, Florida, Illinois and Delaware. These additions were enabled as a result of new content added to Ravel through the Harvard-Ravel digitization project. (See my posts here and here.) More states will be added in the coming months, according to Ravel CEO Daniel Lewis.
  • Greater functionality. The tool now provides the ability to dive even deeper into a judge’s history, Lewis says, exploring how they have ruled on motions and specific topics, with detail about what they grant and deny.
  • New design and faster speed. “We took a fresh look at Judge Analytics and created a clean, new design, along with a major speed increase,” Lewis says.

A key value of the service is its ability to identify rules, cases and specific language that a judge commonly cites. It also shows you the cases a judge has authored together with analyses of other judges who have influenced them.

Although basic access to Ravel Law is free, Judge Analytics is available only with Ravel’s Elite-level subscription plan. Pricing for that plan is not listed on Ravel’s website.

What have been 2015’s most important developments in legal technology? For the past two years, I’ve posted my picks of the top developments in legal tech (2014, 2013). With another year under our belts, it’s time to look back at 2015.

What follows are my picks for the year’s most important legal technology developments. As in past years, the numbers are not meant to be rankings — all of these are important in their own ways. I also refer you back to my prior years’ posts, as much of what I said in them remains true today.

1. Case Law Gets Democratized.

democritizationTo my mind, the biggest legal technology story of the year was the joint announcement by Harvard Law School and Ravel Law of their Free the Law project to digitize and make available to the public for free Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law – said to be the most comprehensive and authoritative database of American law and cases available anywhere outside the Library of Congress. As someone who has covered legal and information technology for more than two decades, this was a day I’d long hoped would arrive. Harvard’s vice dean for library and information resources, Jonathan Zittrain, summed up the significance better than I could when he said: “Libraries were founded as an engine for the democratization of knowledge, and the digitization of Harvard Law School’s collection of U.S. case law is a tremendous step forward in making legal information open and easily accessible to the public.”

This news comes at a time when legal-research start-ups continue to develop innovative ways to access and contextualize legal research. Ravel Law is one example, with its visualization tools that show the connections and relationships among cases. Casetext is another, which just this year introduced such innovations as its crowdsourced citator and its LegalPad writing and publishing tool. Developments such as these are helping to realize a long-held vision of the Internet – that it will make the law more accessible and comprehensible to everyone.

2. Analytics Take Center Stage.

Drury_Lane_1674The second-biggest legal technology story of 2015 was the acquisition of Lex Machina by LexisNexis. It was a significant deal in itself, but even more so for what it signals about the direction in which legal technology is headed. Why would one of the world’s most-established legal information and technology companies want this small, six-year-old Silicon Valley start-up? The answer, in a word: Analytics. Lex Machina has developed and refined sophisticated analytics that open new windows into court data. It takes data from the federal courts’ PACER system – dockets, court filings, orders – and lets users extract information, patterns and trends that would otherwise be invisible. It provides insights into lawyers, law firms, litigants, judges and courts that inform decision making and strategy.

So far, Lex Machina has done this for only intellectual property law, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. And there is no reason to confine such analytics to court data. There are troves of freely available government information that could harbor all sorts of invaluable information for legal professionals. Even beyond government data, analytics are already being used by lawyers in e-discovery, budgeting, fee negotiations, settlement negotiations, and a host of other applications. Lex Machina is by no means the only legal company in this space – PacerPro recently launched a new analytics tool called Litigant Profiling and Ravel Law offers its Judge Analytics – but its acquisition underscores the growing significance of data analytics in law.

3. The Duty of Technology Competence Goes Wide.

heads-in-the-sandIn 2012, when the American Bar Association formally approved a change to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology, I described it as a sea change. But the Model Rules are merely models. Unless and until they are adopted by the states, they have no binding effect on lawyers. It is significant, therefore, that 20 states have now adopted what I call the duty of technology competence.  In 2015 alone, the Model Rule was adopted in nine states and became effective in another two that had adopted it late in 2014.

Why does this matter? Because there is no more hiding from technology. You can no longer competently practice law without at least a rudimentary understanding of technology, the Internet and social media. You need to know enough to recognize what you don’t know and to withdraw or bring on help when circumstances warrant. It is safe to say that, a year from now, the majority of states will have adopted the duty of technology competence. Even in states that do not, courts are increasingly signaling their impatience with lawyers who lack basic technology skills. There can be no more Luddites in law.

4. Technology-Assisted Review Becomes Mainstream.

computerman2It was less than four years ago that U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck issued the first-ever court decision to approve the use of technology-assisted review in e-discovery. It has been barely six years since the terms “technology-assisted review” and “predictive coding” first began to see use within the legal profession’s vernacular. Yet this year, Judge Peck issued another TAR decision in which he declared TAR’s use to be so widely accepted by judges that it is now “black letter law.” Whereas lawyers were initially reluctant to use TAR for fear of inconsistent results or judicial rejection, 2015 was the year in which TAR took root in the mainstream of legal technology.

The reasons for this were both practical and scientific. As its name suggests, TAR uses technology to assist in the process of reviewing electronic documents for discovery. “Assist” is a wimpy word here, because TAR can dramatically reduce the numbers of documents lawyers ever have to set their eyes on – and therefore dramatically reduce both the time and cost of discovery. With cases today sometimes requiring review of millions of documents, TAR’s impact can be huge. Those savings in time and cost form the practical argument for its use. On top of that, scientific evidence supports its effectiveness. The seminal study on this, published in 2011, showed that TAR was not only more effective than human review at finding relevant documents, but also much cheaper – producing at least a 50-fold savings in cost over manual review. Subsequent studies have reinforced these findings and shown that a particular TAR protocol called continuous active learning is superior to other forms of TAR.

This was the year in which these factors – judicial approval, practical benefits and scientific evidence – gelled and made TAR a mainstream technology.

5. Artificial Intelligence Comes to Legal Research.

Efile RobotIn the early days of 2015, a team of students at the University of Toronto created a start-up to bring artificial intelligence to legal research. Using IBM’s Watson – the computer most famous for winning Jeopardy! In 2011 – as their platform, they launched ROSS Intelligence, an AI system that they say can answer lawyers’ natural-language legal-research questions, such as, “Can a bankrupt company still conduct business?”

Initially, ROSS “learned” only a small subset of Canadian law. But in July, after receiving funding from Y Combinator, its developers moved, at least temporarily, to Silicon Valley and set their sights on the much-larger U.S. market. In addition, the global law firm Dentons announced that it was making an undisclosed investment in the company. ROSS’s developers say it can provide a lawyer with a highly relevant answer to a legal research question posed in natural language. The more it does, the more it learns and the better it gets. It can also monitor legal developments for changes that can affect your case, instead of requiring you to monitor a torrent of legal news.

Will ROSS and its progeny someday replace lawyers for legal research? I have no doubt it will at least someday become an integral tool in law practice. Whatever the future of AI in law, 2015 can be recorded as the year it got started.

6. Podcasts Enjoy a Resurgence.

1200px-Broadcasting_a_radio_play_at_NBC_studioIn a post last March, I wrote about The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Legal Podcasts. “They were the next big thing. Then they weren’t. And now they are again,” I said, looking back over the 10 years I’ve had my own podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, on the Legal Talk Network. If podcasts were looking hot earlier this year, when New York magazine proclaimed the Great Podcast Renaissance, they have only gotten hotter as the year has progressed, to the point where the Nieman Journalism Lab is predicting that podcasting is about to explode.

I’m not sure I’d use the word “explode” to describe podcasts in the legal sector, but they are clearly taking off. In fact, for the 12th edition of his annual Blawggie Awards last week, Dennis Kennedy decided not to talk at all about blogs and focus exclusively on podcasts.  Once a regular blogger, Kennedy wrote that he now sees his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report, “as the primary outlet for what he was once writing on my blog.” At the Legal Talk Network, which hosts my podcast, there are now a variety of podcasts on a range of topics, including podcasts from both the ABA Journal and the blog Above the Law. In the post from March that I referenced above, I listed a number of legal podcasts that had launched just since the start of 2015. If you do not already listen to legal podcasts, it is a good time to start.

7. Microsoft Re-Surfaces.

Surface-Pro-4Microsoft products have long dominated the legal profession. More than 90 percent of lawyers use some version of the Windows operating system and most lawyers use Microsoft Office for word processing and email. So I do not mean to suggest that Microsoft was in any way losing its footing among lawyers. However, there were indications that the tide was slowly turning against it. Windows 8 was so unpopular that lawyers clung to their earlier Windows 7 or even Windows XP operating systems (until Microsoft this year finally pulled the plug on XP). And as the widespread popularity of iPhones and iPads introduced lawyers to the iOS environment, some lawyers were beginning to migrate their entire offices to Apple systems.

But two developments this year brought Microsoft back into its long-favored status. One was the official release in July of Windows 10. It was hugely successful compared to past OS roll-outs. Not only were there no major glitches, but virtually everyone seemed to love the new architecture. Windows 10 took the best of Windows 7 and 8 and achieved and achieved a truly better, faster and more modern operating system.

The other development was the surprising (to me, anyway) popularity of the Microsoft Surface line of tablets/PCs among lawyers. It is being adopted by lawyers in a range of practices, from a local prosecutor’s office to one of the world’s largest law firms, Clifford Chance, which is buying the Surface Pro 4 for all its lawyers. And it is getting good reviews from sources such as Daniel Siegel in Law Practice magazine and Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy in their Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.

On top of those developments, Microsoft has been helping third-party vendors to develop legal-specific applications for its Office 365, such as the LawToolBox court deadlines app, and its communications platform formerly known as Lync (now Skype for Business) has proven popular with law firms. All in all, for Microsoft in legal, it’s been a good year.

8. The Legal Industry Gets an IPO.

ipoFor all the activity in recent years in legal technology innovation and start-ups, there has been a dearth of legal technology IPOs. That changed this year with the IPO in June of AppFolio, the Goleta, Calif.-based company that owns MyCase, the cloud-based practice-management platform, in which it raised some $74 million. I could not think of a major IPO in the legal industry in recent memory until my friend Sean Doherty, writing at Above the Law, mentioned the 2013 IPO of e-discovery and litigation support company UBIC.

Of course, even AppFolio has only a partial connection to the legal industry. Its core business is a cloud-based property-management platform for residential and commercial property managers. With its IPO, it planned to expand that business into other industry verticals. The IPO was expected to have little impact on the MyCase part of the business, Jason Randall, executive vice president of AppFolio, told me earlier this year. “We were marching on a mission before the IPO and we’re marching on the same mission after the IPO, which is giving our customers a great product to use. We’ve been heavily investing in that since day one and that hasn’t changed.”

Still, it signifies the strength of the legal market for investment. As Randall put it when I spoke with him: “We believe in this market. By buying MyCase to begin with and heavily investing in it, as we have and will continue to do, it shows our confidence that this is a great market to be in and that it is one we are committed to.”

9. Legal Blogging Hits a Plateau.

colorado-plateauAs was the case with Mark Twain 118 years ago, reports of blogging’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  But even if blogging isn’t dead, it may have hit a plateau. According to the ABA’s 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report, growth in blogging among lawyers is virtually stagnant. Overall, the percentages of law firms with blogs and of lawyers who personally blog have remained largely unchanged over the past three years. Similar findings were reported by the 2015 Am Law 200 Blog Benchmark Report, a report on large law firm blogs prepared by the blog company LexBlog. While it reported a significant increase in large-firm blogs since 2007, it found only minor growth in the last three years.

However, it would be a mistake to equate the number of blogs with the importance of blogs. As I told the ABA Journal recently and wrote here earlier this year, I see blogs as more important than ever within the legal industry. I’ve cited the prominence and influence of SCOTUSblog so many times that they’re getting sick of hearing me mention them. But ask yourself where lawyers are turning for information. In increasing numbers, they are turning to blogs. Yes, some blogs are dying. But others are thriving. And meanwhile, established legal news publishers are shuttering publications or rolling through owners. Blogging will continue to evolve in the years ahead, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

10. Practice Management Continues to Expand.

practicemanagement2You would think that I would be done talking about practice management. After all, in my 2013 post, I wrote it was the year in which practice management “went mainstream,” thanks to the growing crop of sophisticated and established cloud-based practice management platforms. Then last year, I again included the continued growth in the use of practice management applications as a major development, noting in particular that these applications were evolving from maintaining a narrow focus on simple practice management to becoming something wider — providing a variety of integrated tools and services that address an array of functions within a law office.

But here I am again, continuing to be amazed at how this segment continues to thrive and evolve. We still have new platforms raising financing and getting launched, such as PracticePanther; we still see the more established platforms continuing to build out their products, and we even saw the parent company of one platform complete a successful IPO (see #8 above). And then came the recent news from Microsoft that it had decided to open-source its practice management platform, Matter Center for Office 365. Practice management is not a sexy topic, but it continues to be one of the hottest – if not the hottest – areas of technology growth and development in the legal industry.