Posted by: johnocunningham | March 14, 2015

Adaptation of IBM’s Watson Now Answers Legal Questions

A Canadian company has announced that it will introduce a “digital legal advisor” to the world’s law firms. Its name is ROSS (which actually doesn’t stand for anything) and it was derived from a commercially available Watson API (“application programming interface”).

Watson, of course, is the name of the IBM cognitive system that learns from its own programming, and it is best known for beating the all-time scoring champions in “Jeopardy” and defeating legendary chess masters around the world.

You just ask ROSS a question, as you would ask another human being, and it responds with relevant legal information after analyzing all the legal data and reasoning found in whatever court cases, agency rulings, legislation and administrative rules are in its programming.

The developers of the system say it is not designed to replace lawyers, but to facilitate their work by rapidly locating and recalling relevant legal data.

It will be interesting to see how law firms and lawyers react. I suspect that one or more state bars will consider filing suit against Watson for the unauthorized practice of law, a silly and futile attempt to block technological progress that could make the law more affordable for everyone.

But there will also be forward-thinking law firms eager to provide more “value” to their clients, who will seize upon ROSS and other future adaptations of Watson to provide faster, cheaper and more thorough legal analysis while relieving their associates of the drudge work of sifting through Shepherd citations and volumes of statutes, regulations and case reporters for countless hours in the legal library.

Those firms that integrate successful adaptations of Watson and other emerging technologies into their work process will claim more market share from clients who grow to love rapid, complete and inexpensive legal analysis, and clients will start sending them more and more work.

Of course, some well-capitalized corporate clients with their own legal departments will start to bring Watson-like technologies in-house, but law firms who serve those clients will still be needed to navigate agency processes and local courts while shedding light on anything that might be missing from relevant artificial intelligence databases or systems used by the clients.

For more on this story, check out “Watson Takes the Stand” at


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