robots

Alyen: 5 Unusual Lessons My First LawBot Taught Me
Alyen: 5 Unusual Lessons My First LawBot Taught Me 1024 576 Raymond Blijd

Last update:March 22, 2017

On October 9th, 2014 I told myself to go build robots for law. After exactly 2 years I can finally say: I did. It’s been a 16-year journey and here are my five unusual lessons.

You may fail

When you try Alyen, remember: I may be the least qualified person to attempt this. I’m not specialized in Immigration Law but I had suffered thru the process. I do have a degree in Legal Knowledge Engineering from the University of Amsterdam, which qualifies me to code legal knowledge into computer systems. Actually, I’m lucky because they scrapped the course shortly after I graduated. I believe there aren’t that many of us out there so I’m hoping to bring it back.

The real reason I created Alyen is to fail fast and learn. Growing up on legal inferencing engines, I was curious to find out if chatbots, with machine learning and natural language processing, are the next level. Yet, ‘teaching‘ chatbots requires a different approach and mindset. However, legal professionals are hard wired to avoid risk. So the Lawyer in me wanted Alyen to be perfect and risking failure wasn’t acceptable. The Creator in me gave me the courage to stumble as long as I got back up.

So if you think Alyen doesn’t work, let me know in the form below. I’d be happy to hear it because in Life and in Law, we can all use data to improve.

You can cheat

Cheating is when you take a shortcut to success or create something fake which actually reflects an aspiration rather than the reality. Gamers use cheats, programmers use hacks. In programming, cheats are a healthy way to trim code or for your constituents to let you know how they expect your app to work. I ran into numerous obstacles trying to build Alyen. A major hurdle was that I needed to use webhooks to make it truly intelligent. I will, once I get the hang of it and learn how to connect it to Zapier. Webhooks would have enabled me to save and calculate the answer faster. Example if a user would state in the chat: “I’m a Syrian Refugee and I would like to know my chances”. My goal was to parse it as follows:

Question: “I’m a [first instance] Syrian [ nationality] Refugee [goal] and I would like to know my chances [metrics]”

Answer: You have 98% chance your application would be accepted.

Maybe it’s my limited technical expertise. Or maybe I should ‘cheat’ and use another platform.

 

Recast.ai

You should slow down

What I realized is that having a conversation maybe one of the quickest ways to transfer complicated information. As in my example above, normal legal expert systems needed many questions to get ambiguity out of the way. With more powerful natural language processing, it’s easier to parse questions in chunks and offer up an answer immediately. However, I discovered that speed isn’t always helpful when providing complex conclusions. When running my “Syrian Refugee” simulation and offering my instant answer I didn’t believe it myself. I expected Alyen to ponder my question and display the strain it took me to get that answer. Then I remember this article about why Facebook purposefully slows it services down in order for the human brain to get a grip of what information is put forward.

 

You will understand

Meanwhile, I discovered chatbots are an amazing legal service design tool. Chatbots have an intimate conversation with your users. During the conversation, it becomes blatantly obvious where your user journey is broken. Alyen had over 200 conversations since it’s launched and I can report that most didn’t go as I expected. Moreover, most didn’t follow the path I initially set out (immigrants) but rather were more interested in testing (experience). With this data, I’m now pondering a pivot for Alyen from Immigration to something else. Nevertheless, chatbots are the reality check on any service. They have been called  the best prototyping tool and the most insightful way to get user feedback.

We advance

I used motion.ai because it looked the easiest for me to use. There are many platforms and resources to choose from and I found Chatbots Magazine a useful starting place. Once you’re ready to pick your platform, you can head on over to botlist.co to pick one. If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of Lawbots :

Insights

Lawbots

  1. Lexi the Legal Bot: a legal bot you can chat with to generate a free Privacy Policy or Non-Disclosure Agreement;
  2. Lawbot.info: a chatbot focused criminal offenses;
  3. Do Not Pay: well-known traffic ticket chatbot;
  4. Appjection: dutch version of Do Not Pay
  5. Visabot: US Immigration bot in Facebook messenger;
  6. Lawdroid: Incorporate your business in Facebook messenger;
  7. Oblo: answers legal issues & recommends lawyers in Facebook messenger;
  8. Liza: French legal chat bot;
  9. Alyen: my courageous attempt to provide clarity to immigration;

When you try Alyen and other bots please realize: a typical calculator can calculate faster than any human being but the calculator itself can not comprehend what it’s true purpose is. Robots are merely a tool and the real potential resides in our imagination. We get gentle reminders every day, even with their flaws bots are able to judge our laws. So lets us advance and see beyond.

 **Added: Rise of Chatbots by Lawgazette. 

**Updated Nov, 23, 2016:  Oblo added

**Updated Nov, 18, 2016:  Visabot & Lawdriod added

Premonition Win Loss NL
What is the Legal Industry’s Biggest Problem?
What is the Legal Industry’s Biggest Problem? 1024 739 Raymond Blijd

On September 29th I shared an image from Premonition on Win-Loss rates of Dutch Lawyers, Here’s what happened next.

A series of tweets and questions which helped frame the debate in my mind and led me to a discovery: the biggest challenge facing the legal industry.

Transparency & Commodity

Metrics on win and loss for lawyers have always existed, they were just kept in-house. Actually, the practice of ranking lawyers may have started as early as 1868 when James B. Martindale first published a directory of lawyers and law firms and rated each. This practice has endured and is long overdue for an upgrade.

Besides, transparency allows consumers freedom to compare and comparisons lead to more consumption. So even if more legal services are commoditized, increase demand may still balance it out. Ultimately becoming more open and cheaper shouldn’t be a problem.

Quality & Complexity

Cheap legal products can never be the high-quality complex stuff, right? Well, here’s the thing about the complexity of legal matter: it is a subjective measure. Like all things in this world, what is complex for one person, isn’t for the next. Moreover, since legal matters are mostly solved behind a curtain of confidentiality, no one will be able to validate it. Even when circumstances are truly unique, the laws that may apply could be decades old. The simple fact that we use very static means to fix very advanced fluid problems is a human limitation. No wonder we find these complex. Computers driven by Moore’s Law do not have this limitation. And the same goes for quality.

Nonetheless, if we really want to be good at comparing value, then quality and complexity should be measurable. Some platforms are already moving towards becoming the standard of measure for legal endproducts.

The Biggest Problem

The legal industry is stuck selling hay to horsemen, while failing to envision the future of fueling transportation. Most industries with business models predating the internet face this dilemma. Just as car companies are acknowledging they should build solar powered robots instead of fossil fueled suicide combustibles. Legal professionals will need to accept they’ll have to abandon the prestigious and once profitable occupation of billing for complexities and settle for a noble occupation of coding a fair society. If self-driving talent is worth $10 million per person, legal engineers will be worth twice as much once we realise these robots lack empathy. They run on racially biased algorithms that will charge you extra to flee a terrorist attack.

The Best Solution

Face reality, our society needs rules and these should not be purely based on physics and math. Fact is that robots are inevitable and we should figure out the best way to leverage their strengths and fix their weaknesses. Fight for a world where the pen is still mightier than the sword.  But that the pen is the algorithm in our watch hailing a ride at a regular price when it senses our distress.

The History Of The Future Of Law, 2056 AD
The History Of The Future Of Law, 2056 AD 1024 576 Raymond Blijd

“…Son, did you know you needed a license to drive your car!? You needed a license to start a company. Heck, you even needed a license to be a lawyer.”

“Grandpa, What is a lawyer?”

“Well back in my days, we, humans, had some trust issues so we decided to have many rules in order for society to operate properly. This was before the great Computer Devolution*. Now, these rules became so complex that we needed special people to help us explain them. Much like an engineer teaches robots to behave before they can teach themselves, lawyers taught other people to behave with speech and text.”

“But who made these rules?”

“That’s the funny thing: before computers, lawyers use to conceive rules and made them so emotionally complex and conflicting that they were the only ones that were able to explain them. It’s also how they made a living. They called themselves Attorneys and they made a rule that no one else could be one unless you had a license. Just like driving a car”

“Hahaha, who wants to drive a car?!”

“Don’t laugh, cars didn’t use to drive themselves. We bought and drove them manually. It really wasn’t safe. I’m lucky I survived.  Did you know grandpa went to a law school to become a lawyer? I survive that too”

“Huh?!”

“He, Xuber** is here, let’s, go…”

 —

devolution |ˌdevəˈl(y)o͞oSH(ə)n|: 

the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration. In this case, from humans to computers. 

** In 2036, Uber transitioned from cars to drones for transporting goods and humans. They changed their name to Xuber to become an airline company and compete against Tesla Fleet.

Five Stages Lawyers Need To Embrace In a World of Robots
Five Stages Lawyers Need To Embrace In a World of Robots 1024 576 Raymond Blijd

The Kübler-Ross model describes the five emotional stages experienced when faced with impending death or death of someone. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Similarly, change is an irreversible and unapologetic event. Here are 5 alternate stages for legal professionals to help navigate change in the legal market.

1. Acceptance
In Suriname, a mourning process is accelerated by having a party during and after the burial. It is believed that one should celebrate death. This is taken literally as coffin bearers joyfully dance with the deceased until they reach the final resting place.

Legal professionals aren’t shy about adopting new technology. Just look at smartphone and tablet adoption rates among lawyers in the past 4 years. I believe the pager, cell phone, and blackberry enjoyed similar successes.

5-2

 

5-3However, adoption is not the acceptance of a new reality. The technology examples above just empowered existing workflows; it did not fundamentally change the dynamics of the marketplace. Technology like smartphones, just enabled lawyers to communicate more efficiently not necessarily differently.

We are now in the midst of a revolution whereby the core value of a legal professional(providing legal counsel) is shifting towards platforms, algorithms and data (Robolaw).

It’s not a faster way of drafting an agreement, it’s accepting the fact that you do not ever need to draft one.

Acceptance of the new reality should be a feast: a celebration of the fact that thetedious & repetitive have died and made way for the joy in legal work.

2. Trust
My faith in technology is derived from a belief that it has saved my life. Yet faith alone may not suffice in winning the hearts and minds of legal professionals. We’ll need evidence that robots can do a better job before we trust them.

Proof is mounting that platforms (crowdsourcing) and algorithms outperform humans in predicting legal outcomes. However it’s not like IBM’s Watson has already passed the multistate bar exam and is now a licensed attorney.

Legal work isn’t a chess match or an equation, but a complex nuanced construct of emotions in text. And herein lies the problem: the sheer amount of ambiguous texts.

 

5-4Due to data overload, it has become humanly impossible to find justice without the assistance of algorithms.

With Predictive Coding we have effectively conceded that the days of manually reading through stacks of documents have come to pass.

Trust in technology can be derived from either faith or evidence. However, in trusting legal technology, we may have already passed the luxury stage and ventured into necessity. Ultimately, we may not have a choice but to trust robots.

3. Mobility
I read this inspiring story: ‘Barefoot’ Lawyers Teach Ugandans Their Rights.’ It seems 97% of lawyers serve a population of 2 million people within the capital. The remaining 3% are left to serve a population of around 36 million in the rest of Uganda. In order to alleviate the travel burden covering an area of 241,038 square km, Ugandan lawyer, Gerald Abila, uses volunteers and a range of technologies like social media to educate and provide legal advice.

I’ll compliment Gerald on embracing technology to bridge the gap and his story highlights a fundamental principle about legal work: it is most effective if served in person. Mobility is the cornerstone of the legal profession. It is one of the main drivers of technology adoption among legal professionals.

If only the mobile tools were as good on the road as they are at home. I have dedicated most my writing in the last 4 years on this subject. I even went as far as to declare the death of legal research on desktop. I believe the cause of this imbalance has many factors. A root cause may also lie in the very nature of legal professionals (see stage 5).

4. Simplicity
#Robolaw: A World Without Law elaborates on the necessity of simplicity. Driven by the rise of digital currencies, the world is moving towards a frictionless reality – one where simplicity is handsomely rewarded and complexity is not welcome.

Yet, any legal framework is built upon barriers. The law revolves around setting rules and exceptions. Its goal is to avert risk and minimize misunderstandings. It is there to protect us from ourselves.

Nevertheless, legal products, and services need to become as clear and simple as a hand Shake. Actually, it may become invisible, even in the event of disputes. This future is more likely to happen if we let robots do the negotiations and dispute resolutions- just like we will trust them to drive our cars. We may only need a notification or a glance.

5. Adventurous
In the search for simplicity, one characteristic will truly serve us: experimentation. There are penalties for failure in every profession; in some the consequences are far more severe than others. However, I believe this new era is giving us a license to try new stuff. This era of relentless change has set us free from a stigma of dumb and has opened a world of daring.

One time a customer, a jetsetting lawyer, had an extreme request. He wanted me to create a product only he would use, custom made and tailored to his needs. I told him I could not because I couldn’t justify the costs versus return. I stated that if we had more customers like him I may be able to justify it. He said, “No, I hope there aren’t any. I want to be unique and my calling card is using these special tools.”

By now, you may have guessed what he asked for. He was clearly a risk taker and dared to be different.

My best friend and godfather to my youngest is a physician. He’s my reminder: I am allowed to dare & fail. Some really do not have that luxury.

I’m Bondrew and I Build Robots for Law
I’m Bondrew and I Build Robots for Law 1024 577 Raymond Blijd
 It was a hot and humid Saturday and I really did not want to spend my time in a dark damp dungeon in the middle of Amsterdam’s Redlight District. But I had to. We, a small community of charity lawyers-in-training, were granted access to only a single computer which resided on the University of Amsterdam campus. I decided, no more…I’ll build a robot.

My First Lesson Building a Legal Product

Back in the late nineties, I was a 3rd-year law student and I volunteered to work for a student-led NonProfit Legal foundation. We focused on providing free legal counsel to low-income groups. In the evenings I’d travel to an infamous neighborhood in Amsterdam called ‘Bijlmer’ with pencil and paper to do interviews and intakes on client issues. In hindsight, I realized these cases weren’t earth shattering, complex nor unique. Yet there were to me.

Now after every intake a lot of drama and stress set in. Why? In order to do research and draft letters for our clients we each needed to schedule time back at the campus. The reason: we only had one computer awarded to our foundation to service all clients. You can imagine scheduling was a nightmare, especially taking into account legal deadlines and in some cases people’s livelihoods.

Because years of knowledge from my peers and predecessors resided on this single PC I got this idea. I would gather all the documents on that computer, categorize them by topic e.g. labor, tax etc, rip some library CDs and online reference materials from our university library. Then I converted and saved everything to a single floppy drive as an HTML website and walla! I had built my first mobile legal knowledge portal. This amazing feat took me a couple of weeks but now I could stick this floppy in any PC and start working. No internet needed. Just look up similar cases, amend and you were good to go.

I made copies for all my colleagues and prepare a Steve Jobs-style presentation for our annual foundation gathering. So I presented this marvel to my peers and then…blank stares and silence…I could sense this wasn’t going well.

Yet, at that very moment, I discovered my purpose and I’ve been waiting for cheers of delight ever since .

Takeaway: It doesn’t take money to build something, it takes ingenuity and passion.


My First Lesson Selling a Legal Product

Moral of the story: instead of devising a clever scheme to outsmart my fellow frustrated ‘friends’, I would rather solve the problem with tech to benefit us all. It was crude by all means but at least it was something portable.

So I waited for a response…any response…and there wasn’t any except the ever so lethal: “Ooh, looks nice”.

Years later I think I’ve figured out what went wrong. First, I did not involve my peers enough in the idea behind the portal. I think they were startled by my effort and couldn’t figure out a proper response.

Second, my pain wasn’t shared by the rest so the value of this product got lost on them. I did use the floppy for a while but I still needed to go update my ‘portal’ at the dungeon with the latest drafts from my colleagues. However, while getting a PC was already a struggle for most, you also needed a printer. I had both at my dorm but most didn’t. Worse, they did not feel the need to buy a PC, books were more important. I figured they would just as well use a PC at a local internet cafe but it seems the students liked the dungeon.

Finally, I did not put any effort in marketing this product. I just assumed I would build and they will come. I did not factor in the story of why it’s useful because it was obvious to me.

I needed to explain it a bit more rather than just show what it does and how it works. In hindsight, I believe it was obvious to most but the why baffled everyone.

Takeaway:Spend more time on the ‘why’ than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ of a legal product. Understand the pain and amplify it emphatically.

My First Lesson Building a Legal Business

Fast forward 14 years of experience in building digital legal products and I realized something else. Something that dawn on me recently while preparing another “Steve” style presentation about future trends in legal services.

I can preach but do I practice? do not have such a marvelous history to back it up. So if I want my message to come across I’ll need to do more than just preach it.

I’ll need to live it. I’ll need to build more robots. And I need to love doing it.

Everything is easy if you love what you do, even the hard stuff. And believe me, there is a lot of tough, dreary tasks that need to be done. But if you really love everything or at least think is fun, you’ll succeed. Currently, I’m growing my heart immensely.

Takeaway: You need heart, a big heart to love even the dirty side of succeeding.

I would like to take you all on this journey towards achieving my goal. I’ll chronicle it carefully. I’ll record all big (mis)steps and share them with you here. So please to meet you…I’m Bondrew and I build robots for law…

Originally posted on Medium