New Zealand Law Society - Here come the robots…

Here come the robots…

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Are these important moments in legal history?

24 August 2015: Joshua Browder, 19, unveils his UK council parking ticket appeal bot. By the end of 2015 it has successfully appealed £2 million worth of tickets from total claims of £5.2 million, and costs nothing to use – compared to an estimated £275 to £620 for a lawyer. “I think it does a reasonable job of replacing parking lawyers,” says Mr Browder. Check it out at – which is partly short for “do not pay a lawyer”.

5 May 2016: Big 940-lawyer United States law firm Baker & Hostetler announces that it has licensed ROSS, an “AI legal assistant” created by ROSS Intelligence, for work in its bankruptcy practice. The 50 or so bankruptcy lawyers will be able to ask ROSS a research question in natural language (eg, “can a bankrupt company still conduct business?”) and receive an instant answer, with citations and topical readings from legislation, case law and secondary sources. ROSS will also keep on the job, providing updates on any relevant changes in the law.

Of course, the “hiring” of ROSS and the teenage wonder’s parking ticket bot received massive media coverage in the non-legal world. Both are compelling evidence that the world of law is being transformed by technology. ROSS Intelligence CEO Andrew Arruda says other law firms have also signed licenses to use ROSS – which he describes as “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney”.

The two developments are vastly different in the way they have been created, the way they are used and their complexity. Each, however, uses computer power to rapidly (almost instantly for ROSS) trawl through a huge number of documents and records to distil the most relevant and then to craft an answer. Each replaces lawyers, but while one allows a potential client to avoid a lawyer the other is an integral part of a legal team and needs “fellow” lawyers to interrogate it and keep it busy.

The parking ticket bot is able to trawl through public records but it can’t give subjective legal advice. It has been programmed on a conversation algorithm which uses keywords, pronouns, and word order to understand the problem. The more often it is used, the better it becomes.

ROSS is built on IBM’s cognitive computer, Watson (named after IBM founder Thomas J Watson and said to have similar thought processes to a human). IBM Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. According to IBM, 80% of all data today is unstructured. Watson learns after all related materials are loaded in – Word documents, web pages, PDFs. It is then “trained” by adding question and answer pairs.

Watson searches millions of documents to find thousands of possible answers. It collects evidence and uses a scoring algorithm to rate the quality of this evidence, and then ranks all possible answers based on the score of its supporting evidence.

ROSS draws upon Watson’s cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities. Like any lawyer, it needs to be taught a field of law. ROSS Intelligence began teaching ROSS bankruptcy law in June 2015. It is now learning a variety of other practice areas.

DIY wills online

It is not known when the first robot will begin work at a New Zealand law firm. However, New Zealanders are able to access at least seven websites which use technology to create one of the most important legal documents around – a will. “Fill in the blanks” paper wills have always been available for purchase, but more and more cheap and “instant” online options are appearing. Coupled with other transactional fill-the-box matters such as enduring powers of attorney, New Zealanders are now able to prepare important legal documents 24/7 without leaving their home.

While preparation of a will is not included in the reserved areas of work for lawyers (meaning anyone can prepare and sell them), a significant proportion of New Zealand’s wills are prepared by lawyers. Over the last few years better and more complex online options have started to appear. The following list includes only those sites which offer wills specifically for New Zealanders. Just one is managed by a law firm (Mai Chen’s My Bucket List was sold to Perpetual Guardian last year), although Justly is actively seeking collaboration with lawyers (see accompanying article). All prices are in New Zealand dollars and (it is assumed) include GST.

Do-it-yourself Wills

Ownership: KeptSafe Services, a company based in Sydney, Australia and owned by Melwyn John Tregonning.
Costs: $19.95 standard, $37.00 mirror wills, $19.95 living will, $19.95 advance medical directive.
Comments: The company says New Zealand lawyers were involved in development of the wills and complete instructions are provided on how to get a will signed and witnessed. Customers have the option of printing the documents in colour with a parchment background, or personalised watermark.

Ownership: RS3 Group Ltd, Christchurch, 100% of shares held by Shona Marie Clarke.
Costs: $15.00.
Comments: The system was developed by RS3 Group and a Christchurch programming company about 12 years ago. The company says the questions used were based on a basic simple will and were checked by a lawyer from a South Island firm. If more complex wills are required, customers are directed to legal offices or a citizens’ advice bureau within the customer’s region. Detailed signing and witnessing actions are provided. “Most importantly, we are here to help make what is often seen as a complex activity as simple and as affordable as possible,” the company says.

Justly (NZ) Ltd

Ownership: 51.7% of shares held by Kevin Fraher, Auckland, 11 other shareholders.
Costs: $29.00 standard and an additional $160.00 if a lawyer is involved (of which Justly charges $20.00). Charges are constantly being reviewed.
Comments: Developed in-house and reviewed by lawyers. The last page of the printed out will is a set of signing and witnessing instructions. The company’s business model targets collaboration with law firms (see accompanying article).

My Bucket List

Ownership: The website states that My-Bucketlist Ltd was acquired in April 2015 by Andrew Barnes, owner of Perpetual Guardian. “My-Bucketlist Ltd” does not appear on the New Zealand Companies Register.
Costs: $49.95.
Comments: The site includes a Memorandum of Wishes creation tool ($49.95 per document) to provide guidance to trustees on matters such as the funeral and substitute trustees.

New Zealand Will Kit

Ownership: AM Direct, a company based in Adelaide, Australia
Costs: $49.95.
Comments: Unlike the rest of the sites, this will secure a “fill in the blanks” pack through the mail. The company is a web design and marketing company and is not a law firm.

Perpetual Guardian ewills

Ownership: The New Zealand Guardian Trust Company Ltd, Auckland, ultimate ownership Andrew Barnes (sole director) and Patrick Gamble.
Costs: $100 for standard where Perpetual Guardian is appointed executor or $150 if own executor is chosen. Other pricing options are available.
Comments: An exclusion process identifies clients who should receive legal advice, and every will is checked by the company’s legal team before it is sent to the client. A followup process reminds clients to sign their wills. An annual fee of $34.95 purchases WILLplus, which provides an annual review, electronic storage, and bereavement services. The site also offers other services.

WRMK Lawyers

Ownership: Incorporated Whangarei law firm with eight directors.
Costs: $49 for online-only (basic options). The firm will build a will from information provided for $170 or POA for “tricky ones”.
Comments: The will creation tool uses a mix of off-the-shelf software and WRMK’s own development. The online option allows a maximum of three beneficiaries and no specific gifts. Online users must read and agree to the firm’s terms of engagement. Instructions on how to sign are emailed.

Justly targets a collaborative approach with lawyers

“Our model is to partner with lawyers,” Justly founder Kevin Fraher says.

Mr Fraher says Justly’s will construction tool is the best anywhere in the world and is just the first in a series of interactive online applications. An Enduring Power of Attorney creator will be launched in June and an online will register is already available for law firms to use.

“We’re not a wills tool; we’re a Xero for lawyers and their clients. We will keep adding solutions that tie the client directly into a law firm. That client is not going to go online and search Google for solutions any more, because their lawyer will have already given it to them via Justly.”

Mr Fraher has been heavily influenced by the example of accounting software Xero, which only got traction after it moved from trying to sell direct to partnering with accountants.

“We adopted the same model. The market told us that while they may have some problems with the relationship with their lawyer, ultimately they wanted to remain in a relationship with them.”

He says Justly is the only tool which allows collaboration between lawyer and client, with both sharing access to the data inputs and the resulting document. If someone opts to use Justly directly and introduces complex elements where legal advice is desirable, the tool will advise them of the risk and the benefits of a fixed fee review from a lawyer, with turnaround within 24 hours.

“We believe that by providing the technology and the business model now and a best-in-class customer experience, that we can actually add value to law firms by allowing them to do more for less. We can reduce the time they spend on a will matter to under 30 minutes, and make profitable these matters which are unprofitable, and make their clients happier,” he says.

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