Are Algorithms Required for Ethical Legal Research?

As we are increasingly aware, the ethical Duty of Technology Competence requires lawyers to keep abreast of “changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To date, 35 states have adopted the duty.

In a previous post, I highlighted the risks of blindly relying on algorithmic results (relevant technology) as a potential violation of the Duty of Technology Competence. We now have case law from Canada focusing on the benefits of using algorithmic results to perform legal research. In fact, this case law may be interpreted as requiring the use of algorithmic results when ethically performing legal research. 

In both Cass v. 1410088 Ontario Inc. (“Cass”) and Drummond v. The Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd. (“Drummond”) justices of the Ontario Superior Court made comments about artificial intelligence and legal research.

The Cass case was a slip and fall in which the defendant prevailed. The plaintiff, who was liable for costs, argued t…

Error of the Day & Maintaining Integrity of Algorithmic Results

If you're into algorithms, you should absolutely subscribe to the MIT Technology Review newsletter called The Algorithm.

Earlier this week, the folks at The Algorithm asked "what is AI, exactly?" The answer is reproduced below.

The question may seem basic, but the answer is kind of complicated.

In the broadest sense, AI refers to machines that can learn, reason, and act for themselves. They can make their own decisions when faced with new situations, in the same way that humans and animals can.

As it currently stands, the vast majority of the AI advancements and applications you hear about refer to a category of algorithms known as machine learning. These algorithms use statistics to find patterns in massive amounts of data. They then use those patterns to make predictions on things like what shows you might like on Netflix, what you’re saying when you speak to Alexa, or whether you have cancer based on your MRI.

Machine learning, and its subset deep learning (basically mac…

AALL State of Profession Survey

As a member of the AALL State of the Profession Survey Advisory Group, I am excited that the survey has been released!

The Advisory Group is comprised of librarians from all types of law libraries with the purpose of designing a survey to assess the current state of the profession.

The State of the Profession Survey will document the current landscape of law libraries, specific to each library type, and will provide benchmarking in the following areas: Technology, collections and library resources, constituent services, institutional outcomes, research competencies, training, staffing, and leadership.

The purpose of the State of the Profession Survey is to provide members and their organizations with the information and insights they need to effectively assess, advocate, and strategically prepare for the future.

We started working on the survey in 2017 with this purpose in mind. In the survey, you will find questions pertaining to the various enumerated areas.

While the survey is a litt…

Algorithms, Fake News, & The Google Generation

At the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries (ORALL) Annual Meeting, as I presented on the duty of technology competence in the algorithmic society, an astute law librarian asked (paraphrasing), "how does fake news play into this?" That question gave rise to a flurry of brain activity, as I considered how Google, for example, ranks relevancy, the rise of fake news, and the ability of users to spot fake news sources -- particularly for legal research.

As I was presenting to a group of lawyers at a CLE this week, I polled them asking about the electronic resource that they primarily use for legal research. The overwhelming response was Google.
Google uses a trademarked, proprietary – mostly secret – algorithm called PageRank, which assigns each webpage a relevancy score based on factors, such as: The frequency and location of keywords within the webpage. If the keyword only appears once within the body of the page, it will receive a low score for that keyword.How long the …

Practitioners Rank Legal Research as Only Top-20 Specific Legal Skill for the "Whole Attorney"

In a recent survey conducted by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a wide array of legal employers ranked the legal skills and professional competencies and characteristics that they believe new lawyers most need to succeed. (There is a detailed accounting of the study’s results and an explanation of the study’s role within IAALS’s broader project in the summer 2018 edition of The Bar Examiner, pp. 17-26.) The results revealed that legal employers value foundational characteristics and competencies much more than they do foundational legal skills. 

The 20 Foundations Identified as Most Necessary in the Short Term for New Lawyers 
• Keep information confidential
• Arrive on time for meetings, appointments, and hearings
• Honor commitments
• Integrity and trustworthiness
• Treat others with courtesy and respect
• Listen attentively and respectfully
• Promptly respond to inquiries and requests
• Diligence
• Have a strong work ethic and put forth best e…

The Librarians' "Crusade" for Academic Freedom

After recent events at the University of California - Davis, there's been an uproar surrounding college librarians and academic freedom. The uproar was created after a librarian in the UC system used a title for her presentation that an administrator colleague thought might be offensive: "Copy cataloging gets some respect from administrators."

Inspired in part by [the librarian's] cautionary tale, the [UC-Davis] union sought to include a provision in the new contract clarifying that librarians have academic freedom. Union representatives proposed in late April a guarantee of academic freedom to all librarians so that they could fulfill responsibilities for teaching, scholarship, and research. 

The union says negotiators for the system rejected the proposal . . . . Claire Doan, a spokeswoman, said UC policies on academic freedom "do not extend to nonfaculty academic personnel, including librarians . . . .UC negotiators said in July that academic freedom was…

AI in Teaching; AI in Law

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article discussing how artificial intelligence is changing teaching (sub. req'd). The discussion centered around many of the same themes that we see when discussing artificial intelligence in law.

The CHE article asks the common questions: When you’ve got artificial intelligence handling work that is normally done by a human, how does that change the role of the professor? And what is the right balance of technology and teaching? Replace "professor" and "teacher" for "lawyer" and "lawyering," and you get the idea.

Like the augmenting argument for law, the argument for teaching goes: They automate some of teaching’s routine tasks, so that professors can do what no machine can — challenge and inspire students to gain a deeper understanding of what they’re learning. 

And just like the argument that law will become increasingly reliant on AI raising privacy and ethical concerns, so goes the …