My Law Student is Smarter Than Your Bot

What are the outer limits to digitization and automation in the practice of law?

This week I participated in a small writing workshop at Georgetown Law. A junior colleague presented a fascinating work-in-progress about robots (a/k/a “bots”) doing legal work. The writer enlightened us to two of the products and services, one called “Do Not Pay” and one called “ROSS.”

Do Not Pay calls itself “The World’s First Robot Lawyer” on its website.  Over at ROSS, they invite us to: “Do more than humanly possible: Supercharge lawyers with artificial intelligence.”   My reaction was a mix of astonishment at the idea of non-human entities practicing law, and keen curiosity to learn more. After all, I just this week green-lighted the use of a free online product called Divorce Tracker suggested by my students. One of them discovered it at his summer job last year with a Pennsylvania legal services office.  The students will be utilizing it during an upcoming divorce workshop they are offering for low-income clients.

Increasing access to justice for disadvantaged parties with technology is not news, and it’s not troubling.  I don’t pretend to be positioned to critically analyze a company like Do Not Pay by comparison, either.  It’s apples to oranges, I think.  Do Not Pay, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to operate in the access to justice arena anyway. Their product seems to be about helping users avoid paying parking tickets by walking them through a series of legal and logistical options. The fact that it was developed by a young Canadian college student without a law license at first gave me pause, but the more I ponder it the less it concerns me. The “World’s First Robot Lawyer” language on their website strikes me as hyperbolic and therefore marginal in its potential to mislead.  Also, these are parking ticket matters, not ones affecting, say, parental rights.  Family law matters like that are increasingly being addressed in online and digitized products and services being developed for state legal services providers, courts, and similar organizations.  The access to justice space is ripe for innovation, and in some instances law schools are partnering with businesses to develop and spread the technology to actually help those in need.  A2J Author, for example, was developed in partnership with Chicago-Kent College of Law.

And services like ROSS? I don’t know.  I’m glad my colleague is researching it. They’re openly selling a product to lawyers to increase efficiency, and reduce costs.The testimonials on their website from lawyer-users bear this out. At the same time, ROSS says its services are for free to “major law schools, bar associations, and non-profits” and touts the company’s “commitment to democratizing access to justice for all”.  What does that look like? I don’t know that either. But I’m intrigued.  As my colleague pointed out at the workshop, ROSS seems unique in its capability to market digitized legal analysis, not just legal procedure. It uses Artificial Intelligence–what, I think, the Do Not Pay website also uses but calls a Robot and what sometimes appears as “Bot” in our staggeringly fluid modern vernacular.  What are Bots missing, though? At the workshop this week, we shared concerns about the empathy and critical analysis that human lawyers perform for clients.  That’s what I mean by my law student being smarter than a Bot. I incorporate lessons on compassion fatigue and secondary trauma in all my law school courses.  If I were teaching Bots, I could probably skip those lessons. But empathy is an integral part of the practice of law. Artificial Intelligence I’m good with.  Artificial Empathy? No, thank you.

What is a “Fact”? A “Story”?

In Washington D.C., on the GWU campus, there is a statue of a hippopotamus. A nearby sign explains that the statue was placed there because hippos once could be found in the Potomac. George and Martha Washington liked watching them from their Mount Vernon porch. They were also a favorite of children visiting the estate. George Washington even had a false set of teeth made of hippopotamus ivory.

As you have likely guessed, that sign offers readers what we might call mendacities, misrepresentations, falsehoods, alternative facts, untruths, lies, or bulls**t. To end any suspense, there really is a statue, the sign really does say most of these things, and George Washington really did have a false set of teeth made of hippo ivory. But the Washingtons never saw hippos frolicking in the Potomac and no one would have children anywhere near the Potomac if there were. To see hippopotami in the Potomac, someone would have had travel to Sub-Saharan Africa, capture a pod of hippos (they are social creatures) without being attacked (they are very dangerous, killing 3,000 people each year), carry them across land to seafaring boats, make the trek across the Atlantic, and then to the Potomac—all while keeping the animals’ skin moist at all times. The hippos might freeze in the winter if not recaptured and quartered somewhere warmer. Hippos are also very large, weighing in at 1.5 tons or more.

Nevertheless, these facts and falsehoods hang together as a story. When did you begin to question that story? When you began to question, did you then question the entirety of the facts or were you willing to believe any of the information as fact? As lawyers, you know that stories are composed of facts, but if asked for a definition of a fact or of a story, can you provide one?

More importantly, we want the next generation of lawyers to fully appreciate the answers to those questions. With the decentralization of information, I find that I need to be more deliberate in my approach to teaching different categories of facts: actual facts such as the sun rising in the east on our planet; verifiable facts, such as the natural habitat of hippopotami; and debatable facts, such as whether this sentence should have used “whether or not” instead of “whether.” I also spend a significant amount of time distinguishing facts from characterizations, which are essentially the opinions or judgments of the writer. Someone’s “lovely summer-preview week in April” is someone else’s “torturous week in April” if that second someone suffers from summer Seasonal Affect Disorder. And, now, sadly, I am spending more time teaching the difference between facts and misrepresentations or falsehoods, such as a statement that this blog post focuses primarily on hippopotami (a misrepresentation) or on cat memes (a falsehood).

For several years, I have also spent several class hours on the importance of story structure as the delivery vehicle for facts and story strategy as a driving force in persuasion. A story involves characters, a setting, and hurdles or challenges that a particular character or characters must overcome to reach a desired goal. Implicit in that definition is the passage of time, i.e. a beginning, middle, and end. It is easy to see how legal matters exist as stories. The nub is in the teaching of the re-telling, from the client’s perspective, using description and detail—that is, facts—rather than characterizations.

Facts must be presented as a narrative rather than as a list if the author wants the audience to interact with those facts and remember them. Facts by themselves don’t persuade. Stories persuade. That’s not my opinion, but has been demonstrated by science across a variety of fields. We think, act, make decisions in story. As those of us studying and writing on applied legal storytelling know, former Oceanographer at the Department of Energy, Kendall Haven has published books to help professionals digest the vast amount of science out there. For yourself, take the simple but germinal test in the study conducted in 1944 by Drs, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. Look at the video and see if you can answer a few of the questions. If you can, you have demonstrated that you think in story. To demonstrate this to my students, before showing the video I divide the class in thirds and assign each group a client to represent. After showing the video twice I ask each group to tell a story from that client’s perspective.

Contrary to what we may call our lawyer’s sense of justice when the verifiable facts disprove falsehoods, citing just the facts by themselves may actually backfire–here’s a great Harvard Business Review article with links to the original studies that will help explain why. In law, there are several studies of jurors that demonstrate the power of story, but only a handful of studies testing legal audiences. In a 2010 article Ken Chestek wrote about a study that used carefully constructed briefs to study the preferences of judges, court staff attorneys, newer attorneys serving as law clerks, appellate attorneys, and law professors. From the data, he concluded that stories are more persuasive to decision makers than syllogistic reasoning by itself. Attorneys and judges with more than five years of practice overwhelmingly chose a storied version of an advocacy document over a straight-up law/application version. Only the attorneys newly out of law school deviated from this pattern—begging the question, are we doing something in law school that skews this number so much from what judges and seasoned attorneys believe to be effective lawyering?

Assuming you are on board that our students should graduate knowing what facts are and knowing that representing clients means being able to appreciate and tell their clients’ stories, the last question to answer is the curricular locale for teaching these things. Historically, the clinic and externship programs at law schools have been celebrated for focusing students on facts and narrative in a capstone experience. I am a true believer that those programs will continue to be the locales in which students will most strongly make the connections between legal and narrative reasoning. But we do students a stronger service if they enter the capstone experiences with a strong foundation. The casebook authors can include more story so that teaching professors can reinforce the ideas of facts and narrative. The skills professors of the trial advocacy and practicum courses include some training, but the first and heavy lift most appropriately belongs in the required first-year legal research, analysis & communication course series. Gone are the days when we can teach those courses by indulging in the pedagogy of a legal document’s traditional text-based sections or on a singular paradigm for organizing legal reasoning. In 2017 we must focus on making students client-ready. Written and verbal communication in law occurs in a variety of mediums, to a variety of audiences, and in a variety of different rhetorical situations. The connecting universals across law and legal communications will always include law, facts, and story.

*Thank you to Courtney Knight, Class of 2017, Rutgers Law School, for the story idea.

Let Me Introduce Myself

My name is John Lande and I just became a blogger with BPLE.  I want to tell you about my background and interests and the kinds of things I expect to write about in this blog.  This post also includes links to some resources you might be interested in.

I taught at the University of Missouri starting in 2000 and I retired a year ago, beginning what I call “unbundled retirement.”  I don’t teach or attend faculty meetings anymore, but I still want to stay involved in things that I care about.

Two years ago, I started blogging on Indisputably, a blog of law professors who focus on dispute resolution.  I love blogging, which I will continue in retirement.

Here’s a link to my website, which includes more information about me and links to my publications, some of which are not on ssrn.

Focus on Dispute Resolution

My career has focused on dispute resolution.  I graduated from law school in 1980 and practiced law for a while.  I felt uncomfortable with the adversarial dynamics of legal practice and I took my first mediation training in 1982 and then practiced law and mediation for several years.

In 1989, I went to grad school in sociology at the University of Wisconsin, studying sociology of law and dispute resolution.  For my masters thesis, I interviewed people who handled employment discrimination disputes within their organizations.  For my doctoral dissertation, I interviewed business lawyers and executives about their attitudes about litigation and ADR.

Most people in the “ADR” field, including me, think that it is misleading to refer to it as “alternative dispute resolution,” but the label has stuck.  I don’t think that there’s an ideal alternative and many of us simply use the term “dispute resolution” or “DR,” even though that’s problematic too.

Many people in the DR world think of “ADR” as involving neutrals (other than judges).  But focusing only on neutrals doesn’t fit because unmediated negotiation is recognized as a major sub-field.  Indeed, much of what we teach and do is advocacy in processes like mediation and arbitration.  Here’s one post I wrote musing about what ADR is and isn’t and here’s another one.  They reflect my view that lawyers and judges are dispute resolution professionals, not just mediators and arbitrators.

In the last decade, I wrote a series of articles about collaborative law and cooperative law, which are processes in which lawyers and clients start by trying to negotiate instead of starting in litigation and negotiating at the end of a case, after most discovery has been completed.

I think that these processes have real value though they are used almost exclusively in family law cases and only by agreement of both sides.  Collaborative law involves a “disqualification agreement,” which precludes the collaborative lawyers from representing the clients in litigation if needed.  This makes the process a non-starter for many lawyers and parties, especially in cases other than family law.

I wrote a book, Lawyering with Planned Early Negotiation: How You Can Get Good Results for Clients and Make Money, in which I applied some concepts from collaborative and cooperative law to describe an approach that lawyers can use unilaterally in any type of case.  This book was based, in part, on interviews with lawyers who actually use this general approach as opposed to lawyering with unplanned late negotiation.  I later did another study along the same lines based on more interviews with lawyers, Good Pretrial Lawyering: Planning to Get to Yes Sooner, Cheaper, and Better.

Focus on Legal Education

I developed and maintain a website, Dispute Resolution Resources for Legal Education (DRLE), which includes syllabi, teaching materials, and a list of DR programs and links.  It also includes instructions for subscribing to a listserv promoting discussion of issues relevant to DR in legal education.

In 2010, I wrote my first article on legal education, co-authored with Jean Sternlight, The Potential Contribution of ADR to an Integrated Curriculum: Preparing Law Students for Real World Lawyering.  This piece describes how ADR concepts and skills are integrated into other courses and suggests ways that this could be done more.

This article inspired the development of the Legal Education, ADR, and Problem-Solving (LEAPS) Project of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.  LEAPS developed a great website with lots of resources about how to increasingly incorporate “practical problem solving” into law school curricula.  Perhaps of particular interest to BPLE readers, this website has a list of textbooks in a wide variety of subjects which include a problem-solving approach as well as a list of colleagues who would be happy to help you incorporate problem-solving techniques in your courses in particular subjects (e.g., civ pro, contracts, etc.).

In 2012, I organized a symposium at Missouri entitled, “Overcoming Barriers in Preparing Law Students for Real-World Practice.”   For the symposium, I wrote an article, Reforming Legal Education to Prepare Law Students Optimally for Real-World Practice, which incorporated major themes in the symposium and included my ideas about legal education reform.

That year I also started teaching negotiation and I experimented with lots of techniques in that course.  In Teaching Students to Negotiate Like a Lawyer, which I wrote as I embarked on this experiment, I described these techniques.  In Lessons from Teaching Students to Negotiate Like a Lawyer, I described what worked and what didn’t work so well the first time I taught it.

One of my major insights from this experience was the great value of using multi-stage simulations in addition to one-stage simulations.  Most DR courses rely primarily or exclusively on one-stage simulations in which students are given fact patterns to enact for perhaps 10-60 minutes.  While these simulations are useful in prompting students to get into roles of lawyers, clients, and others, students don’t get into their roles in single-stage simulations as much as multi-stage simulations.

I described my use of multi-stage simulations in the two articles I just mentioned about teaching negotiation.  I prepared an eight-page document with suggestions for instructors who want to use multi-stage simulations in their courses.  And I solicited descriptions from colleagues about how they use multi-stage simulations in a wide range of courses, which are posted on the DRLE website.

I recently wrote my “Last Lecture” article, summarizing advice for law students based on my teaching and scholarship.

Blogging for BPLE

As a blogger on Indisputably, I have written various posts about legal education, generally tagged “for teachers and students.”  I have written some on particular topics that BPLE readers might be interested, including simulations, legal skills and techniques, and student assessment and grading.

I have occasionally passed along some posts to Mary Lynch that I thought BPLE readers would be interested in.  After I wrote one recently, I thought it would make sense for me to post some myself from time to time.

For example, you might be interested in my posts Non-Apology Apologies, Ethics, and Lawyers and Training Law Students to be Leaders.

By joining BPLE, I hope that I can serve as a bridge between faculty particularly interested in dispute resolution and those particularly interested in legal education issues.  If you have some interest in DR, you might check out or subscribe to Indisputably.  Conversely, I am encouraging my friends on Indisputably to check out or subscribe to BPLE.

I hope that you enjoy my posts.  I welcome your comments online or off.



Denver to Host Conference on Assessment Next Fall

I am pleased to announce that the University of Denver will be hosting a conference in September focused on Assessment in Legal Education.  Here is the opening paragraph for the request for proposals.  Check out the RFP and Conference program at: Continue reading

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