Artificial intelligence is making its entrance into the legal world with the introduction of Ross, advertised as “Your Brand New Artificially Intelligent Lawyer.” Developed by law and computer science students of the University of Toronto, Ross promises to streamline your legal research process so you can “[find] your answers from the law in seconds”. However, the simplicity of Ross’ description does not account for the many questions and concerns it elicits. There are questions of Ross’ legality such as whether it is offering legal advice or legal reference and concerns about its impact on employment in the legal field. These unanswered questions will serve as important indicators of artificial intelligence’s future role in law.
Andrew Arruda, one of the creators of Ross, demonstrates how Ross works in a video of the conference “Artificial Intelligence and the Law.” First, the user must enter a legal question or query into the computer program and then Ross will return a page of ten relevant passages from case law. The user can then flip through the search results, up-voting or down-voting the passages Ross displays. Arruda describes Ross as growing smarter by the day, using the voting feature to learn about users’ preferences and making adjustments accordingly. As a result of machine learning, Ross will exclude passages users do not find helpful. As if that isn’t enough, Ross is also equipped with the law monitor feature so it can “instantly [update]” users with any changes…about the actual question” being asked according to current law “”.
Although Ross is advertised as an “Artificially Intelligent Lawyer” no mention is made of how its functions do or do not resemble those of an attorney. Arruda and the product website never address whether Ross is offering legal advice or legal reference. The upvoting and downvoting feature are of particular interest though, since they narrow the scope of passages Ross pulls up based on user preferences. What if important case law passages are left out of search results because a user downvotes certain search results? It seems Ross could be significantly limiting the passages it offers to users, directing users in specific directions, and hovering ever closer to the thin line between offering legal advice instead of legal reference.
Another major concern is how Ross will impact employment in the legal sector. While Ross will not pose competition for attorneys, many articles highlight how Ross could prove as formidable competition for lower level research and document reviewer jobs. Arruda emphasizes how this competition should be welcomed, after all less employee salaries naturally leads to lower attorney fees and thus the general public’s greater access to lawyers. Ross could also pose as competition for legal databases currently in use, since it promises a more user-friendly program along with faster and more refined search results.
All in all, Ross’ introduction to the legal world generates more questions than it offers definite answers. Its future development and early use will offer a glimpse into what role automation and artificial intelligence can realistically play in the field of law. Additionally, only time will tell how well Ross navigates the challenge of limiting itself to legal reference and steering clear of offering legal advice.
~Suzanne, Riverside County Law Library Intern