SimpleLegal takes as much friction out of the bill review process as possible. All a customer has to do is ask their law firm to copy SimpleLegal on each invoice, and then the magic starts to happen. SimpleLegal’s system ingests the invoice and parses each line item into its database. Natural language processing systems figure out who billed what and for how long — and then that data is run through a machine learning system that flags outliers. One example: the system flagged a line item where a professional billed a half hour for mailing. That might not be too unusual but for the fact that the system knew the thing being mailed was a one-page form. That’s pretty smart.
The second program is known as Casetext, designed by two lawyers distressed by the high cost of legal research databases. Casetext is essentially an open-source alternative to systems like Lexis and Westlaw, and it allows users to search legal databases themselves while reading added content provided by other knowledgable users. The system has yet to launch, but if enough people join and contribute, lawyers may soon be able to access high-quality legal information for free, without paying for expensive database services:
How are [Lexis and Westlaw] able to erect these enormously profitable paywalls? The answer is that they provide more than just the raw text of the law. They provide search tools and additional, value-added content on top of the law itself. The two legal research titans, Lexis and Westlaw, employ lawyers to read cases and other legal materials, categorize them, add commentary, and link them together. These services have legitimate value because they all save lawyers time, and time is money […]The key idea behind Casetext is that the annotations that drive Lexis and Westlaw’s bottom lines can be crowdsourced. One obvious parallel is Wikipedia, with its hundred million man-hours of user contributed content, but Huey and Heller also point to Quora for its high quality answers by professionals and experts in various fields.
Both of these programs could have a significant impact on the legal field, and while neither is likely to cause many lawyers to lose their jobs, they are a strong sign that tech-based disruption in the legal industry is only growing stronger as time goes on.[Law scales image courtesy of Shutterstock]