More money shouldn’t equal better justice!” Andrew Arruda proclaimed last November in front of hundreds of people live on the TED stage in San Francisco. Arruda, CEO and Cofounder of ROSS Intelligence, was addressing our broken legal system. He explained, “our laws reflect an idea of equal treatment and justice for all, but our legal system — the ways in which our laws manifest themselves — have some problems, which need to be fixed.”
Our legal system, which stands to protect everyone equally, serves only some of us, fairly. Justice comes at a price, and those most in need of effective assistance, simply cannot afford it. A reality many of us are familiar with and something the founders at ROSS knew firsthand.
“Our laws reflect an idea of equal treatment and justice for all, but our legal system — the ways in which our laws manifest themselves — have some problems, which need to be fixed.”
When ROSS CTO and Cofounder, Jimoh Ovbiagele, was 10 years old, his mother, a nurse from the Philippines, attempted to separate from his father, a Nigerian immigrant. As a mother of two, she couldn’t afford the hefty legal fees associated with filing for divorce. As a result, she was forced to stay married. Ovbiagele witnessed the unfair barriers to accessing the law for those in need, which ultimately guided his path to discovering ROSS.
“My experience as a child, seeing first-hand how expensive legal services were to access, always remains with me and when I began my research in artificial intelligence a light-bulb went off and the idea for ROSS was born.”
In the United States, there is no right to counsel in civil disputes. Each year as many as 80% of low-income people who face civil legal problems that can threaten home, family stability and livelihood are unable to obtain assistance in resolving their problems. Meaning a majority of low to moderate-income Americans are left to face their legal problems alone.
In 1974, Congress established the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) based on “a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances.” Since then, LSC has provided grants, program support, and oversight to over 134 nonprofit legal aid organizations with approximately 813 offices serving every state and territory. It is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the United States. Unfortunately, this funding is still insufficient.
Arruda became a lawyer to support his community and the people with legal needs, who couldn’t understand the complexities of our legal system. However, as a practicing attorney, Arruda recounted his struggle with having to turn away clients because he simply could not manage the research required for the additional intake. “I realized that no matter how great a lawyer’s intentions may be, without efficient tools it’s an uphill battle to be able to help those most in need.” On average, 20% of an attorney’s time is spent on legal research. That is time less spent with clients and even less commonly billable. Arruda describes this as a “catch 22” for potential clients — you need a lawyer, but in the end there’s a good chance you can’t afford the lawyer you need.
On average, 20% of an attorney’s time is spent on legal research. That is time less spent with clients and even less commonly billable.
This all changed in September 2014, when Arruda received a call from his friend Ovbiagele, telling him about the cutting-edge technology he and another computer scientist, Pargles Dall’Oglio, were working on to innovate the law. When Ovbiagele invited him to join, Arruda was all in. Finally, an opportunity to positively channel these mounting frustrations with the legal system.
The LSC has found through its experience with its Technology Initiative Grant program that technology can be a powerful tool in narrowing the justice gap — the difference between the unmet need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need. In 2011, the LSC decided to convene a summit of leaders to explore how best to use technology in the access-to-justice community. The group adopted a mission for The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice, “to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”
Technology can be a powerful tool in narrowing the justice gap — the difference between the unmet need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need.
The LSC knew it was possible, if not essential, to leverage technology to enhance the delivery of legal services and provide greater access to justice.
As Arruda explained it on stage, “we believed that if we could bring the power of AI to the law, our dream of justice not just operating differently depending on your socio-economic status could become a reality.”
At ROSS, the team is focused on developing artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy and efficiency of legal research. If we can significantly reduce the number of hours a lawyer needs to spend researching the law, while cutting the associated costs, that time can be spent focused on more clients — helping to level the playing field. According to Ovbiagele, one of the major impediments to quality, affordable representation is the high cost of legal research. “Legal research seemed like the greatest problem. We [knew we] could make a really big change by bringing in state-of-the-art technology, cognitive computing and natural language to the practice of the law.”
We believed that if we could bring the power of AI to the law, our dream of justice not operating differently depending on your socio-economic status could become a reality.
In August 2014, as a response to the escalating access to justice crisis in the United States, the American Bar Association created the Commission on the Future of Legal Services. The Commission is charged with examining how legal services are delivered in the United States and recommending innovations to improve the delivery of, and the public’s access to, those services, including technology and new ideas to make affordable legal services more widely available for Americans.
William C. Hubbard, former ABA President responsible for introducing the Commission stated, “We must constantly embrace innovation and technology, or we face the threat of becoming obsolete…We can keep acting the way we’ve been acting and risk losing the people we are supposed to serve, or we can embrace tech and innovation in order to help them.”
In August 2016, the Commission issued its findings and recommendations in its Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States. It opens with a mandate from Hubbard, “We must open our minds to innovative approaches and to leveraging technology in order to identify new models to deliver legal services. Those who seek legal assistance expect us to deliver legal services differently. It is our duty to serve the public, and it is our duty to deliver justice, not just to some, but to all.” The Report notes that the profession must leverage technology and other innovations to meet the public’s legal needs, especially for the underserved.
The Report specifically references ROSS stating, “Artificial intelligence is impacting the way legal services are delivered and will continue to do so as technology advances. ROSS Intelligence is an example of how artificial intelligence can be used to improve the delivery of legal services.”
“We must open our minds to innovative approaches and to leveraging technology in order to identify new models to deliver legal services. Those who seek legal assistance expect us to deliver legal services differently. It is our duty to serve the public, and it is our duty to deliver justice, not just to some, but to all.”
It is our mission here at ROSS Intelligence to democratize the law by making AI technology easily accessible to all legal service providers and educators. On the TED stage, and for the world to view, Arruda expressed our pledge to giveROSS away for free to all those lawyers on the front lines to best help them do their jobs.
Artificial intelligence is impacting the way legal services are delivered and will continue to do so as technology advances. ROSS Intelligence is an example of how artificial intelligence can be used to improve the delivery of legal services.
At ROSS, we are committed to partnering with national and state bar associations, like the New Hampshire Bar Association, state and local-level access-to-justice commissions, the courts, pro bono and public interest groups, legal services organizations and law schools throughout the country, to not only enhance the delivery of legal services to those in need but to offer support to the heroic work already being performed by those on the front lines. Work we intend to capture and convey here in our blog as we build out these new relationships and continue to develop this technology.
Stay tuned for these stories and more over the upcoming weeks and months, and please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any inquiries into our access to justice initiatives.