Irma, Waze, and Watson: Today’s technology is truly transformational, but lawyers must use it correctly and appropriately?


HomeIrma, Waze, and Watson: Today’s technology is truly transformational, but lawyers must use it correctly and appropriately?

“We were taken by surprise…. it came unexpected, and we never even ran. We were standing unprotected when the rain began, and then the hurricane came.”

That was Neil Diamond’s song, “Hurricane,” in 1982. That was then; this is supposedly now.

As Hurricane Irma tore through the Virgin Islands towards us in Florida earlier this month, my friends, family and colleagues reviewed countless reports of Irma’s likely target based on the latest artificial intelligence and Big-Data-driven models (Sanjay Kamlani is writing this column solo this month, given the topic and disruption to our normally joint effort). One colleague, a super tech-focused Am Law 100 partner (a champion of IBM Watson Legal, among other such AI-based tools) took the tech-driven prognostications to heart and decided that since Irma was veering east of Miami, he (as did many others) would dodge the storm by taking his family on a nice beach holiday in Naples on the west coast of Florida. After all, IBM was powering some of leading hurricane prediction models just as it was powering one of his favorite contract analytics tools. IBM’s Robert Griffin, had once proudly stated: “Big data is revolutionizing emergency management and transforming how communities protect citizens and property in times of…..hurricanes.” And this was certainly the big event.

Meanwhile, I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading towards what seemed like safer ground in Atlanta. I was using the ubiquitous AI-driven, crowdsourced data traffic tool, Waze, to predict my time of arrival in Atlanta and guide me to the best route. Unfortunately, every 15 minutes, Waze would add another 15 minutes to my arrival time. What Waze originally said would take 10 hours, took 20 hours, and when I followed Waze onto some side street to pass the traffic, I’d find myself in a long line of cars at a traffic light and getting back onto the highway behind the same truck that was in front of me when I followed Waze off the highway. And I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that my colleagues who drove to Naples drove themselves back to Miami a few days later when the forecasting models decided that Irma was actually heading west, not east.

Among countless other thoughts during my 20-hour drive, I thought about AI and the law and the weather. I thought of the column that David and I wrote in June, Power to the People, arguing that technology is here to help lawyers, not displace them. Are the AI-driven contract review tools any better than the weather forecasting tools, and if not, should that comfort law firm associates who continue to react to the tools with trepidation that the technology will replace them?

Contract review tools like Kira, RAVN, eBrevia, and BrokerSavant, among others, make very clear what they are capable of and what they are not in terms of “precision” (percentage of relevant instances among retrieved instances) and “recall” (percentage of relevant instances retrieved of the total amount of relevant instances). Within a range of 50% to 90%, they can accurately identify and extract specific language in documents that address a particular topic — indemnity, warranty, carve-outs, confidentiality period, etc. That means that between 10% and 50% of the time, they fail to identify relevant language (“lack of Recall”) or they identify irrelevant language (“lack of Precision”). And they are mostly not capable of annotating or summarizing that language. If utilized correctly, they can save associates anywhere from 20% to 60% of the time they would have otherwise spent reviewing and annotating the same material. If the tools are relied on to excess and without the application of human intelligence, they can very well lead to the wrong result, much like driving to Naples or taking a single-lane side street with multiple traffic signals instead of a four-lane highway.

Today’s technology is truly transformational. Technology absolutely saved countless lives and enabled the mitigation of much property damage from Irma, giving people advance warning to prepare and evacuate. It also let those of us affected communicate with friends and family during almost the entirety of the hurricane, the events leading up to it, and the aftermath. And the technology can save lawyers and drivers alike countless hours, whether they are analyzing contracts or navigating traffic.

But lawyers must learn to use the technology correctly and appropriately. I don’t know if it has anything to do with hurricanes, but commendably, Florida became the first state to require a technology-based CLE for lawyers earlier this year. In a comment to its amended rule 4-1.1 “Competence,” the Florida Bar wrote: “in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education, including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.” Perhaps the driver’s-ed courses should be amended to include a session on when to follow and when to ignore Waze.

David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani are co-founders and managing directors of 1991 Group.

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