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AI & the Law: A Conversation With ROSS Intelligence’s Thomas Hamilton

By Tracy Schorn

May 9, 2018

Thomas Hamilton of ROSS Intelligence
Photo: Courtesy of Ross Intelligence

Thomas J. Hamilton, vice president for strategy and operations at ROSS Intelligence, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Practice 360º| A Day for Lawyers & Law Firms on May 18. The D.C. Bar sat down with Hamilton to get his thoughts on the subject of his address, “AI and the Law.”

In your experience, does the topic “Artificial Intelligence and the Law” alarm the legal profession? Do people think, oh no, robots are going to eat our lunch? (Or take our lawsuits?)

I think that we’re finally (and thankfully) at the tail end of the hype/fear cycle when it comes to AI and the law. Every industry in the world is being transformed and enhanced by AI, and many of the world's leading tech companies (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) have publicly stated that they are AI companies.

Because of this mainstream acceptance of AI into our day to day, lawyers are coming to understand that AI is simply powerful software that enhances our ability to comb through large amounts of information quickly and efficiently, in exactly the same way that computerized search, online search, and then KM [knowledge management] systems each did for our profession. AI has nothing whatsoever to do with robot lawyers, although automation, robotics, and AI are three very different concepts, which are unfortunately often confused. But don't worry; I'll be talking about this in my keynote!

If AI includes disruptive technologies for the legal profession, is there some way law firms can harness these technologies and adapt?

Absolutely — and many law firms already have. Firms of every profile, from the largest full-service international firms like Dentons (where I previously practiced and which came on as one of our early partners) to boutiques and sole practitioners across the United States, are already using AI legal technology like ROSS Intelligence in their day-to-day work.

How did you happen to become specialized in this field?

I was a corporate lawyer at Dentons and was doing work for several transactional lawyers with very tech-focused practices. While this was happening, several of my friends started an AI company out of a student project at the University of Toronto, and the rest is history.

For a fun read on my journey, feel free to take a look at this blog post I wrote in early 2017 on the subject.

Does AI raise a whole new case of legal ethics, if software makes decisions?

This is a question I often hear at conferences, and I think it fundamentally stems from confusion about the state of the industry. We are currently in the (beginning of the) era of narrow applications of AI. That means software applications that are very good at doing specific tasks, which they have been trained to do through enormous data sets.

Good examples of this are [applications] flagging non-industry provisions in contract analysis, or finding answers to legal research questions without relying purely on keyword matching. These narrow applications do not make any decisions for the humans using them; they simply bring back useful results in much the same way that a Boolean search on the last generation of legal research tools would. As a result, they do not create any new ethical questions with respect to them making decisions for us.

That being said, in much the same way that a lawyer who refused to use the internet in their practice would likely be breaching their ethical duty to competently represent their client in 2018 — where AI tools consistently outperform older legal technology —lawyers will begin to face an ethical obligation to incorporate these tools into their practice if they want to properly serve their clients.

What AI technologies are you excited about?

All of them! If I had to give one area that I am most excited about, I think it would be highly context-specific natural language Q&A systems. These are AI applications that allow a human researcher to pose their question in the plain language they would use to communicate with another lawyer or researcher, and then receive highly targeted answers directly from the law but not limited solely to keyword matching. The applications for this are massive — it eliminates legal jargon, allows new lawyers to get up to speed quickly, and allows for incredible and proactive client service. Stay posted for some exciting updates on what we're doing in the space soon!


Join us at our new headquarters building on Friday, May 18, 2018, for the fourth annual Practice 360º| A Day for Lawyers & Law Firms!