This interview is part of our new AI in Law series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and the legal industry.
In this interview, we speak with Ben Alarie, Co-Founder and CEO of Blue J Legal, to understand how his company is using AI to transform the legal industry, and what the future of law holds.
1. What’s the story behind Blue J Legal? Why and how did you begin?
BA: As a law professor, I have always been impressed by how much information excellent students are able to consume and synthesize. A part of me has always worried that in practice, even the strongest students might miss relevant cases or details because of the time pressures associated with meeting client need.
In 2014, I was asked to sit as a judge at the University of Toronto on IBM’s Watson Challenge — a contest among students to generate commercial applications of Watson. Seeing all the creative and interesting applications proposed by the students sparked the idea to use machine learning to erase the information gap for students and lawyers in tax law.
Moreover, the more I explored the idea the better it seemed. I felt that creating a platform where all case law can be easily accessed and analyzed could create a level playing field for all lawyers and those interpreting the law, making the law more accessible and predictable.
We set to work immediately to build out the idea and by 2015, our first prototype was built. We decided to start with tax law, since that’s my area of academic expertise. By early 2017, Blue J Legal began selling Tax Foresight commercially. It has since been adopted by major law firms and accounting firms.
2. Please describe your use case and how Blue J Legal uses artificial intelligence:
BA: Some may think that our Foresight products are primarily helpful for lawyers since our platform is based on case law, but our products also help practitioners outside the legal field, like accountants and HR professionals, to research and validate their positions quickly and with confidence.
Our team of lawyers, legal analysts and data scientists review cases to predict how a court would rule in specific scenarios with 90+% accuracy (on average). Our algorithms take into account 15-30 factors within each case to make a prediction. Our systems can also be used to do scenario testing to best understand which factors would impact the outcome. Users can then print out reports of their different scenarios for their records to demonstrate the level of care taken when considering different positions.
In addition to predicting outcomes, our platform can also be used to quickly find relevant cases. Instead of needing to guess the right keywords through multiple searches, users can identify the factors that are important for their specific situation and our case finder produces a list of all matching cases noting the number of common factors.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from Blue J Legal? What has your service done for them?
BA: There are so many ways our products have helped professionals save time, analyze their situations more accurately and ensure approaches are consistent across the company. One of our clients, Richter, a business advisory firm, uses our Tax Foresight product to simplify issues, such as compliance matters, by running scenarios through the software. Jenna Schwartz, a Senior Manager, says Tax Foresight “allows us to do more of the critical thinking and analysis rather than spending time simply searching.” Our platform enables professionals to spend more time doing what they enjoy and less on the tedious tasks.
There are even some clients who include the Foresight reports for the scenarios they run in their files. The time-stamped reports show the rationale for the positions taken and decisions made. This is especially helpful for firms training junior staff to help them learn faster and ensure consistency across their teams.
We also help companies get more from their legal counsel budget. We recently had an HR Foresight client tell us that she runs scenarios to educate herself about the situation and make an initial assessment. She’ll send the Foresight report to her lawyer to review and share his opinion. This requires less of his time and by spending less on each legal consultation, she is able to get support on more cases from her outside counsel.
4. What other AI use cases in the legal sector are you excited about?
BA: Our technology gives professionals more time to focus on the challenging analyses their clients ask them to perform. While we do this by applying machine learning to previous case law to make predictions about what would happen if unique fact patterns were to go to court, AI is also being applied to other areas of practice (e.g., contract analysis, e-discovery). In a similar way, these technologies allow professionals to focus their time on elements that require their full expertise rather than spend their time on tasks that can be automated.
5. Where will Blue J Legal be in 5 years?
BA: Our ultimate goal is to bring absolute clarity to the law, everywhere and on demand. For our tax and employment law products, we expect that the majority of practitioners will be using our technology to ensure they are providing the best possible advice to their clients. In addition, we expect to have developed products that provide clarity in other areas of law so that we can be even closer to reaching that ultimate goal.