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Today marks the last session of Year 6 of my Law 2050 class at Vanderbilt Law School, which surveys the transformative forces at play in the legal industry and serves as the capstone course for the Program on Law & Innovation‘s core curriculum.
This year 24 marvelous guest speakers contributed their experiences and insights to the class. My shout-out to them (in order of appearance):
- Zach Fardon, King & Spalding
- Joan Fife, Winston & Strawn
- Jeff Grantham, Maynard Cooper
- Anna Barry, Jounce Therapeutics
- Michelle Kennedy, Nashville Predators
- Craig Weinstock, National Oilwell Varco
- Daniel Reed, CEO of United Lex
- Larry Bridgesmith, Adjunct Professor and PoLI Coordinator
- Caitlin Moon, Adjunct Professor and PoLI Innovation Design Director
- John Murdock, Bradley Arant
- Professor Nancy Hyer, Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management
- Jessica Gilchner, Senior Director of Pricing and LPM Solutions, Pillsbury
- Randy Michels & Kevin Hartley, Trust Tree
- Ray LaDrier, Locke Lord
- George Lamb, Baker Botts
- John Lutz, Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor for IT
- Patrick Cavanaugh, Blank Rome
- Kito K. Huggins, Director, Executive Administration, Weil, Gotshal & Manges
- Walt Burton, Thompson Burton
- James Mackler, Mackler Law Firm and Of Counsel to LeClaire Ryan
- Andy Bayman and Mike Duffy, King & Spalding
- Justin Ergler, GlaxcoSmithKlein
Many thanks to you all!
To learn more about the class and the themes each speaker addressed, see the full syllabus here.
I’m looking forward to Year 7!
Artificial Intelligence (AI), chiefly in the forms of machine learning, natural language processing, and computational topic modeling, is fueling the new generation of e-discovery and contract due diligence tools exploding on the legal market. But AI is also taking hold in my more wonky world of legal academia.
In Topic Modeling the President: Conventional and Computational Methods (or here), recently published in the George Washington Law Review with co-authors John Nay and Jonathan Gilligan, we demonstrate how these tools can tap into large bodies of legal text to help reveal patterns and categories that might not be easily apparent to the human researcher’s eye. The (rather long) article abstract explains our project and the potential for using AI in legal studies:
Law is generally embodied in text, and lawyers have for centuries classified large bodies of legal text into distinct topics—that is, they “topic model” the law. But large bodies of legal documents present challenges for conventional topic modeling methods. The task of gathering, reviewing, coding, sorting, and assessing a body of tens of thousands of legal documents is a daunting proposition. Yet recent advances in computational text analytics, a subset of the field of “artificial intelligence,” are already gaining traction in legal practice settings such as e-discovery by leveraging the speed and capacity of computers to process enormous bodies of documents, and there is good reason to believe legal researchers can take advantage of these new methods as well. Differences between conventional and computational methods, however, suggest that computational text modeling has its own limitations. The two methods used in unison, therefore, could be a powerful research tool for legal scholars.
To explore and critically evaluate that potential, we assembled a large corpus of presidential documents to assess how computational topic modeling compares to conventional methods and evaluate how legal scholars can best make use of the computational methods. We focused on presidential “direct actions,” such as Executive orders, presidential memoranda, proclamations, and other exercises of authority the President can take alone, without congressional concurrence or agency involvement. Presidents have been issuing direct actions throughout the history of the republic, and although the actions have often been the target of criticism and controversy in the past, lately they have become a tinderbox of debate. Hence, although long ignored by political scientists and legal scholars, there has been a surge of interest in the scope, content, and impact of presidential direct actions.
Legal and policy scholars modeling direct actions into substantive topic classifications thus far have not employed computational methods. To compare the results of their conventional modeling methods with the computational method, we generated computational topic models of all direct actions over time periods other scholars have studied using conventional methods, and did the same for a case study of environmental-policy direct actions. Our computational model of all direct actions closely matched one of the two comprehensive empirical models developed using conventional methods. By contrast, our environmental-case-study model differed markedly from the only empirical topic model of environmental-policy direct actions using conventional methods, revealing that the conventional methods model included trivial categories and omitted important alternative topics.
Provided a sufficiently large corpus of documents is used, our findings support the assessment that computational topic modeling can reveal important insights for legal scholars in designing and validating their topic models of legal text. To be sure, computational topic modeling used alone has its limitations, some of which are evident in our models, but when used along with conventional methods, it opens doors towards reaching more confident conclusions about how to conceptualize topics in law. Drawing from these results, we offer several use cases for computational topic modeling in legal research. At the front end, researchers can use the method to generate better and more complete topic-model hypotheses. At the back end, the method can effectively be used, as we did, to validate existing topic models. And at a meta-scale, the method opens windows to test and challenge conventional legal theory. Legal scholars can do all of these without “the machines,” but there is good reason to believe we can do it better with them in the toolkit.
Each year in my Law 2050 class at Vanderbilt Law School, students identify an emerging technological, economic, environmental, or social trend and project it into the future to explore how it might generate law and policy issues needing lawyers’ attention. They write a blog post about it, then a client alert memo, then a bar journal article. They can choose any practice perspective defining who they and their clients are: private practice, government, plaintiffs, public interest, international, etc. The goal is to instill curiosity, entrepreneurship, and writing skills to put them “on the map” as they start out in practice. (For a great example of this exercise in scenario building for lawyers, check out Carolyn Elefant’s excellent ebook: 41 Legal Practice Areas that Didn’t Exist 15 Years Ago.)
I’ve been doing this for six years, and it has amazed me how many new themes come into the picture each year that weren’t on the radar screen the year before. Even the themes that have come up before have evolved so rapidly that they present entirely new dimensions to explore.
Below are this year’s themes—what an impressive list! I’ll bet you haven’t even heard of some of them. I’m really looking forward to reading my student’s bar journal articles to see where they take these:
- Electric scooters
- Malicious audio/video editing
- Social credit system & facial recognition
- Predictive policing
- Advanced energy storage for wind & solar
- Private space exploration
- Dark web policing
- Social media influencers
- Genealogy technology & policing
- Emerging technology trade controls
- Space trash
- Algorithm bias
- Health insurer role in opioid crisis
- Cannabis law legal conflicts
- Augmented reality
- In vitro fertilization parental tech and parental rights
- Scent technology
- Implantable microchips
- Alexa and criminal enforcement
- Private artificial islands
- Radio frequency electric charging
- Geoengineering—solar radiation management & CO2 removal
- Non-bank fintech
- Biometric privacy
- E-sports industry
- Medical record blockchain
- Cultured meat regulation
- Emotional AI
- NCAA rules for high school pro drafts
- Initial coin offerings
- Data privacy regulation (GDPR)
- Smart microgrids
- Law firm insourcing of non-legal services
- Freebooting video content
- Artificial embryos
- 23&Me health testing
- Voice cloning issues
- Arctic circle transportation and minerals
- Alternative legal services providers and legal malpractice
- Blockchain and real estate titles
- Sport betting and machine learning
- Personal data sales and privacy regulation
When we started the Program on Law & Innovation here at Vanderbilt Law School five years ago, we launched with two courses: Legal Project Management, taught by PoLI Coordinator and Adjunct Professor Larry Bridgesmith, and my Law 2050 class that surveys the post-normal times in the legal industry. With a strong commitment to delivering vital curricular content to our students, I am happy to report that we have now built out to ten courses, five of which are in the PoLI “core” course set plus five more advanced and specialized courses firmly within the PoLI space:
- Law 2050
- Legal Project Management
- Legal Problem Solving (taught by Cat Moon, our new Director of Innovation)
- Law as a Business
- Legal Practice Technology
- Blockchain and Smart Contracts
- Robots, AI, and Law
- Role of In-House Counsel
- Disruptive Technologies and Law
- Corporate Legal Risk Management
With this diverse and deep set of course offerings, we aim for PoLI to equip our graduates to dive into the “river” of change in the legal industry and see it as an opportunity, not a threat.
As I put the finishing touches on my Law 2050 class syllabus for this fall semester, I am struck by two impressions. The first is the tremendous generosity my guest speakers have shown in the past, devoting their time and energy to providing perspective and insight to the students, and this year is no exception. So far the following have agreed to donate their time, roughly in order of appearance:
- Zach Fardon – King & Spalding
- Joan Fife – Winston & Strawn
- Jeff Grantham – Maynard Cooper
- Anna Barry – Jounce Therapeutics
- Michelle Kennedy – Nashville Predators
- Craig Weinstock – National Oilwell Varco
- Larry Bridgesmith – Adjunct Professor and PoLI Coordinator
- Caitlin Moon – Adjunct Professor and PoLI Innovation Design Director
- John Murdock – Bradley Arant
- Nancy Hyer – Vanderbilt Owen School
- Randy Michels & Kevin Hartley, Trust Tree
- Ray LaDrier – Locke Lord
- George Lamb – Baker Botts
- John Lutz – Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor for IT
- Patrick Cavanaugh – Blank Rome
- Kito K. Huggins – Weil, Gotshal & Manges
- Daniel Reed – United Lex
- Diedre Gray – Post Holdings
The second impression is how the framing of the course has changed. When I started the course in 2013, the theme was very much about how much was changing in the legal industry compared to pre-2008. The average 3L student in the 2013 class was 26, meaning they were 21 in 2008 and lived in very real time as young adults through the Great Recession. They experienced the before and after contrast very closely, and, while not doing so as lawyers, easily connected with that theme in the class. The metaphor I used was that pre-2008, the legal industry was like a lake, whereas post-2008 it was more like a river and nobody knew where it was leading. The river was scary.
With each year since then, however, the reset button effect of the Great Recession has become more remote to the students. Yes, they are entering the profession in the midst of change just as were the 2013 students, but they don’t generally use pre-2008 as a reference point for anything, much less for their conception of what the legal industry is about. In short, they don’t care about what the legal industry lake looked like pre-2008—they want to jump into the river! I see the course as more about giving them a raft to navigate it.
The same has been true of my guest speakers, who in 2013 were very much tuned into the shock to the system the Great Recession caused and still reeling from it. They remembered swimming in the calm lake. With each year, the mood has been less “what just happened, take me back to the lake” to more of a focus on change management and seeing opportunities as they raft down the river.
Of course, it’s still the case that nobody knows where the river is leading!
The fifth year of my Law Practice 2050 class is a wrap and it was wonderful working with the students and guest speakers. I’ll give a shout-out to the speakers soon—for now I want to highlight the tremendously creative topics my students bit off for their “skate to where the law is going” project. The project requires them to build a future scenario around an emerging technological, social, economic, or other trend, anticipate the legal issues it will generate, and then explore the theme in three different writing projects—a blog post, a client alert letter, and a bar journal article. The idea is that when the show up at their first post, they need to do more than show up—they need to brand and build their expertise. What better way to do so than on an issue for which there are no existing experts!
It has amazed me how quickly topics my students chose five years ago have ramped up into real legal practice fields (think cryptocurrencies, 3D printing, drones, and fitness tracker data, all of which were just breaking five years ago), and how much even those have changed and generated new applications and thus new legal angles. So, if you are looking for where billable hours will emerge over the next five years, look at this year’s project topics:
- Quantum computing
- Brain-to-computer and brain-to-brain neural links
- Microchip implants for employees
- Automated shipping vessels
- Cyborg enhancements
- Cryptocurrencies for small business
- Initial coin offerings
- CRISPER gene editing
- Smart contract oracles
- Preimplantation genetic diagnosis
- Synthetic food
- Lab-grown in vitro meat
- Augmented reality
- Virtual reality
- 3D food printing
- Autonomous aerial vehicles
- Germline editing
- Life-extending nanotechnology
- Twitter bots
- Implanted medical drug release chips
- Cannabis law
- Data driven threat scores
- AI displacement of jobs
- Voice activated digital assistants
- MOF water capture technologies
- Implanted video recording devices
- High-tech deep sea mineral extraction
- Opening of Arctic shipping lanes
- Stimulus and biomarker detection devices
- Fitness tracker employee data
- Service animals and the ADA
- Mega-scale ecological engineering
Several topics were more directly related to legal practice:
- Emojis in the courtroom
- Alternative legal finance
- Brain scans as evidence of state of mind
- Unauthorized practice of law liberalization
Some of these topics already are generating legal work and legal practice challenges, but not at large scales; others have yet to translate to the legal space, but that is soon to come; some seem too outlandish to ever generate billable hours or legal practice concerns, but they will.
And one thing is for sure—reading these final bar journal articles will beat grading exams!
One of the high points of each year in our Program on Law & Innovation is the “pitch event” in Adjunct Professor Marc Jenkins’ Technology in Legal Practice class. One of the major projects in the class involves students forming teams that pair with area legal aid organizations to build problem-solving apps improving access to justice. Now wrapping up its third year, the class and the students are firing on all pistons, building prototypes or live versions of some very meaningful apps that can help traditionally underserved populations who cannot affordably navigate our utterly complex legal system. Marc has worked closely with the legal aid organizations to develop strong bonds with the students, and also has opened ties with Vanderbilt’s Computer Science Department and our new entrepreneurship center, The Wond’ry, to leverage their expertise in building out the apps. Here’s just a quick summary of the students’ impressive accomplishment this year, describing for each team the organization, work product, and app authoring platform:
- LGBT Legal Relief Fund: This new organization has been flooded with requests for help. The student team worked with the developers at KIM to build a workflow management app.
- Legal Aid Society: The team built a mobile app prototype, which they named Clean Slate, to guide a person through the incredibly complicated criminal record expungement eligibility process. They used the JustinMind Mobile App prototyping tool.
- Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors: Using an app authoring platform designed by Vanderbilt CS undergrad student Ashley Peck (very impressive!), this team developed a prototype of what they call the Childcare Contingency Plan for undocumented immigrants hoping to contingency plan for their children in case the parents are detained or deported.
- Tennessee Justice Center: This student team designed an app for the Sales Force platform that walks families through the SNAP (food stamps) eligibility criteria. They reduced 1000 pages of ridiculously complicated agency “guidance” to an interview consisting of 30 – 60 questions (depending on answers).
- Nashville Arts and Business Council: This team picked up from a previous year’s team that used Neota Logic to design an interview aspiring musicians (we have a few here in Nashville!) can use to make business entity formation decisions appropriate to their plans. The team essentially beta tested the existing app, leading to improved wording and more accurate outcomes.
- Legal Aid Society: This team also continued working on a mobile website app started by a prior team, built using the same authoring program designed by Ashley Peck, to guide the user through the often bewildering debt collection process.
- Legal Aid Society: Using the A2J author platform, this team designed a web-based computer app they call Mission Expungement, for the criminal records expungement process directed specifically at the Nashville jurisdiction.
I am pleased to announce that the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School is the sponsor of the new SSRN eJournal, Artificial Intelligence – Law, Policy & Ethics. The journal publishes abstracts and papers focused on two themes: “AI for Law,” covering the increasing application of AI technologies in legal practice, and “Law for AI,” covering the issues that will arise as AI is increasingly deployed throughout society. I am serving as the editor, supported by a wonderful Advisory Board.
If you are working on a paper in this domain, please consider including our journal when posting to SSRN, and if you have an SSRN subscription, please consider adding our journal to your feed.
Long Time No Post! I’ll explain why later. For now, I’m diving back into Law 2050. First up in the post order is news about this week’s workshop on AI & Law. Here’s the scoop about this great lineup of participants and themes we’ll cover:
Second Annual Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Law
Vanderbilt University Law School
Program on Law & Innovation
March 2-3, 2017
The Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Law each year brings together academics and practitioners working in one or both of two themes—AI for Law, which explores how AI will be deployed in legal research and practice; and Law for AI, focused on the legal, policy, and ethical issues that the deployment of AI in society is likely to create. This year’s workshop includes some of the nation’s most thoughtful experts and thinkers in both spaces. Thursday afternoon sets the scene with two presentations tapping into the two big themes to help frame a “big questions” discussion. Friday’s agenda intersperses research and practice presentations representing both themes, circling the agenda back to the “big questions” question—did we answer any, or at least chart the next steps?
Thursday, March 2
Burch Room (1st Floor)
3:00 – 3:30 Welcome and Introductions
3:30 – 4:00 Oliver Goodenough, Vermont Law School: Law as AI
4:00 – 4:30 John McGinnis, Northwestern University Law School: Discussion Lead – Breakaway AI
4:30 – 5:00 Roundtable: What are the big questions?
5:00 – 6:30 Free Time
6:30 Dinner at Amerigo, 1920 West End
Later on? Broadway music venues
Friday, March 3
Bass Berry Sims Room (2nd Floor)
8:00 – 8:30 Breakfast in meeting room
8:30 – 8:45 Additional Introductions
8:45 – 9:15 Dan Katz, IIT Chicago-Kent Law School: Predicting and Measuring Law
9:15 – 10:15 Cat Moon, Legal Alignment, and Marc Jenkins, Asurion: Discussion Leads – AI in Practice
10:15 – 10:30 Break
10:30 – 11:00 Michael Bess, Vanderbilt University History Department: Human-level AI and the Danger of an Intelligence Explosion: Questions of Safety, Security, and International Governance
11:00 – 11:30 Jeff Ward, Duke University Law School: A Community Economic Development Law Agenda for the Robotic Economy
11:30 – 12:00 Doug Fisher, Vanderbilt University Computer Science: Discussion Lead – Unpacking AI
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch and conversation in meeting room
1:00 – 1:30 John Nay, Vanderbilt University College of Engineering: Analyzing the President—the First 100 Days
1:30 – 2:00 Jeannette Eikes, Vermont Law School: AI for Contracts
2:00 – 2:30 J.B. Ruhl, Vanderbilt University Law School: Envisioning and Building “Legal Maps”
2:30 – 2:45 Break
2:45 – 3:15 Roundtable: Did we answer any of the big questions?
3:15 – 3:30 Closing remarks and next steps
Once again the core writing assignment in my Law 2050 class requires students to identify a trend of any kind—technological, environmental, social, economic, so long as it is likely to raise policy issues that could require legal responses—and spin out its impacts and legal implications in three styles of writing: (1) a blog post, (2) a client alert letter, and (3) a bar journal article. The idea behind the assignment is twofold. First, young lawyers can and increasingly must jump on emerging issues and brand themselves as among the “go to” legal experts. Second, the style of writing needed to make the brand is generally not taught in law schools.
What I enjoy most about the assignment is working with the students to identify topics, as I learn a lot about what’s on the horizon. This year’s topics:
- Blockchain technology in banking
- The rise of FinTech
- Fitbits in the court room
- Advances in assisted reproductive technology
- Healthcare applications of nanobots in our bodies
- Litigation finance
- Space tourism
- Moral programming of driverless cars
- Smart fabrics
- Personalized genome sequencing
- Changing marriage norms
- Brain mesh technology (aka neural lace)
- Space colonization
- The proposed Equality Act
- AI robots in the workplace
- New state physician assisted suicide laws
- Cybersecurity and drones
- Preimplantation genetics
- Employee wellness programs using wearable tech
- Epigenetic manipulation of livestock
- The new DOT driverless car policy
- Global worker enslavement
- Vertical farming
- Smart homes
- Climate geoengineering
- Smart pills
- Mobile IDs
- Legalized pot
There’s a lot in that lineup, to say the least! The semester ends with students giving 3-minute “elevator pitches” to convince the class that the topic has legal legs. My hunch is they will be pretty convincing!