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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!
By Emily Lamm
Cryptically crafted and living behind the façade of technology, algorithms have escaped the standards we hold ourselves to. The allure of coding and quantum computing arouses a sense of intrigue and elevates the status of the underlying algorithms. Yet, this charm should not obscure the fact that the authority afforded to technology is constructed and highly sensitive to context. For instance, when a deep learning, neural network is introduced to an incongruous object––an elephant within a living room––pixels are crossed and previously detected objects are misidentified. These types of errors are not uncommon, but they do take on forms far more sinister than an elephant-triggered kerfuffle. High-profile examples include LinkedIn’s platform showing high-paying job ads to men more frequently than women, and law enforcement officials and judges relying upon patently racist AI-powered tools.
On one hand, the United States has developed a robust body of laws combating discrimination. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act have been paramount, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is considered an immense success in protecting individuals with qualifying disabilities. On the other hand, the United States has no such analogue to offer protection from algorithmic bias. In effect, algorithms––just one step removed from humans––have escaped the rule of law despite being a reflection (or manifestation) of the implicit values of the very humans who created them.
Now, just because there is no general legislation or regulatory scheme to control for algorithmic bias, doesn’t mean there won’t be soon. Other countries have filled this gap by implementing a data protection regime. In due time, perhaps with a change of administration, we will begin to see a drastically different approach to Artificial Intelligence. Although Americans have been rather lackadaisical about data privacy (often trading their Facebook information for a quiz predicting what their child will look like), they have been quick to advocate against discrimination. Just look to the sweeping nature of the civil, women’s, and LGBT rights movements. Accordingly, there are numerous initiatives––launched by the likes of Facebook, IBM, Google, and Amazon––researching algorithmic bias and announcing tools to bolster AI fairness.
Lawyers are also not immune from the mysterious nature of algorithms. Indeed, most litigators interface with it regularly. Every time we run a search in Lexis Advance or Westlaw, the results we see are the product of algorithms hard at work behind the scenes. Recently, Fastcase provided the option for users to toggle with its research algorithms through factors like relevancy and authoritativeness. Although this tool appears to have little influence upon the results generated, it is responsive to a growing demand for algorithmic accountability. Undoubtedly, lawyers today must embrace and implement technology in order to remain at the forefront of the industry. Nevertheless, lawyers must also continue to be skeptical, discerning, and autonomous thinkers that refuse to grow complacent with inadequate technology.
As the United States citizenry grows increasingly diverse, technology’s “black box” must begin to encompass an intersectional awareness that accounts for the vast array of identities its users embody. Ensuring that technology is implemented and monitored responsibly should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Whether it be lobbying for new legislation or updating corporate policies, the time is ripe to seriously consider the role of law in algorithmic bias.
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!
As I plan and prepare for the Third Annual AI & Law Workshop, scheduled for April 19-20 here at Vanderbilt Law School (details to follow), I thought back to last year’s workshop and my 2×2 matrix of the AI & Law space. I broke it down based on the “AI for Law” and “Law for AI” distinction on one axis and the “Theory and Research” and “Practice and Experience” split on the other. In retrospect, after a year of editing the SSRN Law eJournal on Artificial Intelligence – Law, Policy, and Ethics, I have unpacked it to more fully represent the breadth and depth of the AI & Law world. Here’s my shot at it, with examples of the content and types of questions that fit in each box:
|THE AI and LAW MATRIX||AI for Lawyers
Applications of AI within legal practice
|AI for Legal Administration
Applications of AI in the work of courts and agencies
|Law for AI
Legal regimes governing the use and impacts of AI
|AI for Law for AI
Employing AI to implement Law for AI regimes
How do we conceptualize AI in this space?
|When is AI “practicing law”?||Can AI “judge”?
Can AI design standards better than agencies?
|Does machine learning “discriminate” within the meaning constitutional and civil rights laws?||Can AI make AI obey the law?|
What are the moral implications and ethical duties?
|What duties do lawyers have when incorporating (or not) AI in practice?||Is it ethically sound to turn over decisions such as bail and agency enforcement to AI?||How transparent should government be when it uses AI to monitor?||Is it morally acceptable to turn regulation of AI over to AI|
What are the societal goals and tradeoffs?
|What level of AI knowledge should lawyers be required to have?||Do we want to promote or contain AI in criminal law administration—e.g., setting bail?||What concerns are there regarding using AI to develop “threat scores” and “citizen scores”?||Who decides what AI applications to regulate with other AI?|
How do we design legal instruments and institutions?
|Who is liable for AI’s role in malpractice?||How will machine learning be admitted as evidence in the court room—under Daubert or a new standard?||Is a government produced “citizen score” an invasion of privacy? A violation of due process? Of equal protection?||How could we design mandatory AI monitoring and reporting of use of AI in private employment decisions?|
What are the practical implications?
|How will lawyers actually use and evaluate others’ use of AI?||How will we deal with different levels of access to AI by parties?||Do agencies have the capacity to design and administer regulatory AI?||How will AI be deployed on top of AI as a technical matter?|
What is the track record?
|How far have smart contracts gained traction in commercial transactions?||Is there evidence that use of AI in probation is more or less discriminatory than human judges acting alone?||Have anti-discrimination laws been effective in regulating uses of AI in housing, lending, and other private decisions||Is there evidence from AI development that the “black box” of machine learning can be “interrogated”?|
I plan to float this at the workshop and again at our Summit on Law & Innovation, which my colleagues Larry Bridgesmith and Cat Moon are organizing for April 30, and I also welcome comments.
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.
Last week Vanderbilt’s Program on Law & Innovation held our Second Annual Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Law, and it was a truly wide-ranging and inspirational set of presentations and roundtable discussions.
One way I think about this topic is to (artificially) unpack it into four themes, as shown in this 2×2 space:
AI for Law
Law for AI
Research and Theory
Practice and Application
The idea is that AI will both be deployed in legal practice and, as it is deployed in society generally, will raise ethical and policy concerns requiring legal responses. In both of those realms, work is needed on the theory and research side to facilitate and manage how AI is applied in practice.
Our workshop presentations and discussions covered all the boxes, and many demonstrated that the boxes are not hermetically sealed—some themes and questions are cross-cutting. Indeed, several participants have engaged in a lively post-workshop email discussion on the extent to which using AI in dispute resolution could lock in doctrine or could be “programmed” for creativity, a question that requires engaging both theory and practice.
Even if one is skeptical about how soon we will see “general AI” coming online, if ever, there’s no question that “weak AI” is getting stronger and stronger in both the AI for Law and Law for AI realms. There’s no way to navigate around it! We engaged it in the workshop starting Thursday with big picture overviews of the two overarching themes by Oliver Goodenough (AI for Law) and John McGinnis (Law for AI). Friday had both deep dives and high-level theory in play. For example, Michael Bess asked how we should act now to avoid pitfalls of ever-stronger AI. Dan Katz discussed his work on predicting legal outcomes with AI tools combined with expert and crowd predictions. Jeannette Eikes outlined an agenda for building AI-based contract regimes. John Nay used topic modeling to parse out features of Presidential exercise of power that would have taken years to accomplish using traditional research methods. Cat Moon and Marc Jenkins unpacked AI in the legal practice world, showing where it faces uptake bottlenecks, and Doug Fisher kicked off a discussion of what AI means in the AI research world. Jeff Ward offered an insightful examination of the challenges AI will present for Community Economic Development programs, as well as the uses CEDs can make of AI. In short, we covered a lot of the boxes, and more!
Many thanks to this year’s participants—I’m looking forward to planning next year’s gathering as well!