A new product illustrates one way to automate legal advice. 

DECISIONmaker Software, LLC
recently released artificial intelligence software to guide HR professionals in complying with the Family Medical Leave and Americans with Disabilities Acts. The company and its founder, Alan Rolnick, an experienced labor lawyer, teamed with Proskauer to develop and vet the legal content. (Metropolitan Corporate Counsel reports on this in A Revolutionary New Software Product Benefits Employment Law Practitioners And Their Clients; see also the Proskauer Labor & Employment practice page).

In the late 1990s, I worked for Jnana Techologies, an expert system (AI) platform developer, where I helped law firms and law departments create interactive advisors conceptually like this one. (See my articles on virtual legal advisers.)

Building an interactive advisory systems is not trivial but the real challenge is the business model. Lawyers have little incentive to invest non-billable hours “porting” their know-how into software. So I am glad to see an experienced lawyer with the vision and drive to create an advisory product to serve a giant horizontal legal market.

I spoke to Mr. Rolnick, whose view is that use of this tool will be good for law firm business. For clients, the product will reduce risk and resolve some issues (though the software specifically states that neither DecisonMaker nor Proskauer are rendering legal advice). The software will also, however, identify more situations where traditional legal advice is required. So this product will benefit clients and potentially increase law firm work. Plus, it frees lawyers to work on higher value matters. His view is consistent with the arguments in my articles.

I have long been surprised that legal publishers have not pursued the interactive advisory market. More so than law firms, they have the capital and editorial resources to build product (though may lack the deep practice experience). Perhaps DecisionMaker is a harbinger of other sophisticated advisory products built by entrepreneurial lawyers. More such efforts could chip away at both publishers (and law firms) as I suggest in my presentation, Legal Publishers in 2007 and Beyond.

Of course, a possible seminal change in law firm structure – going public – could change this analysis. Capital Market Access? Be Careful What You Wish For, a recent blog post by Adam Smith, Esq., discusses the business challenges law firms might face were they to raise capital in the market. Perhaps a firm forward thinking enough to go public would also see the wisdom in investing to create a series of interactive advisers. To be sure, the lawyers would lose billable time in the short term doing so. But the long term value creation could be recognized in a higher market value.