Top 20 Legal IT Innovations 2017: how CodeX is connecting the artificial intelligence and legal communities

Last year, Legal Week Intelligence, in association with Fulcrum GT, profiled 20 innovators driving change in the legal sector. We focused on what inspired these figures to shift their views and how this bred innovation. In 2017, we look at the innovations themselves.

The Top 20 Legal IT Innovations report aims to get to the heart of what innovation means by illustrating how new ways of doing things, large or small, local or global, have shaken up a sector often characterised as slow moving and resistant to change.

Click here to download the report from Executive Insights (free, registration required).

Best described as an incubator of ideas, CodeX, the Center for Legal Informatics, is a joint venture between Stanford Law School and Stanford Computer Science department.

“We are an inter-disciplinary research centre,” says executive director Roland Vogl (pictured). “Our mission is to bring information technology to the legal system to make it more efficient and to empower every stakeholder. We understand there’s a lot of interest in helping lawyers do their work more efficiently.”

Started in 2005, CodeX organises technologies into legal document management, legal infrastructure and computational law. Vogl defines legal document management as “technologies that are used to get to the legal content more efficiently: legal search technologies or ediscovery technologies”. Legal infrastructure involves systems or platforms that connect different stakeholders.

Computational law is CodeX’s key focus of research interest. “It’s where we automate and mechanise part of the legal analysis – a branch of legal informatics where the computer understands legal concepts and can reason,” says Vogl. “The other aspect is AI, statistical AI and data analytics in legal settings where you crunch the data of judges’ decisions or patent examiners’ decisions and try to help legal professionals make decisions that are more data driven.”

In recent years, CodeX has opened its doors to the growing legal innovation community. “It’s become a place where people meet and present new ideas,” he says. “They find a group of like-minded people who help them elaborate.”

This involves different formats: weekly group meetings open to Stanford people and visitors – broadcast through the web allowing remote participants from different countries, legal tech startups and researchers who come in and do their pitch. “It’s a 20-minute presentation with Q&A,” explains Vogl. “That helps this community stay on top of innovations – the discourse, the conversation about what’s going on – it’s pretty lively.”

A monthly speaker series enables thought leaders to address the community, together with the annual Future Law conference. “The profile is changing,” says Vogl. “It was very much the core legal/tech community at the beginning and now we see CIOs and partners of law firms, people from government coming.”

CodeX is neutral and not for-profit. “We like to work with startups: they help us understand the space too,” Vogl suggests. “There are people in the AI/law scholarly community who’ve been working on these deep issues for several decades – but in their own bubble. Simultaneously, we’ve had this explosion of startup activity: there’s not been very much connection between them.” CodeX sees itself as a forum to connect the two.

Vogl accepts that robo-lawyers create fear. “But the robo-lawyer really has two faces,” he says. “One is mechanising and automating legal services – commoditised legal work and document checking. Legal prediction is the other aspect. That makes lawyers more uncomfortable than legal automation because they have traditionally provided this ability to predict how a judge is going to find in a case before it happens, or how negotiation with another party will turn out. They thought of that as something very much based on experience. It’s what they can charge a premium for.

“Now, with data, even junior lawyers – or potentially even clients – can determine the odds of success in a particular matter. That is threatening to lawyers.”

In response, he suggests, lawyers will have to redefine their role in how they deliver their expertise to clients: “They have to open their minds because if they don’t, there will be others who will materialise that opportunity.”

Vogl confesses to being excited. “It’s in the DNA of Stanford to test new ideas. We’ve only started to scratch the surface of innovation in this space.”