Interview with Andrew Arruda – CEO and Co Founder of ROSS Intelligence

Interview with Andrew Arruda – CEO and Co Founder of ROSS Intelligence

Andrew Arruda is the CEO and Co-Founder of ROSS Intelligence, an artificially intelligent lawyer built on Watson, IBM’s cognitive computer. Commonly referred to as ‘the smartest lawyer’, ROSS is trained to read the law, understand and answer research questions, getting smarter each time.

Since its launch, ROSS has been featured worldwide in magazines and newspapers, such as TechCrunch, Wired, New Scientist, Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. TSL’s Deputy Editorial Content Manager, spoke to Andrew about ROSS and the impact AI could have on the legal profession.

Having completed your J.D. at the University of Saskatchewan, you were called to the Canadian Bar. In 2014, you co-founded ROSS Intelligence, what motivated you to pursue a career in legal artificial intelligence instead?

Shortly after being called to the Bar, rather serendipitously, a friend who was really into artificial intelligence, having been programming since he was ten years old told me he was working with a group at the University of Toronto on different AI technologies, including IBM’s Watson. He asked me what I thought about a system that you can ask your legal research question to and get an answer, and better still – it keeps getting smarter. Once I heard this description, I wanted to be part of it. I left my job as a lawyer, and we built ROSS. It’s been a wild adventure ever since.

Our first version was in Canadian Labour & Employment Law. It generated a lot of attention, nationally and internationally, especially in the US. When we saw the size of the legal market there, we knew ROSS could have a large impact.

ROSS has been referred to as the world’s very first artificially intelligent lawyer. For our readers who may not be aware of ROSS, can you tell us a bit about it?

What ROSS does is allows you to do your legal research without worrying about keywords, Boolean search, or anything like that. You ask your questions to ROSS as you would any human colleague. Legal language and legal theory have a lot of intricacies, therefore, when you ask your question to ROSS, it breaks down the question and looks at the relationship between the words in the sentence in order to decipher the intent of the question. It understands what you are asking; it’s understanding and learning from you. ROSS will then automatically read through the law and surface all the relevant passages you would need to answer your legal research question.

ROSS takes you to a point where you are situated dead centre with what you are researching. As you interact with ROSS, you can up vote and down vote different results, and it learns from the feedback given. Therefore, it’s always getting smarter. As more users come on, it continues to learn exponentially. I like to describe it as a kind of dynamic system, which is always learning, and always changing – appropriate because the law is dynamic and not static. 

Where did the idea of ROSS originally come from?

The initial idea came from CTO and Co-Founder, Jimoh Ovbiagele. When he was younger, his parents divorced. He saw how expensive the process was. Therefore, from a young age, he was aware of how the law works and how expensive it is. Whilst he was a student at the University of Toronto, he started looking at AI and the law. He found that 30% of a lawyer’s time was spent on legal research. For him, it was a natural thing in that he wanted to make the process more efficient. Our goal now is to equip more lawyers with ROSS, enabling them to do more with less.

Multinational law firm, Dentons, was one of ROSS Intelligence’s early investors, and since then, ROSS has continued to grow. Would you be able to name some of the firms who have adopted ROSS?

At this time, we’ve publically announced BakerHostetler, Latham & Watkins and von Briesen & Roper as firms using ROSS. There are a number of other firms who have started using it too, but as it’s competitive advantage tool, it’s a little difficult for them to make announcements.

As it stands, ROSS Intelligence is being used by bankruptcy practices. Are there plans to expand into other practice groups or countries?

We are in testing modes for a variety of other practice areas in the US. ROSS is still learning how best to be a legal researcher.

Given that the US, Canada, UK and Australia are all common law based, that’s a natural direction. Our goal is to have ROSS used by every lawyer in the world.

How does ROSS assist consumers of legal services?

The ultimate beneficiaries of ROSS are the clients themselves. In the US and Canada, for example, when you do legal research, only two tools are being used. This means you do not get any variety. But, when you use ROSS you get a different perspective on what passages of law apply, resulting in clients getting the benefit of someone who is a lot more prepared, who has a comprehensive read through of the law, who is more efficient. Clients will be able to get better and more affordable services.

Professor Stephen Hawkins has warned that the development of full artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”. Should young, aspiring lawyers be worried about technology replacing them?

No! Ultimately, sitting at the centre of AI systems are humans. These systems are there to enhance a lawyer’s abilities. ROSS helps you get situated, and finds the relevant passages of the law. It’s down to the human to be able to compare, contrast, advocate for their client. ROSS is trying to get lawyers away from doing data retrieval tasks, and towards things they are trained for and what they love doing.

With regards to the quote itself, AI is a very powerful form of technology. It’s fair that people want to monitor it. But I think there are a lot of misconceptions. When you hear the words “artificial intelligence” you think of sci-fi. The system is just bringing forward what you need in order to do your job more efficiently. It’s aiding and enhancing human abilities, not replacing them.

The Law Firms in Transition survey of 2015 carried out by Altman Weil found that the second largest threat faced by law firms was technology that reduced the need for paralegals and lawyers. With that being said, have associates and partners in the firms using ROSS been hesitant to utilise it?

No, ROSS has been embraced, and for a variety of reasons. When they see what it does, they love using it.

For solo practitioners, ROSS is a great team member. When they are up against a larger law firm, they don’t have as many associates. But, they do have ROSS, helping and monitoring the law for them. It’s a way to level the playing field.

Medium and larger law firms are embracing it too. ROSS is helping them do the data retrieval that associates used to do. Clients are no longer willing to pay for this anymore. It’s not cutting into anyone’s bottom line. Instead, it’s driving up profits, helping firms become more competitive.

For in-house counsel, each time they have to farm out their issues to law firms, it’s expensive. If they can ask ROSS questions and seek advice from firms later down the line, they save a lot of money.

ROSS is only one example of the implementation of AI in the legal industry, with SmartApps also growing in popularity. How and in what ways do you foresee AI changing the legal profession?

Our hope is that systems like ROSS continue enhancing lawyers’ abilities. In the US, 80% of people who need a lawyer can’t afford one. At the same time, record numbers of law students are graduating who can’t find work. Systems built with AI will apply to them, as they can serve the legal needs of those who can’t afford legal services. It’s a win – win. The graduates can have a career and earn a living, and those who previously could not afford a lawyer now have access to one.

In a practical sense, AI will find it’s way into all software, in all industries. It’s a no-brainer. You would want your systems to improve and get smarter, and will enable you to do more. It’s early days of that, but there are a lot of things being launched that you see in different industries helping them out.

We’re super proud to be amongst the first to being an AI enabled tool to the law. Lawyers work incredibly hard and to have a system allows them to do more, and even improves their quality of life is something we are proud to have brought to the market.

For more information, visit IBM Watson or ROSS Intelligence. You can follow ROSS on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, you can also follow Andrew directly on Twitter.

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