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Crowell & Moring's Litigation Forecast 2019

Q&A with Owen Byrd, Chief Evangelist and General Counsel, Lex Machina

Photo of Owen Byrd

How do you see technology affecting attorneys’ jobs?
Robots are not coming to replace the lawyers. In fact, these technologies can liberate lawyers to spend more of their time on the really high-value work that involves reason and wisdom and judgment and true counsel. We lawyers like to be fact-based, evidence-based. But litigation strategy has often involved gut feeling and conferring with colleagues in the firm or the department. This will help us bring more data-driven insight to the process.

How can legal analytics help during litigation?
We have a number of ready-made apps that make it easy to use the analytics on the spot. For example, if I am the defendant in a patent case and I want to move for summary judgment, I can push two buttons and come up with the last 10 examples where the presiding judge granted such summary judgment, as well as the last 10 examples where he denied it, and go right into the briefs that the lawyers filed in those instances. I can start with what worked last time.

Growing ease of use is a trend in technology. How does that apply in law?
Making it easy to use these tools is critical. Otherwise lawyers just won’t do it. But ease of use can also change the way you use technology. For example, traditional legal research platforms are used mostly by researchers, librarians, and associates, rather than partners and corporate counsel. But legal analytics is best when used by those senior attorneys. It’s an iterative, interactive experience, and you won’t know what questions you can answer unless you are using it yourself.

How can legal analytics enhance collaboration in litigation?
Having solid data about litigation issues enables in-house counsel to work closely with outside counsel. You both have access to the same insights, which streamlines interactions and lets you work together to do things in a cost-efficient way that is most likely to generate a win.

What impact do you except from artificial intelligence?
As a Silicon Valley guy, AI has a specific meaning to me: it’s where software is starting to mimic human reasoning. But we should distinguish between science fiction and what real lawyers can do in their practices. The use of AI that mimics human reasoning is still pretty aspirational. A lot of the technologies that are precursors for AI, like machine learning and natural language processing, are certainly now in use by us and others, but there is a ways to go. Will true AI eventually become part of practicing law? Yes. Will it take a while? Yes. I think it’s very exciting in the longer term.

How did you become involved with legal analytics and technology?
Lex Machina started as a public interest project at Stanford Law School. It was an academic project designed to enable patent law academics to study the patent litigation system. But practitioners got wind of it and started asking about getting user accounts. At that point the light bulb went on and the people involved in that project at Stanford said, “Hey, I think there’s a business here.” So, it was spun out in 2010 with a little bit of venture backing, and we have seen considerable success.

I came here because my friend, our CEO Josh Becker, asked me to join. I told him I’m not a patent lawyer, and he said, “No, but you are an attorney and a data geek.” So I joined, and it’s been a very rewarding experience. As I said, our company started with a public interest mission, and we really do still focus on that. We’re advancing the rule of law by rolling up information that was previously hard to find or even unknown and using it to make the dispute-resolution system more transparent and more efficient. I think wider adoption of analytics is just going to improve the practice of law by bringing more openness and transparency to the field.

Index: Litigation Forecast 2019