For the second time, we were fortunate enough to organize a Darwin Talks event at the Minnesota State Bar Tech Conference, with a group of speakers who were able to offer a variety of perspectives on different areas of the law and how to improve them.

The evening’s first talk was from Karen Ciano of CCLI on how “Solo Practitioners Save the World”. An overwhelming majority of people who show up to court do so without an attorney, often due to the prohibitive cost. Many make too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to afford the hourly rates of an attorney.  Seemingly, the answer to solving this access to justice gap for those middle-income individuals and families are is the solo or small firm, who are already the main source of legal representation for that group. So why hasn’t that happened? Law school costs represent a challenge for the small or solo attorney; student loan bills don’t shrink, even if your fees do.  One way to help solve that problem is with tech that can make that attorney more efficient and cost-effective for their clients on a budget. Tech can help these small firms get up to speed faster and service a client base quicker, and small and solo firms can provide a foothold for these tech options into the legal space.

Michael Robak of the University of St. Thomas asked the question “What a(bot) the future?”  We have seen bots used to undertake a number of routine tasks, quite often as chatbots on websites aimed at helping customers. For legal services, bots can help to provide 24 hour service and simple answers to clients at any time of day while freeing up attorneys’ time to a small degree, and AI is used in any number of other tech platforms aimed at making the attorney’s job easier and more efficient. The rise of AI and bots coincides with an increase in the frequency with which individuals will go online to seek out an answer for their legal questions. The role of the attorney moving forward will be augmented by technology, as they spend time monitoring what their AI programs are doing, and answering questions they can’t.

Ed Walters of Fastcase closed out the event with “Doctor Strange Cite, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Start Hating Case Citations”. As part of his work with Fastcase, Ed has run up against state bars that want to cite unpublished opinions. What does unpublished even mean? Unpublished opinions aren’t meant to be cited or relied upon, and yet many places will publish these opinions and cases. Another issue is not being able to cite cases until they are published in books that no one uses or reads anyway. Making things more difficult is the fact that companies that put these books online for citation are forced to do so with every copy of the different books where it is cited. And once you do have those cases available on Westlaw or LexisNexis or Fastcase, you have to hope that the court uses the same service in order to find it. So how can this problem be solved? A media-neutral method of citation can circumvent issues of being reliant on one service, and is a solution that several states have switched to. And using an open API that can help to translate from a media-neutral citation to any of the services would put an end to the current ‘Tower of Babel” situation that exists.

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