$5.8M in funding for Judicata

I am delighted to announce that our friends at Judicata, who have chosen legal search as their beachhead in legal technology, just received $5.8M in funding from Khosla Ventures.

Judicata does the right thing in search: instead of searching by keywords through cases, it organizes cases by legal doctrine and relevant facts and detects those doctrines and facts in cases algorithmically. The promise of Judicata is to take input like “I want cases about the enforceability of no-oral-modifications clauses in Texas” and return just the cases that address this issue. And, since these cases are compiled algorithmically, you could see just those cases on just that issue in the court or before the judge where your case is pending.

Think of Judicata as bridging the gap between treatises or PLC and Westlaw. Or think of it as annotations to a doctrinal treatise updated automatically with cases from everywhere. As Judicata extends its substantive coverage, you will be able to browse through, say, contract doctrines (in Texas, in Houston, as applied in insurance cases, etc.) and drill down from doctrine to primary law. There are two keys to making this work: (1) technology to algorithmically sort cases into these categories; and (2) domain knowledge to construct the categories.

With its new funding, Judicata’s challenge is primarily the second; to grow its domain knowledge from California employment law to the law more generally. I’ve seen some of Judicata’s preliminary demos and have swapped email with cofounder Blake Masters, but I eagerly await the opportunity to get my hands on Judicata’s first release. Its success or failure will turn on whether its categorization algorithms and process really work — i.e., whether it finds the right doctrinal categories and whether it sorts cases into them comprehensively and correctly. (This in turn will depend on building an organization that is as much a legal company as it is an engineering one.)

Legal search is a tough place to start: Westlaw’s moat of content insulates it from replacement; 80% coverage or 80% correct is worthless to lawyers (at least at the top of the market); legal search is not perfect, but most lawyers don’t regard it as broken (cf. eDiscovery, where all lawyers think it’s awful); and selling into law firms and legal departments is difficult, specialized enterprise sales (a function we at Disco have outsourced to our channel partners, who we hope will also serve as distributors for our future legal technology offerings). But Judicata has made a good start at making this strategy work.

Investment in legal startups across the full spectrum of legal technology is good: it reflects the growing consensus that there is an opportunity right now to change what great lawyers can do by arming with them modern process and technology.

Congratulations to Judicata!

Discovery In Law School

Many law schools simply don’t teach practical skills.  While more are moving in that direction, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to design a course to help prepare young litigators for the reality that their early careers will largely be spent on discovery.

This course, essentially a capstone, teaches students to handle a lawsuit from inception through summary judgment and trial, excluding the initial client meeting and document collection.  Students will be provided with a statement of facts (essentially witness interviews providing the basic facts of the case from both the plaintiff and defendant perspective).  Students will also be provided approximately 10-15,000 documents in Disco that will form the basis of the evidence for the case.  Students will draft requests for disclosures and production to gather the information they think is important and respond to the same from the opposing side.  They will review the documents in Disco to respond to discovery requests and identify documents needed to support their case.  Students will use the discovery to draft and respond to summary judgment motions and trial, assuming time allows.

Students should have completed civil procedure, legal writing, and evidence prior to enrolling in this course.

Litigation Skills Course Outline

I.    Drafting initial pleadings

  • Complaint/Petition
  • Answer/Counterclaims/Other responsive pleadings

II.   Litigation Hold & FRCP 26(f) conference/FRCP 16 scheduling order (or state equivalents)

III.  Motion to Dismiss/state law equivalent (if desired)

IV.  Discovery

  • Initial disclosures
  • Requests for production
  • Requests for admission (if desired)

Note:  Students should be given an abbreviated time frame to complete the tasks in the scheduling conference or scheduling order.  We envision trial teams of two students per side with a trial setting for the last two weeks of the semester.  All deadlines should flow from the trial setting based on whatever state (or federal) rules the professor chooses to use.

V.    Summary judgment motions

  • Each side provides an affirmative motion for summary judgment
  • Response to summary judgment
  • Oral argument on the motions

Note:   Oral argument can be in lieu of a trial.  If so, students should prepare objections to summary judgment evidence and be prepared to respond to same.

VI.  Pretrial hearing – argument on all of the following except voir dire

  • Exhibit list
  • Objections to exhibits
  • Witness list
  • Jury charge
  • Motions in limine
  • Voir Dire questions

Proposed Syllabus With Summary Judgment

Week 1

Requirements of drafting initial pleadings– Complaints/Petitions due by Friday.

Week 2

Requirements of litigation holds/initial and scheduling conferences —   Answers/Counterclaims due by Friday

Week 3

Theory and requirements of drafting written discovery/Theory and practical aspects of document review — Scheduling conference

Week 4

Review of summary judgment requirements and drafting — Written discovery due by Friday

Week 5

Drafting pretrial documents

Week 6

Responses to written discovery due by Friday

Week 7

Production due by Friday

Week 8

Motions to compel due by Friday

Week 9

Hearings on motions to compel

Week 10

Summary judgment due by Friday

Week 11

Responses to summary judgment due by Friday

Week 12

Summary Judgment hearings

Week 13

Summary Judgment hearings

Do we need nonlawyer entrepreneurs?

The legal industry is in the midst of a revolution: pure substantive knowledge and the craft of the great lawyer working alone are giving way to a combination of technology and process; we are about to witness an industrial revolution of the law.

The benefits of the legal industrial revolution will be reaped by clients, who will receive higher quality, less expensive legal services; by the law, which will become a more effective and pervasive mechanism of social construction and control; and by great lawyers, who will find their ability to make a difference magnified by the new tools, technological and organizational, at their disposal.

What exactly do I mean? The top of the market will see the rise of sophisticated prediction engines that replace armchair and email-around-the-firm opinion (Lex Machina is an example); tools for search and classification of primary law and evidence; and automated analysis that helps combine this data into actionable advice. All this will be deployed by great lawyers, adept at both substantive law and systems (technology and process), assisted by specialists in these latter areas. The level of client service and the results that can be obtained will be novel and astonishing. The lower end of the market will have for the first time access, through the legal equivalent of mass production, to high-quality legal advice; not the dumbed down world of legal forms and the like, but the research and judgment of great lawyers systematized and embodied in technology and process so that it can be delivered on a mass scale at a reasonable price. The increasing effectiveness of the law will redound to its credit; in Llewellyn’s words, “Some say the law’s in a sorry plight / and folly her fruition / the answer to them’s to set it right, in the common law tradition!”

Among the people who agree with all this, there is frustration about how long it is taking, and a tendency to blame the guild regulations of lawyers for the delay. Why can’t lawyers raise equity funding? Why can’t law firms be publicly owned as they are now in the U.K. and in Australia? Why can’t nonlawyer entrepreneurs lead the legal revolution? The frustration that underlies these questions is understandable, for revolution in the law has been a long time coming, and the benefits, economic and social, of such a revolution are great. (Indeed, because of the pervasive importance of the law in America, its role as the structural, societal foundation for business, government, and so much else that goes on, and the difficulty of dealing with human incentives and institutions — a difficulty that transcends difficult business, physical, or technical problems faced by other industries — I can think of few problems that should be more attractive to young people, or great people, who want to make a difference.)

In opposition to the spirit that underlies these questions, I want to defend our guild regulations. The law is not, and should not be, merely a business. It is a business, of course, and answerable in that sense to the demands of the market. But it is not only a business. The law as it should be is a solemn calling, a profession charged with understanding incentives and institutions, with knowing how and why people act and with crafting the structures — contracts, organizations, dispute-resolution procedures, governments — that shape people’s behavior and, given their behavior, best allow them to accomplish great things. Law is the great facilitator. What the guild regulations seek to guarantee is that the people leading legal organizations will be people for whom sentences like these are not empty puffery, people for whom these sentences resonate real, people who take the law seriously.

To be sure, the guild regulations are both under- and overinclusive: there are nonlawyers with a proper understanding of the legal function (although many of these wind up going to law school!); and there are many, many lawyers, sadly, who lack it. But there are, now, enough lawyers with an entrepreneurial bent that the revolution is underway even without relaxation of the guild regulations; and there is nothing stopping those lawyers from forming organizations in which people with the other requisite skills can participate. At Camara & Sibley, for example, we have formed a legal technology group called Casi Labs, whose first product is Disco. The nonlawyers who I’ve met who want to be involved in this space, and even the nominal lawyers (lawyers who have never really practiced and never embraced the legal culture), just don’t seem to get it; they treat legal output like a product; I would not want to be their customer or client.

In designing the structures that will determine who leads the legal industrial revolution, we must not forget that it is a legal revolution, a revolution that will change the fundamental rules or operating system of our society. That is a core competency of great lawyers.

Bootleg Demo Videos

I gave a talk today at a meeting of the Houston Association of Litigation Support Managers (HALSM) to introduce Disco, talk about some of our design and engineering decisions, and speculate about the growing role of litigation support managers and other technology specialists in the law firm of the future.

One of the audience members shot a bootleg video of the demo part of the talk and posted it to YouTube:

We are always eager to talk about Disco or the future of legal technology at similar events. To schedule a talk, contact CeCe Cohen.

Book Review: The Politics of Jurisprudence

Roger Cotterrell, The Politics of Jurisprudence (2d ed., Oxford 2003)

politics of jurisprudenceI was pleasantly surprised by this book. It accurately summarizes, chapter by chapter, the major figures and movements in Anglo-American legal philosophy: Maine, Austin, Hart and Kelsen, Fuller, Pound, Dworkin, Llewellyn, law & economics, and critical legal studies.

Histories of legal philosophy tend to be either “course book” type collections of excerpts that don’t substitute very well for reading the originals or narratives that are incomplete, inaccurate, biased, or all three. This is none of those things. In particular, Cotterrell does an excellent job of summarizing critical legal studies in sober, analytical language; if you are the sort of person who feels at home reading Posner or Shavell, you will find Cotterrell’s summary of critical legal studies much more informative than the rhetorical, continental original works. As an introduction to Anglo-American legal philosophy, the book is a success.

The book fails when it tries to do more, however. Cotterrell argues that the philosophical positions he describes are reactions to pressures on or questions faced by the legal profession at the time the positions were developed; that the evolution of positions can be seen as a continuing attempt by the legal profession to carve out a special domain of expertise for itself. But these positions can better be understood as incremental contributions made by lawyers who just happened to think of new things; there is no close connection between the timing of the contributions and changes in the legal profession.

Consider two examples:

Of Austin’s positivism (law as the command of a sovereign expressed in sanction-backed rules), Cotterrell argues that it can be seen as an attempt to bring legislation within the special expertise of lawyers who, until then, had seen themselves as expositors and appliers of a historical customary common law. By expanding the domain of legal philosophy to include all sovereign commands, not merely customary ones, Austin’s theory prevented legislation from appearing as something extra-legal — and imposed legal method and scheme on legislators.

Of Dworkin’s theory of hard cases (there is always a right answer, and it is found by finding the application of principles immanent in the existing legal tradition that best fits with and justifies that tradition), Cotterrell argues that it can be seen as an attempt to legalize (to bring within a special competence of lawyers) and so legitimate judicial decisions that might seem at first glance to be naked exercises of discretion or lawmaking power, the problem that, he claims, most threatened lawyers when Dworkin wrote.

The problem of legislation was hardly unique to Austin’s time; indeed, it only grew during the New Deal and the period both before, during, and after Dworkin’s activity. Similarly, the problem of illegitimate judicial discretion arose long before Dworkin wrote; decades earlier in America and centuries earlier in England. It is true that Austin and Dworkin addressed problems present when they wrote, but that is hardly surprising; what is missing is evidence that the problems they addressed were unique to, or at least novel in, their times

A better story is the standard one: Maine gives us an understanding and grounding of common law in historical custom; Austin gives us an understanding of statutes and of the notion of change in the law by change in the sovereign’s commands; Hart and Kelsen refine that to describe the actual situation (a habit of obedience to a set of rules, many of which are procedural or empowering rather than substantive); Fuller and the other natural lawyers remind us that not just any sovereign act counts as law (that tyranny isn’t law); Pound and Dworkin explain how changes in the law (what appears to be judicial discretion) can be legalized and thereby legitimated by locating the motive force for the changes in principles or interests immanent in the legal tradition; Llewellyn gives us the notion that doctrine is shorthand for effects (he is a craftsman, he encourages care); and law & economics and critical legal studies tell us about the law’s effects and assumptions.

We move ever forward to a more sophisticated understanding of what the law is and how it changes and should be changed. That is the work of jurisprudence. Every lawyer should be familiar with it.

Non sequitur — The Vegetarian Piranha

Occasionally we will post items that nothing to do with the law or discovery.  This time I want to share a few photos of one of our hobbies; cooking.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed eating the finished product.


Shrimp stuffed poblano pepper with a red bell pepper sauce


Roasted duck with fresh rosemary


Grilled pacu (the vegetarian piranha)


Pork tenderloin slow smoked over hickory