A Bot-Champion for Financially-Inclined Women!

Robot.PNGKudos to the Financial Times, that bastion of male writers covering male-dominated endeavors and industries! It recognized that there are women who might be interested in their articles! Also, it noted that not enough women experts were being leveraged in their articles! Finally, it recognized research that suggests that women might be put off by articles that quote heavily or exclusively from men! So, FT sourced the effort to correct this situation to a Bot – call it a “FemBot” if you will (my name, not theirs). This bot scans through the articles during the editing process to determine whether the sources named in the article are male or female. Editors are then alerted that they are falling short on including women in their pieces. Later versions might actually alert writers to their overly male tone as they type them up.

FT isn’t stopping there. It is also examining the images it uses, and intends to press for more pictures of women. Because women are more likely to click through on pictures of women, than those only containing men. The Opinion Desk at the FT is also tracking behaviors, noting gender, ethnicity and geographical location, with the goal of supporting more female and minority voices in the publication.

The concept of bias baked into Artificial Intelligence systems from developers and data sets is an emerging issue and a well-identified risk of those systems. However, FT appears to be embracing the bias in an effort to counteract it. Well done, FT!

 

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New Bill Proposed to Increase Access to Federal Court Records

Image result for legislation billTheoretically, certain documents are supposed to be freely accessible to the public, including documents contained in the dockets of the federal courts. Congress has permitted the imposition of fees for electronic access to this otherwise freely available documents, imposing a per page fee that, while not particularly excessive, can certainly add up. That access is accomplished through PACER – Public Access to Court Electronic Records. 

The fees, their use, and any “profit” realized via the system, have been the subject of public debate and litigation. Suits include class actions and are premised on overcharges, proper application of collected fees and failure to abide by certain laws, such as the E-Government Act of 2002. While private companies, such as Thompson Reuters and LexisNexis offer paid access with extra bells and whistles, the debate fundamentally centers on what constitutes public “access” to public documents in this day and age.

Recently, in early September, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced a bill to increase transparency and access to these federal court documents. H.R. 6714, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, seeks to open up PACER to users for free. It requires documents to be added within five days after filed with the court, in a text-searchable and machine-readable format. It also mandates updates to the woefully cludgy system and interface, including improvements to the search function. The bill also seeks to consolidate the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. While this system was intended to improve efficiency within the judicial system, it is broken into different systems in different courts, which further obstructs locating records and documents. The Act would unify these disconnected systems under the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Finally, the Act will permit fees to be charged to States that wish to opt into the CS/ECF system.

Who knows if this Bill will pass and the moneymaker that is PACER forever opened up to the masses through free access. It will be interesting to see how this Bill fares and, if it does pass, what it ultimately will look like. You can take a look at the current version of the bill text here.

 

Gauging Alertness – There’s an App for That

Capture.PNGSome of my best work is done when I am alert. No, really – early mornings are my most productive time, when I am fresh from a full night’s sleep. No doubt, the large cup of coffee helps. But when I am alert, I can plow through tasks, no matter how mundane, and feel fully engaged with the project.

But then, afternoon hits. About 2:00 pm, I start to feel my attention wander and my productivity decline. Sure, I could grab some sugar or caffeine, but those measures bring along with them some undesirable side effects.

What if I could be “alerted” to this gradual decline in focus, so that I could identify my patterns (other than recognizing that 2:00 is a tough time for me) and proactively schedule my work in ways that maximize my focus and efficiencies? Traditional alertness devices and measuring methods are fairly cumbersome, obtrusive and time-consuming – what if I could employ tracking in a way that is unobtrusive and passive and part of my regular regime?

Vincent W.-S. Tseng, Saeed Abdullah, Jean Costa, Tanzeem Choudhury, researchers at Cornell University, think they may have found a “healthier” answer to this potential problem. A smartphone app, appropriately named “AlertnessScanner”, Android only, can measure your alertness by taking photographic bursts using the front facing camera of your pupils when you look at your smartphone. In this manner, alertness can be measured continuously and in a way that does not meaningfully interfere with your regularly scheduled activities.

Why look at the eyes? The Cornell researchers note that the pupils of alert people are more dilated to increase information intake, compliments of the sympathetic nervous system. Conversely, when people are drowsy, the parasympathetic nervous system causes pupils to contract. The app, developed for research purposes only at this point, measures pupil dilation through its imaging and analysis tools. Images are taken upon sleep/unlock or at a user’s prompting. The app analysis employs a “pupil to iris” ratio in order to account for different focal distance each time a person looks at their phone. The app also allows the user to view the images and confirm the image is of sufficient quality before saving. The app also offers a “sleep journal” to record passive data on duration of the previous night’s sleep.

When you can track your alertness on the go, you can implement breaks or schedule work according to difficulty or focus-needs. I can see this being really important for some jobs – surgeons and heavy machine operators come to mind. But even lawyers can benefit from knowing when to schedule the drafting of a Supreme Court brief and when to schedule reviewing the news alerts.

While the results of the study look promising, the app is not yet in development. The researchers did identify some potential shortcomings, such as issues with controlling ambient light and the necessary resolution for the front facing camera to record usable results. However, early experimentation looks promising. The idea of better body analytics is a popular one right now – perhaps the next iteration of the Apple Watch can incorporate pupil dilation along with other metrics to zap you when you need it most.

 

Swapping Bots for Lawyers Via App: DoNotPay

DoNotPay.PNGI know it has been a fearfully long while since I last posted here. I forgive anyone and everyone from abandoning the empty, echoing halls of AdvocatesStudio for greener and more fertile and more updated tech blog pastures. Yet, here I am, writing again, prompted by the thought that suing someone may be as simple as downloading an app. DoNotPay, a robot lawyer Chatbot app, is now promising to help people file suits in small claims court, no JD required. And, because I like the cheap and free around here, DoNotPay currently is free for users. That is a lot cheaper than the hourly rate charged by the average lawyer.

Developer Josh Browder, now barely drinking age here in the US, created DoNotPay as a means of automating the process of challenging parking tickets, mainly inspired by his own excessive collection of tickets generated shortly after receiving his drivers’ license. The ChatBot – a conversational interface that prompts a user to provide information that can then be leveraged by the AI to provide answers or actions – allowed users to select one of several defenses to the ticket, enter details and send an appeal generated by the app to the appropriate legal authority. Browder taught himself to code at the age of 12, and his efforts certainly haven’t been wasted – the first version of the bot in 2015 reportedly saved UK drivers approximately 2 million pounds in two months time. Buoyed by his early success, Browder has allegedly claimed his app may “take down” the legal profession, which undoubtedly will be applauded by a couple of people.

Following on the parking ticket win, Josh added new beta functionality to the app in 2017 on the heels of the massive Equifax data breach –  he apparently also was swept up into the breach (notice a trend here?). DoNotPay offered the ability to sue Equifax in small claims courts throughout the U.S. up to the small claims jurisdictional limit, ranging from $2,500 to $25,000. The new functionality basically assisted the user in preparing the forms necessary for the small claims action; you still had to serve the Complaint and attend the hearing. After entering your name and address in the app, the app generated the necessary papers to institute a small claims action in a PDF format that could be printed and filed. Providing any assistance in the process, though, is a benefit to users unfamiliar with local small claims practice who might otherwise not bother to navigate the legal maze.  And, as found with the parking tickets, users reported some success using the app to secure awards from Equifax.

Within the past week, Browder has again tweaked the app, now permitting users to create documents to sue anyone in small claims court. And, the Bot is now available via mobile application – previously, the tool was strictly web based. An Android app is coming, Browder promises. There are additional new features, and this might be where Browder monetizes – users can find deals on fast food by filling out surveys and deals on prescription and over-the-counter drugs, make appointments at the California Department of Motor Vehicles and check on class action settlement eligibility. The app also can be used to help fight bank fees and dispute transactions, secure refunds from companies like Uber, and fix credit reports. Like the beta version, the bot asks for a name and address, claim size (to see if it is within the jurisdictional limit of the applicable state), and then generates a demand letter, creates the filing documents, offers information on how to serve the suit, and even generates suggested scripts and questions that users can leverage at the hearing.

The new app doesn’t stop there – DoNotPay also recently acquired Visabot to assist in the application of green cards and other visa filings. While Visabot was a pay app for some of its services, Browder is offering the former services, like all DoNotPay services, for free.

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Does DoNotPay violate state laws on the unauthorized practice of law? Good question and one that is not yet resolved. If the information DoNotPay provides is targeted information that is freely accessible in the public forum, albeit in in a guided interface that helps users cut through the swathes of irrelevant, confusing or downright unhelpful information, perhaps that is not the same as providing legal advice. However, as I haven’t used the app myself yet, I cannot comment on whether any of the tools cross the line. I also cannot comment on the accuracy of the information provided by the app. Browder certainly maintains that he has been addressing concerns and making updates to improve information and to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

Browder also maintains that the information users provide to the app is protected –  per DoNotPay’s privacy policy, user data is protected with 256-bit encryption and there is no purported access to PII or case information.

Some may cynically claim that apps like this make an already litigious system worse. However, the fact remains that those who are most likely to use such an app are likely the more under-served segments of legal services in our society. Perhaps opening those doors a little wider may encourage some positive behaviors on the part of institutions that have benefited from that lack of access. Particularly in the area of immigration these days, such assistance, in any form, may be vital and life altering.

It is not clear how long the app will remain free. For now, Browder is seed funded with $1.1 million from investors and micro donations from customers. Browder’s stated intentions is that basic legal services will remain free, but inevitably, he may need to add charges for some services in order to keep the app going.

You can download the app yourself on the App Store – feel free to report back on your experience. Would love to know how our new Robot overlords handle the complexities of small claims court.

News You Can Use: A Robot Paralegal?

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The future is now! Dentons, LLP, the multinational firm boasting the largest number of lawyers in the world, apparently needs more of them — of the electro-mechanical sort. Dentons is financially backing a group of students from the University of Toronto who, as a class project, created an artificial intelligence to perform legal research. Code-named Ross, the AI uses IBM’s Jeopardy-nailing Watson to scour massive amounts of case law and legal docs in seconds to produce answers to legal questions. A Siri for lawyers, as the student-startup founders describe it.

Dentons is not new to embracing legal technology. It has its own legal tech lab, called Nextlaw Labs in California, where it apparently cooks up new legal technology projects. The student start-up, known as Ross Intelligence, Inc., will get access to the labs for their work, along with the financial investment from Dentons. Dentons, through Nextlaw, is also in the process of rolling out a cloud-based platform for lawyers, employing the IBM cloud and BlueMix Cloud Foundry technology. The idea is to create the foundation for developers to leverage and enter the legal tech market in order to create even better products for legal consumers to manage their work.

Right now, while the developers are refining and improving, Ross the Robot is focusing his intellectual powers on a database mostly comprised of U.S. bankruptcy law and “he” is being piloted not just at Dentons, but also at a few other elite firms in the US. His developers say that Ross is “learning” through action and responsive feedback – an exciting and frightening concept, to be sure. Pretty soon, I imagine, Ross will have the learned experience of a fifth year associate.

AI in the legal field is not unique to Ross – Microsoft’s Ventures Accelerator program is involved in another project that leverages AI to work through parts of complex contracts. RAVN Govern, powered by RAVN Systems’ Applied Cognitive Engine also uses AI to assesses  risk levels in contracts, and advise regarding the risk exposures before the contract is signed.

But no doubt, Dentons definitely has it all figured out. From the Denton’s release: “Technology is now and will continue to be a real differentiator in the legal profession,” explained Dan Jansen, CEO, NextLaw Labs. “The potential in companies like ROSS shows how the approach to solving client challenges is going to change. NextLaw Labs wants to be a part of transforming what is possible into a tangible offering in today’s legal market.” I, for one, welcome our new robotic paralegal overlords. Can I grab you a cup of coffee, Ross?

Don’t Forget to RSVP: RSVP Law

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Looking for a lawyer? Looking for a legal information library? You could RSVP. RSVP Law is an online service whose core offering is connecting clients with lawyers. Users of the service provide their contact information and specific needs, which are routed to an actual live person who will assist in finding matches that meet the criteria. Users can submit a request for a lawyer in very modern ways — by texting, Facebooking (is that a verb?), or tweeting — as well as more conventional ways like using the website form, emailing or by telephone. The service appears to be in the new-er side, as I was unable to find any reviews. You can find more on their website at the link above.

What caught my attention about RSVP Law is its other aspect – creation of a free resource. RSVP Law is building a free-to-access online library of legal information. I would love to check this out, as I really like free resources. From the website, it appears that the resource is focused on offering context (location, type of business, availability) and ease of access (using your thumb, which I presume means mobile-friendly). RSVP Law is also taking requests on resources of interest on the page. However, it is currently in Private Beta. You can request a spot in their early access. To get access, text the number 760-230-0202, with the phrase Beta List #realhelpisfree access#realhelpisfree. Priority access is offered to existing BetaList users. Or you can visit the early access page here. I have and, if I can get in, I will update the post with my opinions on the resource.

Neil Alonzo is the co-founder and Managing Director for RSVP Law. He has a background as an agent through his business Vocal Marketing Group. I have to hand it to Neil on website design – the site looks slick and is very easy to navigate, even if a bit bereft of detail.

If you have used the service or have access to the private beta, would love to get your thoughts in the comments.

Apple’s New Software – WWDC 2014 Recap

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Another year, another opportunity for Apple to wow its developers and get the rest of us excited about new features coming soon to an iDevice near you. Apple’s World Wide Development Conference happened today and Apple didn’t leave us hanging. With OSX 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8, there are plenty of new features, most designed around the idea of seamless movement from device to device to device, with nary a skip in the workflow. For the geeks, Apple has rolled out a new developer language called Swift with features to make the designing process easier. For iOS, there are new features that developers can take advantage of, including: Homekit (a tool that will permit apps to interface with the OS to control external devices – like home security, heating, lighting, etc.); Healthkit (a tool to bring together fitness information from various external tracking methods); the ability to work with third party keyboards, as well as predictive typing like Swiftkey; better communication between apps and iOS; access for third party apps to TouchID; third party widgets; family share for iOS purchases so that everyone can benefit from downloads; shared photo editing through new iOS Photos app; improved Siri performance; and, changes to the App store including the ability to download bundles.

For Yosemite, users will find improvements to AirDrop,  iOS inspired flat design, and  an expanded Notifications function, which will also work with third party app widgets. It will also be able to leverage iCloud Drive – Apple’s answer to DropBox, with 20 GB for $.99 per month and 200 GB at $3.99 per month, synced across all of your devices. And, it works on Windows too. iCloud Drive will make for easier work within Apple apps across devices, improving efficiencies. MailDrop allows Mail users to attach large files without restriction using iCloud Drive. Users will also be able to edit image attachments with simple annotations. Safari has changed its look, and will show recent people you have messaged and RSS feeds and a thumbnail of open tabs. You will be able to view text messages and make phone calls on your computer in the new OSX. Tweaks and shine, rather than a significant overhaul.

While I didn’t note a great deal of business-ready features, iCloud Drive is certainly interesting for those who use Apple products for their office suite. And, the improvements and tweaks to both OS’ will make Apple devices more user-friendly, which is always a good thing.

What do you think? Was there anything you were hoping for that Apple missed? Or are you satisfied with the next iteration of Apple’s operating systems?

UPDATE: Something I missed in yesterday’s live blogs – Google is no longer the default search engine in Safari in iOS. Say hello to Bing. And even cooler: DuckDuckGo, my fav private search engine, is now an option in Safari as well – no tracking allowed!

Microsoft Office for iPad – It’s About Freaking Time

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Yep, it’s finally here. After lots of promises and years of delay, Microsoft has finally released a true Office for iPad suite (no more emulations from third parties). Maybe this move is to counter Apple’s semi-recent decision to bundle its iLife apps (Pages, Numbers  and Keynote) for free. Maybe they just finally got around to it. Who knows? But here it is, so I figured I should check out exactly what Microsoft is offering to Apple users.

As expected, Office for iPad is a collection of three apps  – Word, Excel and Powerpoint, of course, in addition to the previously available Microsoft – iPad offerings.  The apps are free, but there is a catch – to do more than view (in other words, to create or edit) docs, you will need the Office 365 subscription, ranging from $6.99 to $9.99 per month for Home Personal or Premium, or one of their business subscriptions. Then, the tablet will have access to the same material available through Office Online, including use of OneDrive for storage.  With an Office 365 subscription, you get five tablet set ups and five desktop setups of the suite.

The apps for iPad are more robust than one might think – they do look like their desktop counterparts to a degree. Of course, with the emphasis on touch interface. Most common features are included in the iPad version, while more arcane features remain desktop only (for example, you can footnote on the iPad, but forget about Mailings and Reference tools). Manipulating text follows the usual iOS protocols for selecting, cutting, pasting, etc. You can track changes, co-author docs, and spell check (although there is no grammar checking or thesaurus tools). There are 16 templates in Excel for iPad, which should cover most of the scenarios you would need on a mobile basis.

For free, you can read, view and present. For a monthly fee, you can create and edit. I would imagine the cost would be justified in the business setting if you are a heavily Office-oriented firm. You can get a 30 day free trial of Office 365, so you can assess whether the new mobile / desktop setup would work well for you. Make sure you are running iOS 7 or later. Oh, and they have versions for your iPhone and Android device as well.

Check out the promo video and screenshots below. The apps are nothing if not beautiful to look at.

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Dropbox Tips

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Despite all the concerns and discussion out there over cloud usage by legal professionals, Dropbox still remains one of the most popular applications among lawyers. I am not going to discourse on whether or not that should be the case – the internet is rife with the opinions of very capable commenters on the subject – just remember that there are Bar rules out there about lawyers employing reasonable measures to ensure security when using the cloud. My personal use, however, takes into account the potential risks as well as rewards of using this free and cheap multi-user, cross-device sync app that a majority of cloud users have embraced. That means I enable security features whenever possible and store documents I have no fear of others potentially having access to.  While that may limit others’ use of the service, I still find plenty of utility in Dropbox when I need to collaborate or share with someone else – and I have chosen not to use my other favorite sharing / storage service, Google Drive.

First, as with any other online service, make sure you have a very secure password – please, no 1234567! Did you know that is one of the most popular passwords out there? No duh! Make it hard to crack with letters, numbers, symbols and mixed caps. Also, disable automatic user log in on your computer and log out on your devices when not using the service. And, now that they offer it, enable two-factor verification – I have it on all services that allow for it, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. Dropbox has it too – all this means is that when you (or anyone) attempts to log into your account on Dropbox, you will get a text message on your phone with a verification code that you will also need to enter to get into your folders. Dropbox also encrypts files on its side of the fence and you can too – check out Boxcrypter, which I wrote about here in the Studio, for an extra level of encryption on YOUR side of the fence. Some content creations applications, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, let you password protect at the document level. You also can set Dropbox to selectively sync only certain files, thus limiting unwanted access where syncing isn’t really necessary.  No guarantees that these steps will prevent any and all security breaches, but it certainly improves your odds in keeping your data intact.

Besides syncing, sharing and backup, there are some pretty cool uses for Dropbox. Automatically upload your photos from your devices to Dropbox by enabling the auto upload feature in the app. Set up remote printing by creating a print queue folder, and setting up a script that will look to the folder and print locally at home anything you add to it while on the road (thanks Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration Blog). If you use 1Password for your secure password storage, you can use Dropbox as a password backup application. Backup your WordPress blog to Dropbox using plug ins such as  WordPress Backup to DropboxWP Time Machine andBackupBox. Use Wappwolf to automatically share, convert files, sync, zip, unzip, encrypt, decrypt  and employ actions in other applications such as  Evernote, Facebook, Flickr using Dropbox. There is little doubt that Dropbox’s popularity is one of its benefits – there are plenty of very smart users out there who create applications to extend the reach and utility of Dropbox because they use it too.

One last little gift to you: MakeUseOf has a cool chart showing off some of Dropbox’s tips, tricks, keyboard shortcuts, and tools and plug ins. Check it out – this really only scratches the surface of what you can do with the service. And remember, always sync responsibly!

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Foogi – A Cross-Platform Calendar & Scheduling App

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In Outlook in my enterprise, I can easily and quickly check to see who is available for a meeting at a given time. Definitely an efficiency booster.

But what if you are trying to coordinate times and attendees outside of the organization, using different platforms? Yes, of course there is an app for that. Foogi promises to match up invitees’ calendars to find the free / available times in which you can schedule your meeting. Foogi is not a calendar replacement. Instead, depending on how much information users share within Foogi, it will compare schedules and offer times within the existing calendar app so users can create an event. It works across a broad spectrum of calendaring systems, including Outlook, Gcal, iCal, etc. – users just need to have the Foogi app installed on their phones. If they don’t have Foogi installed, the app will send time suggestions to invitees by email, with one click meeting acceptance. It automatically adjusts for time zones.

If you are like me, it is at about this point in time when you start wondering about how much information are you actually sharing here? Foogi’s page indicates that only the starting and ending points of your available times are shared outside your device. There are some features coming down the road that will allow users to custom tailor what users show for available time, such as only show up to one free hour per day, or only availability on certain days during certain times. Even if you choose not to share availability in the app, you will soon still be able to see others’ available times in your calendar to ease the scheduling task.  Another soon to be released feature is the ability to group contacts and see all free / busy times for group members in the same interface to speed up the meeting creation process.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that Foogi users will automatically show in your contacts list – so app usage is shared with other app users. While slightly intrusive, it does serve to make the app more seamless. While offline or out of signal, Foogi stores your notices and will push them to your device once your are back online.

Also, in order to get the app, you have to provide your email address and cell number – the app is texted to your device, where you install from there. iOS, Android and Windows phone flavors.

It is free. Which is always nice.

I haven’t used the app yet, but if you can get around the issues of sharing your app usage and partial calendar information with Foogi contacts, and are fine with giving out your number and email in order to load it, the app does promise a feature we often take for granted here in the enterprise in Outlook. It certainly is a nice thought that you might be able to leverage that same convenience across devices and for free, using the ubiquitous smartphone calendar that rides around in your pocket.

Here’s the promo vid for your viewing pleasure.