Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

A.I. goes to law school
Artificial intelligence technology has been used to build a "bot" that answers legal questions in simple-to-understand language. So, is it practicing law?

Summer 2016

Artificial intelligence has now reached the law clerk level.

Baker & Hostetler recently hired ROSS, a "bot," to assist its bankruptcy attorneys. The ROSS platform is built on IBM's Watson technology, which supports ROSS with the same cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities that enabled Watson to win Jeopardy several years ago. But ROSS has now been taught bankruptcy law.

According to news reports, an attorney can ask ROSS a question on a client's legal issue, and ROSS will quickly provide a researched response, in plain language, just as if the attorney were speaking to a colleague. As it is used, ROSS continues to learn and improve. ROSS's developer is working on expanding its reach to other practice areas, including criminal, tax, employment and intellectual property.

ROSS' expert research ability raises the question of whether it can practice law. At its most complex, the practice of law is an art that requires learning, prudence, fairness, integrity, and an understanding of human nature. But at its simplest, the practice of law can involve no more than the selection of which form the client should use for a court case or to apply for a government benefit. ROSS is well within the continuum.

The same algorithmic technology can provide legal advice directly to clients. A young programmer in England recently developed a "bot" that has enabled tens of thousands of people to successfully appeal parking tickets. Humans who give legal advice to clients are required to have a license from the Colorado Supreme Court. If ROSS or an equivalent "bot" interacts directly with clients, that may constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

Kim Ikeler is an Assistant Regulation Counsel with the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.