Replacing lawyers?

Globes has some financial news about an Israeli startup that caught my eye:

Israeli online contract review platform LawGeex announced today $2.5 million in funding from Lool Ventures and LionBird and angel investors Eilon Tirosh and Rami Lipman. The startup has also launched its online contract review solution free of charge for consumers. Using machine learning, the Israeli startup sets out to “out-lawyer” the lawyers.

And how do you “out-lawyer” lawyers, according to the report?

LawGeex allows consumers to upload any type of contract to its platform and receive, within 24 hours, an in-depth report of what’s good, bad and even missing from their contract. Currently reviewing over 20 types of contracts, the free solution begins with employment agreements, with more contract types to be offered for free in the near future.

Here’s more by way of context:

LawGeex cofounder and CEO Noory Bechor said, “The driving force behind LawGeex is the belief that no one should sign a contract that they don’t fully understand. An astounding 33% of Americans need a lawyer every year but do not hire one, either because they can’t afford to or did not know where to turn. This ultimately leads to one-sided negotiations and unfair results. LawGeex has already earned the trust of thousands of users while ensuring quality and transparency, leveling the playing field when it comes to contract negotiations. Our machine learning platform has already reviewed over tens of thousands of contracts, many of which are employment contracts from some of the world’s largest tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook. We make sure all employees get a fair deal.”

An interesting concept. So, you get a contract, and you give it to LawGeex to review. LawGeex tells you what is wrong with the contract.

(I have assumed the system is somehow able to tailor its advice taking into account jurisdictional issues. For example, just sticking to employment contracts, there are differences between USA and UK law about what is required, what is the normal standard, and what is legal and illegal.)

That’s very helpful. But what then? How do you fix the contract? It doesn’t appear if LawGeex is going to give you the contract wording required to address whatever issues arise. And, knowing what needs to be added to a contract, and actually adding it – making sure all the angles are covered – is no trivial task. To do it properly, you need to have some experience or training. You know, like being a lawyer…

I’m poking fun at the concept while recognizing that they do not promote it as a complete legal solution. But that’s not exactly an up front message. So, I question how useful LawGeex might be without proper legal skills to back it up. I have not seen anything to suggest LawGeex will provide the missing text, nor am I aware of any technological solution. For sure, there are online contract providers, but they are all offering templates, and not individually tailored contract revision advice. For that, at least for now, you need a human being. (A bit of a stretch when it comes to some members of my former profession, I know, but let’s live with it for now.)

It will be interesting to see how LawGeex does. Perhaps it will be a fit for someone else active in this field. But for now, I’m skeptical it will be successful, long term.

The Globes report is available, here.

Lawyers and the wrong 7% solution

From the latest issue of Charles Christian‘s excellent Legal IT Insider:

The 7% Solution. According to a report in The Lawyer magazine, the UK’s Top 200 law firms are now spending 7% of turnover on occupancy – and these costs are heading up, year on year. This is in contrast to the average of 4-to-4.5% they spend on technology, a situation that prompted the well-known American legal tech commentator Ron Friedmann to remark: “For Big Law to be spending almost twice as much on occupancy as on tech sends clients the signal that law firms favour opulence over efficiency.”

In other words, the legal marketplace remains backward in its approach to technology, progress, and efficiency. And if that’s the situation in the UK – which is probably mirrored in the USA –  you can imagine what it’s like in Israel.

If you are in business, and want to ruffle the feathers of your favorite big firm lawyer, ask what the percentage spend is on these items. And then ask why.

The Legal IT Insider website is here.

Facebook has no body and soul

Advocate Guy Ophir has come up with an interesting tactic in the legal battle he is conducting against Facebook for certain clients.

From Globes:

Facebook Israel CEO asks court to gag lawyer

Yes, you read that correctly. Curious? Here’s more:

Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni today filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv District Court asking for a restraining order barring Adv. Guy Ophir “from revealing to the public every personal particular relating to the claimant without her consent or permission, including the publication of information about the claimant’s ID, private address, home telephone number, and any other information possessed by the respondent.”

Soffer-Teeni’s petition follows a demand by Ophir, who petitioned Facebook a week ago, protesting the absence of a proper response to an urgent and immediate request.

In his letter, Ophir asserted that Facebook was refraining from publishing ways to contact the company on the Internet, thereby preventing him from making contact with the company for the purpose of urgent and immediate treatment in various cases. Ophir has represented several clients in cases of Facebook bullying.

“As a remedy for the behavior of Facebook, and as a public service,” Ophir wrote, “I intend to publish the particulars of how to make contact with the Facebook Israel CEO, the leading Facebook officer, within 72 hours, in order to allow Mrs. Soffer-Teeni to prepare accordingly.”

Without knowing the full background, it’s impossible to comment authoritatively on the merits of the matter. However, it is possible to note the storm of publicity generated. A cynic might suggest that Guy Ophir harbored a hope that prodding the Facebook monolith might be worthy of publicity. On the other hand, it may be that outsiders with a less than favorable attitude towards Facebook, will see the potential leaking of Adi Soffer-Teeni’s personal details as somewhat ironical given the company’s less than stellar record on privacy.

Incidentally, the title of this post comes from this part of the Globes article, quoting Ophir:

“The global Facebook corporation and/or the Israeli Facebook has no body and no soul that can be pressured. It is an artificial construct composed and managed by human beings, one of whom is Soffer-Teeni. Soffer-Teeni is CEO of Facebook Israel. She is the manager, and she is responsible for its activity.

I have no doubt that the protest I’m conducting against Facebook and against Soffer-Teeni is causing her discomfort, but the decision not to publish the telephone number, fax number, and e-mail address of Facebook Israel is her decision, and all she has to do is change her decision, in which case there will be no need to reveal how to make personal contact with her.”

Read it all, here.

We had nothing to do with it

From the Times of Israel report about a court action by terrorist victims against the PLO and PA, now ongoing in Manhattan:

PLO lawyer in US: Suicide bombers acted for own ‘crazy reasons’

Trial kicks off in New York over $1 billion terrorism lawsuit against Palestinian organizations

Now, it’s a while since I was a lawyer, but my antennae stood to attention when I read the headlines. It’s seriously being suggested that the suicide bombers acted on their own?

Here’s some more from the report:

A lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority told a jury at the start of a civil trial Tuesday that the groups are not to blame for terror attacks in Israel.

Attorney Mark Rochon said in his opening statement that seven attacks from 2001 to 2004 were carried out by suicide bombers and gunmen “acting on their own angry, crazy reasons.”

He said the organizations are victims of guilt by association with terrorists who are not defendants in a lawsuit brought on behalf of victims. The $1 billion lawsuit was filed in 2004 to hold the organizations responsible for seven shooting and bombings in or near Jerusalem that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including scores of US citizens.

Do you find that a persuasive argument? It seems illogical to me, and to fly in the (wounded) face of common sense. I imagine most of us can accept that some acts of terrorism could be the acts of loners. They might be incited by a terror organization – for example, to stab a passing Israeli, or drive a car at pedestrians. However, a suicide bomber needs one thing 99.9% of people do not have access to, nor the ability to manufacture: a bomb. The suggestion that these suicide bombers were all chemistry superstars working in glorious – angry – isolation, is laughable. It’s offensive. (But, hey, that’s some courtroom lawyers for you.)

It appears from the report, that the people making the claim anticipated this line of argument:

…attorney Kent Yalowitz urged jurors in a packed courtroom to hold the Palestinian organizations liable for the killings.

He brought an 11-year-old lawsuit to life with victims of the terror attacks looking on, introducing some of them to jurors and saying they were they were victimized by suicide bombings sanctioned by the PLO.

“The evidence will show that killing civilians was standard operating procedure for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Payroll records show that the Palestinian Authority “embraced these crimes” by continuing to pay security officials who organized the attacks, even after they were convicted of murder, he said.

I don’t think planning, directing, and lauding terror acts is guilt by association. And then there’s the wages of death paid to convicted murderers.

In one sense, this situation mirrors the behavior of the PA (and Abbas, and Hamas) in dealings with the outside world: say one thing in Arabic which is pro terror and incitement, then say something completely different in English.

The PA might just be getting a foretaste of what being a member of the ICC will bring them, and that taste may be bitter indeed.

The full report is here.

Legal language

This, from RollonFriday, is a hoot.

Court hears evidence for an hour before being told it’s not in English

A witness gave evidence in court for over an hour this week before it was pointed out that she wasn’t speaking English.

The woman, originally from Sierra Leone, was appearing at the rape trial of preacher Gilbert Deya at the Inner London Crown Court. Barristers repeatedly asked her to speak more clearly and to step away from the microphone, until eventually the court clerk (who also hailed from Sierra Leone) told the judge that the woman was speaking Krio, an African Creole variant. The judge swore the clerk in and she acted as an interpreter*.

Deya, who styles himself Archbishop (despite his see being an industrial estate in Peckham, South London) is charged with repeatedly raping the woman. He is also fighting extradition to his native Kenya where he faces charges of abducting children and presenting them as “miracle babies” to infertile women. In 2011 his nephew Paul Deya was jailed for a minimum of 20 years for murdering his own three-year-old son. Lovely family.

Barristers claimed that they thought the witness was speaking English, but they were unable to understand her due to her strong accent and the court’s poor acoustics. The trial continues.

I can picture the officers of the court, in a state of bewilderment, looking at one another waiting for somebody else to make the point that they did not have a clue what the witness was saying!

*The asterisked note refers to a classic story from way back at the start of my legal career. I heard it slightly differently, but here’s how RollonFriday recounts it:

*cf. the possibly apocryphal but widely reported story of a German sailor appearing before the Glasgow Sheriff Court who claimed not to speak any English. A man in the public gallery said that he spoke fluent German and offered to help. He was sworn in and asked to establish the sailor’s name. The interpreter turned to him and yelled, “vot ist your name!”. The judge fined him £200 for contempt.

Of a similar vintage, was the story told of the lawyer at Glasgow Sheriff Court, making an impassioned plea for leniency for his client, emphasizing his war service.

When the Sheriff asked where the man had served, back came the reply “Europe.”

When the Sheriff asked in what unit the man had served, back came the reply “21st Panzer Division.” There was no leniency that day.

Changing perspective

And now, a change of direction.

Here’s a belter of a quote from Charles Christian’s latest Legal Technology newsletter:

New Law #Fail

Discussing his rapid rise and fall at an APAC law firm, the now-departed non-lawyer CEO said there had been 100% enthusiasm for the concept of change. Unfortunately this rapidly transformed into a 1000% opposition to implementing any change once the partners recognised the full implications and impact it would have on them.

Change? It’s fine – say the lawyers – as long as it doesn’t affect me…

No, you could not make it up. It appears my former profession is as bad as it ever was, at least in parts.

The newsletter is also worth reading for a sharp article about SharePoint’s capabilities as a Document Management System. I bet the Microsoft crew will not be happy about that. Especially as Charles has embellished the piece with a Monty Python reference. Enjoy!