The legal research world has been abuzz with the recent announcement from ROSS Intelligence and Fastcase. The two legal research platforms have joined forces to create a content, research and development partnership to the benefit of their clients and the legal markets they serve.
ROSS Intelligence CEO and co-founder Andrew Arruda was generous to share his time and perspective on the goals and implications of this alliance, which we are presenting in a somewhat long, but easily skimmable, interview Q&A format.
ROSS Intelligence / Fastcase announcement
Q: You and Fastcase jointly issued a press release on December 3rd regarding a data and development partnership. What does this mean for existing ROSS users, and what can the legal market expect?
A: The teams at both ROSS and Fastcase couldn’t be more excited about this. This announcement comes on the heels of our announcement that Jack Newton, the CEO and co-founder of Clio, has joined our board and also the launch of version 1 of our Clio integration.
ROSS users will benefit right away from broader data access provided by Fastcase, but teams at both companies are working hand in hand to begin building products and features in tandem as part of a natural synergy between our companies.
Q: With this alliance, how do you position ROSS now in the competitive landscape of legal information vendors—the big 2 of Lexis and Westlaw, a mid-tier with the likes of Bloomberg and Cheetah and more recent entrants like you and Casetext?
We position ROSS as the best in class at what it does and ultimately, it is up for folks to see where we fit in from a competitive landscape perspective. This being said at $69 a month for unlimited usage including all the case law and stats and regs anyone can ask for we are delivering a lot of value at an affordable price which is something our users certainly love and aren’t shy about raving about.
Targeted legal markets and practice areas
Q: What markets within legal are you targeting? Please comment on Big Law adoption as well as other niches like small firms, solo attorneys, in-house legal departments and law schools.
A: ROSS is a tool that can be used by all attorneys, law students and law librarians across the United States. While our first clients were some of the world’s largest law firms and those firms remain our clients, just as they have expanded their licenses as our product has matured, so too has the value we provide to small firms, ALSPs, legal departments and sole practitioners expanded as well.
On our website, you can click on the customer link here to see various cohorts of case studies we have released, and we are always adding more. We’re extremely lucky to have such great users and customers.
Q: Are any specific practice areas using and benefiting from ROSS, and why?
A: The beauty of the technology we’ve built is that it’s now geography and practice area agnostic. ROSS can be used to research case law and statutes and regulations in every practice area and thanks to our partnership with Fastcase, across every single state. Typically, we find folks working in practice areas that have a high degree of fact-specific research gravitate most quickly to ROSS, but it really varies.
ROSS features and benefits
Q: What are the key benefits of ROSS, firm-wide and attorney-specific?
The benefit of ROSS at an Am Law firm is the same as for a sole practitioner’s law office. ROSS is the only tool that lets you ask complex, context specific legal research questions as if you were speaking to another attorney, and immediately receive highly relevant answers, directly on point, directly from case law.
We are proud to have built all of the machine learning and natural language processing tech at ROSS from the ground up and entirely in house. While we started by using IBM’s Watson, as we continued to grow, we were able to attract some of the best AI talent in the world to the company. We now have ROSS running entirely on our own tech, with zero IBM Watson in our tech stack at this time. We chose this route as it allows us to really drive the best possible experience in legal research. What matters most is how our users experience ROSS—in other words, how ROSS stacks up to what is already available in the market and what value we deliver. And with the added data from our work with Fastcase, we think the experience is even better now.
We’re also, and I think deservedly, proud of what we’ve built from the ground up in such a short amount of time. While there have of course been learning moments along the way, I think our team has done a great job both building the tech but also ensuring it’s something that anyone can master in just a few minutes.
Q: Do you view ROSS as a substitute for, or complement to, the more traditional research tools?
A: I think it depends on the needs of a specific attorney. For many ROSS users, ROSS is the only legal research tool they use and need. For others, it is a complement to their other tools, such as Fastcase, which is exactly why our teams are now partnering and will be releasing features in tandem in the future. The beauty of our free, no strings attached, 14-day unlimited use trial is that for the first time, attorneys can stop listening to marketing hype and instead simply try cutting edge AI tech and make their own judgments. I encourage everyone to try ROSS for themselves and see if it works for them. In the cases where ROSS may not be the best fit, we have a team of designers and attorneys who schedule feedback every single week of the year with folks that tried and didn’t buy. We love to hear from them so we can keep iterating and getting better every day.
Machine learning and natural language processing in legal research
Q: If machine learning (ML) drives ROSS and you now have more case law, what does that mean for training, since most ML systems require training? Or is it unsupervised learning and, if so, how does that work?
The important distinction to make in legal research systems built using AI is that there are really two different types of data that are absolutely critical—legal data comprised of case law, statutes, regulations and other forms of information such as docket information, and on the other hand, AI training data.
We already had all the case law we needed in ROSS prior to this partnership; however, our partnership with Fastcase means we now include all statutes and regulations in ROSS. Our partnership also drives more usage of ROSS by existing users and a ton of new ROSS users who all interact with our ML system which drives better training data. By using both supervised and unsupervised ML within our system we are able to drive the best results possible while having ROSS continuously get better each and every day.
Q: You have said that ROSS inverts the usual research approach by encouraging users to start with a specific question. If I put myself back in law school, I’d want to use the question presented. Is there a lay language explanation for how it works and why a “human” question is better than keywords?
With ROSS, you’re still in charge. But our system has gotten good answers faster than anyone else. As humans, we spend 99% of our time as sentient adults communicating ideas and questions in sentence form. Searching based on keywords is fundamentally unnatural for our brains. Our brains have reluctantly learned how to do it, because of the limits on the tech historically available to lawyers. With ROSS, that changes. Instead of translating your thoughts and questions into computer speak, you can simply ask your questions and explore the law with ROSS as your guide.
Our users regularly tell us that ROSS makes for a much better experience than the old way of researching. Ultimately, the world is human, and full of human issues and questions. We think your legal research tool should be able to interact with you in the same way you interact with your peers—in full sentences and complete thoughts—not words and symbols.
A: Then what do you see as the future for keyword searching and other traditional legal research methods?
Attorneys tend to view the world in terms of black and white. You either win or you lose. You’re either guilty or you’re innocent. This of course happens with legal research methodologies as well. The attorneys at ROSS have taken a more measured approach, because we think there are still plenty of good uses for keyword search, especially when you’re not quite sure what you’re ultimate question is and want to see a bunch of cases to get the lay of the land. That’s why we’ve created a wonderful one-search bar experience, where—in the same search bar—you can search using full sentences, Boolean commands, or even good old-fashioned keyword matching without you having to toggle or select which methodology you’d like to use. ROSS understands you and brings you back what you need, regardless of how you choose to explore the law. As I said earlier, the more powerful your AI tech becomes, the simpler and more intuitive a user’s interactions with the tech should be.
ROSS pricing transparency
Q: It’s unusual for legal research platforms to clearly and openly state their pricing. Please comment on your pricing transparency and what it means for the market?
A: We make our pricing extremely transparent, because it’s affordable and we’re proud of that. $89 a month for month to month access, or $69 if you want to sign up for a year at a time. Completely unlimited use, no hidden fees. Additionally, we offer month to month pricing as well, which means our users don’t get locked into multi-year deals which we hear is something they really dislike about some of the legacy research software tools.
The future of legal research and ROSS Intelligence
Q: I’ve been surprised to see so many research providers add brief analyzer capability in their tools, can you address if ROSS does the same?
A: With ROSS, you’re able to upload any legal document—motion, law review article, etc.—not just briefs, and then use our proprietary technology to see how other courts have agreed with, or not agreed with, different concepts you can freely designate in the document.
Q: Could the tech underlying ROSS be applied to other document collections? For example, could ROSS add value to one of LAC Group’s services—market and competitive intelligence? Will we see news service providers use ROSS or something comparable?
A: Certainly, this is something we are continuing to explore with a variety of potential partners. As it stands, users can already upload any document into our document analyzer which can enable some really exciting possibilities our users unlock every day.
Q: There’s an explosion of new research tools, with AI and analytics everywhere. Assuming the raw data of primary law stays the same, can this keep going? May we be reaching the “end of history” in legal research?
A: I’ve always been very leery of quoting legal scholars and authors Henry Hansmann and Reinier Kraakman, especially in light of what happened when they said we’d reached the “end of history” in terms of corporate governance law, immediately before the arrival of the great recession.
If anything, I do not think there are enough options in legal technology generally. When you consider how many amazing tools are available to folks in the financial sector or in the medical sector, I think the law needs more technology. That will of course require a cultural shift in how lawyers practice. When it comes to research in particular, it’s crazy to me that we can name all the options on one hand. I do think there will be some consolidation and that different organizations will either gain traction and accelerate or fail, but that is how innovation plays out and I’m for it.
Q: How do you see AI and other emerging technologies impacting law firm operations, support staff and functions like the law library?
In our field, we’ve seen AI in legal research redefine the surface of larger law firms, including literally reforming the layout of their libraries, but I think the core remains the same. In the past, folks have almost pitted AI tech against librarians, but the profession of law librarian is not going anywhere. In fact, the emergence of CKOs and KM departments over the last 10 years or so further proves this point. Busy attorneys will always need advice from operations, support and library team members who can aid with their greater knowledge and familiarity with the tech tools available. On that note, we’ve even seen law librarians at Am Law firms set up laptops in the library designated as a ROSS laptop, to showcase the tech and encourage passersby to jump on and see how easy it is to use.
Q: Final question. It seems ROSS could branch out with more features, more content, new industry sectors and markets. Can you share some of your future roadmap?
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you! I kid, but I’d say stay posted. As I always say, we are really experiencing the first hour of the first day with ROSS. We are just getting started! 2020 will be a very big year for ROSS Intelligence. We already have some very big announcements in the works!
What this all means
New vendors and products combined with emerging technologies, especially AI and data analytics, will continue to change the landscape for electronic information resources. They promise to reduce the time and effort needed to conduct legal research and improve results. All this means staying current with existing vendors as they add new features and new entrants. Researchers, therefore, face new complexity in choosing the right option(s).
On balance though, competition is good, as noted in LAC Group’s recently updated report on the landscape of electronic information resources. “In the beginning, there were two” refers to Lexis and Westlaw, the leaders and first entrants into this space. Today, the report includes 43 vendors, including ROSS Intelligence and Fastcase, and there’s no doubt that many other options are missing. LAC Group is in the business of ensuring those platforms deliver on their promises to their users and giving law firms and legal departments an option to attain the research and intelligence resources and experience they need.
I wish Andrew and his Fastcase counterpart, CEO and co-founder Ed Walters, much success in their partnership and efforts to improve and enhance the task of legal research. I invite you to contact me if you have any further questions or comments.