Access To Justice & Technology: Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere

“Eighty percent of low income people have trouble obtaining legal representation or otherwise accessing the civil court system to protect their property, family, and livelihood.” (Brennan Center for Justice, New York University Law School).

People with moderate incomes don’t do much better; a large majority represent themselves, get help from someone who isn’t a lawyer, or do nothing when faced with a legal problem. (American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services).

As Margaret Hagan put it, visually:


So What?

On this question, we’re with English barrister Michael Mansfield:

“At the heart of any notion of a decent society is not only that we have rights and protections under the law but that we can enforce those rights and rely upon those protections if needed.”

And with the often-quoted lines of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, who said to the American Bar Association in 1976 when serving as its president:

“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building—it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists … it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

How Do We Fix It?

Delivering access to justice demands change and action on a very broad range of initiatives—pro bono work by the private bar, fair and adequate funding of legal aid, collaboration among all system participants (clients, lawyers, courts, agencies, NGO’s), legal education (and its financing), e-filing and case data standards, court forms, court interfaces to self-represented litigants, unbundled legal services, virtual law practice, multistate practice, law practice ownership and investment, limited practice licenses, unauthorized practice of law rules, lawyer advertising rules, and lawyer discipline. All of these are hard problems, and some of the most sensible solutions are very controversial.

Technology Does What?

Woven through most of these initiatives is a thread of technology questions.

Can technology improve the efficiency of traditional representation? Enable alternative forms of representation? Substitute for representation? Determine which of these paths is most useful or feasible for a particular person facing a particular problem?

Facilitate sharing of resources, and thereby leverage investments, among organizations? Demonstrate to funders that efficient processes are being applied? Enable exchange of data among disparate systems?

And, from a different perspective: Are clients’ expectations of convenience, responsiveness, ubiquity and cost set by technology in the consumer marketplace now the standard for every service industry, including law? Will the advances made possible by technology ultimately crush entrenched resistance to change, even regulatory resistance, as has happened in other industries, from classified advertising to taxi services?

Many big questions, some without near-term answers: we’ll need to wait and see.

Fortunately, however, some of the technology questions have clear, positive, immediate answers, and demonstrated successes.

At the White House

Recently, the administration convened the second (we hope annual) White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, led by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tony West, Associate Attorney General, Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, and John Levi, Chairman of LSC.

As we have read the reports, there were two highlights of the Forum. First, the Department of Justice and the White House Domestic Policy Council released the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit, which is:

“an online resource guide containing useful information about civil legal services, and how those services can help advance a broad array of Federal objectives. The Toolkit will help further engage the legal services community, and will identify for both legal service providers and Federal agencies the program areas where legal service providers’ work can add the most value, including by listing examples from across the Federal Government of grants and activities that engage civil legal aid.”

Second, Glenn Rawdon, LSC’s Program Counsel for Technology, focused the audience on the specific, practical role that technology has in delivering access to justice. Mr. Rawdon’s talk, titled Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, invoked Bill Gates’s 1999 forecast that “the next step for technology is universal access” and his celebration of “convergence” in order to introduce the recently published report of the LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.

Legal Services Corporation Tech Summit

As the Legal Services Corporation said when announcing the report:

“More than 75 representatives of legal aid programs, courts, government, and business as well as technology experts, academics, and private practitioners convened at two sessions in 2012 and 2013 to explore the many ways technology can expand access to justice.

’This report is important,’ said LSC President James J. Sandman.  ‘It charts a path to a future where, through the smart and disciplined use of technology, the legal aid community can provide some form of assistance to everyone with a significant civil legal problem—and not have to turn people away with nothing.’

The strategy for achieving this goal has five main components:

  1. Creating in each state a unified legal portal which directs persons needing legal assistance to the most appropriate form of assistance and guides self-represented litigants through the entire legal process.
  2. Deploying sophisticated document assembly applications to support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves.
  3. Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively.
  4. Applying business process/analysis to all access-to-justice activities to make them as efficient as practicable.Developing expert systems to assist lawyers and other services providers access authoritative
  5. knowledge through a computer and apply it to particular factual situations.”

Participants in the two sessions defined the summit’s mission this way:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons [emphasis added] otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

We add emphasis to the phrase above because it captures a significant change from long-standing practice for allocation of the scarce resources of civil legal assistance, which has been pungently, if a bit cynically, described as “first in, first out, until the money runs out.” Traditional models of personal service cannot meet demand, but effective assistance can be provided nonetheless by smart use of technology (and some of the other means noted above, such as unbundled services, which may themselves be technology-enabled).

Mission and vision are necessary, and powerful. But are there examples of real stuff in the real world? Indeed there are, a great many of them funded by LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program, which, as Rawdon reminded the White House audience, is now in its 15th year—roughly coincident with the rise and revolution of the smartphone.

TIG grants from 2000 to 2013 are a tour of steadily evolving technology and steadily expanding capacity and ambition to use technology. TIG has funded more than 550 projects among 800 applications, a total investment of more than $43 million, beginning with state-wide web sites in 2000 and extending to online intake and triage systems in 2013.

Because the range and depth of projects is so impressive, we reproduce LSC’s 2013 project list in full below.

On the For-Profit Side of the Aisle

Technology innovation in legal services for people of low and moderate income by no means comes only from projects propelled by the Legal Services Corporation and the other organizations listed below under the heading Resources.

Profits can be made, or at least foreseen, and innovators are doing just that. The best known are, of course, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, but there are many, many others. Have a look at the 470 legal startups on Angel List or the participants in LexRedux organized by Joshua Kubicki and the Law Angel Network, or the companies around NexLaw Partners or David Perla, many of the participants in ReInventLaw, or in New York City alone the 22 companies flagged by Richard Granat. And not-so-start-uppy companies like Fastcase and DirectLaw.

Neota Logic

What’s our stake in access to justice? We’re working with Pro Bono Net and New Mexico Legal Aid on a statewide triage program. We’re working with North Penn Legal Services and Start Small Think Big. We build software that tackles head-on each of the five elements of the integrated service delivery system proposed in the LSC Summit Report. We support Georgetown University Law Center and other law schools in teaching their students to collaborate with access to justice organizations to build interactive, online expert systems that guide people through complex legal problems. We agree with Justice Powell.



Legal Services Corporation, Technology Initiative Grants, 2013


State Organization Purpose Description
AR Center for Arkansas Legal Services Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to low-income
Arkansans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of staff. Online intake allows
prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at
a library or community center. The online intake system will be integrated into each of the
case management systems of the two LSC-funded Arkansas programs. This saves significant time
and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information
instead of inputting it themselves.
AR Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. Medical Legal Partnership Funding will support the development of an online legal assistance system for use in medical
legal partnerships (MLPs) across the state. The system will direct patients in need of legal
assistance to the most appropriate available resources to address their needs. Components of
the system will include a legal needs assessment tool, a personalized online self-help
packet based on the users’ responses to questions, and tools to pre-screen users for
potential representation. The system will be used statewide to assist five established MLPs,
as well as with additional MLPs that will be launched over the next year.
CT Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLS) will produce a library of training videos to
help pro bono attorneys deliver services to clients more effectively. Videos will cover the
basics of divorce law, consumer debt collection issues, and other common legal problems.
This project will complement the newly launched Call4Law initiative, a statewide
program that matches prescreened clients with pro bono attorneys for one-hour legal
consultations by telephone.
FL Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. Online Intake This project will allow Legal Services of Greater Miami to develop an online intake system to
expand services to clients. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services
at any time through the web, whether from home or at a library or community center. The
online intake system will also be integrated into Legal Services of Greater Miami’s case
management system, which saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake
staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The
system will be in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole in order to serve the predominant
populations in the Miami area.
FL Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc. Library Initiatives This project will increase access to online legal information and self-help resources in
Florida through a statewide outreach and partnership initiative targeting Florida public
libraries. The project will include a webinar series for library staff on free legal
information and resources available to library patrons, development of customized legal
information satellite sites for up to four public library partners, and enhanced technical
capacities that allow librarians and other partners to keep up-to-date on new resources
available through Florida’s statewide legal information website,
GA Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. National Projects Atlanta Legal Aid will create the National Olmstead Website. Olmstead is
the Supreme Court decision that requires states to provide supports to individuals with
disabilities in their homes rather than in an institutional setting. The National
Olmstead Website will raise awareness to three essential populations that legal
services traditionally work with: 1) young adults with disabilities aging out of schools and
aging out of children’s Medicaid; 2) adults who are diagnosed with a disability as adults;
and 3) seniors who are diagnosed with a disability late in life. The site will provide legal
resources for individuals with disabilities and for their attorneys. These resources include
web videos, legal advocacy toolkits and trainings, self-help tools, and guides for creating
accessible website content.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Funding will continue to enhance A2J Author, a
highly successful software application used nationally for delivering web based services to
low income people. This grant will build document assembly capabilities directly into the
A2J software, simplifying the process of creating high-quality automated court forms and
other legal documents. The project will also grow the pool of A2J developers by continuing
to expand law school cyber clinics where tech-savvy students create document assembly tools
for low income people.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Website Grants with National Impact This project will support WriteClearly
, a national initiative focused on ensuring that online tools created by legal
services organizations utilize plain language to effectively communicate information to
users. The project will make widely accessible an application that analyzes text from legal
services websites and document assembly applications for readability and suggests better
language options. Additionally, a plain language expert will help the legal services
community expand its collection of plain language legal resources, including a glossary of
replacement words that enhance readability.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will develop an enhanced version of the Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (DLAW) template. The
DLAW template powers over 20 legal services websites across the country and is also made
available as a free open source product to any legal aid nonprofit. The upgrade will focus
on improving site architecture, layout, and internal reporting capacities. Additional
trainings and support opportunities will be available for legal services organizations that
have not yet developed a robust web presence.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Document Assembly This project will integrate Idaho’s statewide case management system with LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a national document
assembly service. The integration will allow Idaho advocates and pro bono attorneys to send
existing client information from the case system to a secure web application that returns
properly formatted drafts of court forms and other legal documents. The automated process
will substantially reduce the amount of time attorneys spend inputting data and drafting
routine documents for clients, allowing them to serve more individuals in need of
IL Legal Assistance Foundation Infrastructure Focused Grants Funding will support the development of a secure, enterprise-level information management
system using Microsoft SharePoint. Critical features include document management, robust
search, and integration with the program’s case management system. The system will allow
Legal Assistance Foundation to better build and maintain institutional knowledge throughout
the organization, resulting in more extended representation for clients and expanded
community outreach to client groups.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) will develop online interactive training resources
for new staff, law student workers and pro bono attorneys in the state. Users will progress
through an interactive training program that utilizes a blend of technologies — including
online video and document assembly — to provide a robust training experience and identify
areas that may require further assistance. These resources will be available to all
LSC-funded programs in Louisiana.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to clients
across Louisiana. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time
through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake
system will be integrated into each of the case management systems of the LSC-funded
Louisiana programs. This saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake
staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The
system will also refer users to online resources that can help them meet their legal
ME Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc. Online Triage TIG funding will support development of an online legal triage tool for Pine Tree Legal
Assistance (PTLA) in Maine. The tool will help users quickly find the most appropriate
resources to address their needs from PTLA’s collection of over 700 legal information
articles and its statewide network of legal aid providers. The tool will also route
appropriate users to PTLA’s online application so that they can quickly and efficiently
receive assistance directly from the program. PTLA will also partner with Statewide Legal
Services of Connecticut (SLS) so that both organizations can develop versions of the tool
for their client communities.
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Document Assembly This grant will strengthen,
a statewide legal information website for self-represented individuals. The project team
will expand the number of automated document assembly interviews available to users. These
web-based interviews present users with a series of questions about a document or form,
allowing them to input the required information in a logical and organized manner. Answers
are then used to assemble a customized document or court form for the user. These additional
online resources will enable more self-represented people to access the justice system, and
will improve the ability of the courts to efficiently and effectively serve these
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Use of Data to Analyze Service Delivery and Develop Advocacy Strategies Funding will support the production and expansion of outcomes data related to the new
statewide legal information website,, and affiliated self-help
centers. The project team will conduct an in-depth evaluation to assess how effectively
available resources helped these users meet their legal needs. This evaluation involves both
connecting with users of online legal resources after they have completed their court
process and analyzing data from the public court files. The project will be promoted to the
national community so that the lessons learned will inform self-help legal initiatives
across the country.
MP Micronesian Legal Services, Inc. Videoconferencing Micronesian Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) serves its remote island communities from eight
client services offices in four different time zones. This project will improve service to
these remote communities using technology. It will build MLSC’s internal capacity to
communicate between its eight offices by implementing program-wide videoconferencing than
will be utilized to enhance staff training and supervision. This project will also enhance
the overall technology infrastructure of MLSC.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will allow Montana Legal Services Association to develop an online Montana child
support calculator. This web-based application will guide parents through an online
interview to collect the financial and other information needed to complete a child support
calculation in accordance with the Montana Child Support Guidelines. The resulting
calculation and underlying worksheets can be printed or e-mailed to the parent for use when
filing or modifying a parenting action. This project enjoys strong support from the Montana
Child Support Enforcement Division and the Montana Supreme Court Administrator’s office.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Expert Systems and Triage The Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) will develop a triage and expert systems tool
for use by intake staff. The tool will allow staff to more effectively route cases and
determine the most suitable legal information or advice for prospective clients. MLSA will
also adapt portions of the triage tool into packaged online guides for use by people seeking
legal information and resources on the internet. The project will explore the usefulness of
these client focused expert guides as a means of providing legal information and resources
for those in need.
NC Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. Videoconferencing This project will expand Legal Aid of North Carolina’s (LANC’s) videoconferencing capacity
throughout the state. LANC will adopt a cloud-based videoconferencing system that will
connect all of its twenty-two offices into one integrated system. The system will allow LANC
to deliver more legal clinics in rural areas via videoconference, as well as connect staff
and pro bono attorneys throughout the state.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Online Triage New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) will develop a statewide online triage program for the major
civil legal issues faced by low income individuals and other vulnerable populations. The
system will include both advocate and public-facing online interviews to help identify and
recommend the best source of assistance for a litigant’s circumstances based on variables
such as location, income, language, and other factors. The triage system will encompass
services provided by New Mexico Legal Aid and five other legal aid agencies in the state, in
addition to court, self-help and pro bono resources. This ensures that low-income people are
connected to the resources that will most likely help them meet their legal need, in the
most cost-effective manner possible.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will create a virtual pro bono portal that will enable clients, pro bono lawyers
and legal aid advocates, even when located in different parts of the state, to work
collaboratively and directly exchange legal documents and information in a secure online
space. This project will leverage several innovative components — including a robust
practice management platform, video conferencing, and built-in document assembly – to more
effectively serve rural clients throughout the state and provide volunteer lawyers with a
more convenient opportunity to assist New Mexicans in need.
NY Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Website Grants for Programs This project will expand the legal information resources available to low income users in the
Legal Services of Hudson Valley service area by adding plain language legal guides to the
program’s website as well as the New York statewide legal information website, Materials will be available in both
English and Spanish and will be promoted to the community through a webinar series targeted
to libraries and nonprofits throughout the region.
OH Ohio State Legal Services Document Assembly This project will continue the maintenance and support of LawHelp Interactive, a very successful national
resource that provides high quality document assembly forms to both legal aid advocates and
low-income people representing themselves. LawHelp Interactive delivers web-based interviews
that present users with a series of questions about a document or form, allowing them to
input the required information in a logical and organized manner. These answers are then
used to assemble a customized, properly-formatted document or court form. Funding will also
support a range of expanded document assembly capacities, including integrations with case
management systems and court e-filing. During 2012, LawHelp Interactive was used to complete
nearly 400,000 documents.
OK Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma will develop a technology-facilitated pro bono model to
increase the involvement of volunteer lawyers in expungement cases. Clients in need of
expungement assistance will utilize online guides and an automated interview to create court
forms that are then submitted to pro bono attorneys for review. This automated process will
enable Oklahoma lawyers to provide limited scope legal services over the internet. It offers
a convenient volunteer opportunity for attorneys who do not currently accept pro bono cases
for full representation and allows attorneys to more easily connect with rural clients in
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Expert Systems and Checklists Funding will support the development of an automated “Divorce Tracker” tool that will guide
self represented litigants and pro bono attorneys through simple divorce cases. The tracker
will analyze what tasks need to be done to ensure successful completion of the divorce
process, as well as generate sets of documents for filing and service. Regular workshops
based on the Divorce Tracker and associated resources will enable North Penn Legal Services
to offer legal assistance to more individuals in need.
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Online Intake This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients of North Penn
Legal Services. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time
through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake
system will be integrated into North Penn’s case management system, which saves significant
time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted
information instead of inputting it themselves. North Penn will also pilot an analytical
tool that further assists staff in eligibility determinations.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Client Education Videos and LEP Resources Legal Aid of East Tennessee will improve access to legal information by creating a series of
videos that
provide low income people with on demand guidance on matters such as orders
of protection, foreclosure, and other common legal issues. Videos will be produced in both
English and Spanish, will be captioned for the hearing impaired, and will be accessible from
both standard computers and mobile devices.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Remote Service Delivery This project will utilize Microsoft Lync Server to improve communications with clients and
enhance internal communications among staff. Lync will allow staff across the organization
to easily conduct web meetings, exchange instant messages, and utilize Microsoft’s other
telepresence features. Additionally, Legal Aid of East Tennessee clients will be able to
videoconference with their attorneys either though home computers or mobile devices or at
conveniently-located community access points.
UT Utah Legal Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will allow Utah Legal Services (ULS) to implement the technology necessary to
allow advocates serving clients remotely to securely access all of a client’s internal case
management information, pleadings and other documents as well as external court records and
files. In addition, ULS will create an automated process to obtain electronic signatures
from clients for use with ULS’ client information sheet – making full and compliant intake
screening possible at any location.
VT Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, Inc. Online Intake and Triage This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients in Vermont.
Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web,
either at home or at a library or community center. The system will direct online contacts
to the appropriate component of the legal services delivery system through, whether it is forms, information,
referral, or intake with one of the state’s providers. The online intake system will also be
integrated into the organization’s case management system, which saves significant time and
reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information
instead of inputting it themselves.
WA Northwest Justice Project Mobile Technologies and Program IT Infrastructure Northwest Justice Project (NJP) will create a “Texting for Outcomes” system, which will
gather information on the outcomes of limited-assistance legal hotline cases and use that
information to improve delivery of services to clients. Technology developed through this
project will automatically text outcome questions to client who have received limited
assistance and have represented themselves in a legal action. The client’s texted reply will
automatically populate a field in NJP’s case management record so that the program can
easily collect and analyze outcomes data. In order to create this capacity and to promote
sustainability and efficiency in client service, NJP will implement an upgraded call center
as part of this project.
WA Northwest Justice Project National Technology Support Funding This project will allow the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) to continue its successful Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP).
The NTAP has three objectives: (1) to support and maintain a core collection of technology
services and resources that play an essential role in the legal services community; (2) to
provide one-on-one support and guidance to LSC-funded programs on a broad range of legal
technologies; and (3) to help programs effectively replicate successful TIG initiatives.
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What Will The Lawyers Do Now?

Dancing With Robots, The Second Machine Age, and The Hammer Songs

Fifty years ago, long before Google taught cars to drive themselves and started buying up robotics companies, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution warned President Lyndon Johnson:

“A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.”

Happily, the Committee’s grim forecast of mass unemployment proved wrong. However, as Frank Levy (MIT) and Richard Murnane (Harvard) write in their 2013 paper Dancing With Robots, “computers have changed the jobs that are available, the skills those jobs require, and the wages the jobs pay.”

Two of Professor Levy’s colleagues at MIT, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, have also been thinking about the impact of technology on employment. As they wrote in Race Against the Machine (2011):

“The root of our problems is not that we’re in a Great Recession, or a Great Stagnation,but rather that we are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind.”

In The Second Machine Age (2013), they extended the argument and drew three conclusions:

“(1) We’re living in a time of astonishing progress with digital technologies.

“(2) The transformations brought about by digital technology will be profoundly beneficial.

“(3) Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it races ahead. … there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”

Behind those abstractions is a solid network of fact, analysis, and stories. One of the stories caught the eye of Thomas Friedman, at The New York Times, who wrote in If I Had a Hammer:

“My favorite story … when the Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner was asked how he’d prepare for a chess match against a computer, like I.B.M.’s Deep Blue. Donner replied: ‘I would bring a hammer.’

“Donner isn’t alone in fantasizing that he’d like to smash some recent advances in software and automation—think self-driving cars, robotic factories and artificially intelligent reservationists—which are not only replacing blue-collar jobs at a faster rate, but now also white-collar skills, even grandmasters!”

We doubt that a movement of chess masters called Donnerites will rise up to match the c. 1800 Luddites  who smashed lacemaking machines in Ned Ludd’s name.

We also doubt, though with regret, that there’s an anthem being composed somewhere to join the great hammer songs of the 20th and 19th centuries: If I Had a Hammer, swinging the hammer of justice; and the Ballad of John Henry, celebrating the steel-driving hammer of man against steam-drill.

So, what of legal services in the second machine age?

The first machine age was powered almost uniquely by Mr. Watt’s invention, the steam engine, elemental but powerful:

Watt's Steam Engine

The second age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee posit, is powered by a more diffuse collection of technologies—the continued climb of Moore’s law in hardware, ubiquitous (and, yes, Big) digital data, and the inter(net)-connectedness of software and things.

Is there a steam engine for law, a machine that truly replaces, or at least radically leverages, human labor?  (Steam engines in fact also replaced a lot of horse and ox labor, but those haven’t figured much in the work of the bar.) What in the dusty cabinets of the law may be “exponential, digital and combinatorial” for the second age? Is there at least one of Mr. Babbage’s Difference Engines that we can crank?


Some years ago, one of us asked a very senior retired partner of a very fine law firm in New York City what technology had made the most difference to law practice in his career, which began before television and ended after PC’s. His answer was instant and succinct: “air conditioning.”

True, and on an August afternoon in Washington, D.C, very true. But surely there’s more. We nominate these steam engines of legal services:

  1. Online legal research, the law’s first foray into big and digital data.
  2. Electronic mail and networks, the harbinger of infinite interconnectedness.
  3. Document automation, drafting contracts with software rather than pencils.
  4. Search, from Recommind for lawyers’ own stuff to Google for everything else.
  5. Predictive coding (a/k/a technology-assisted review), replacing armies of junior lawyers.
  6. Expert systems, context-specific guidance at scale and speed.

Setting aside email and networks, there are three technologies based on machine learning (research, search, TAR) and two based on rules (drafting and guidance). (Neota Logic is mostly in the rules business,  for expert systems and document automation, though machine learning techniques can be used for rule induction.)

Note that we do not include process improvement as a technology. Although the impact on the cost of legal services for business clients (particularly big companies) is likely greater, at least in the near-term, than any of the technologies listed, process mapping, project management, and value-based fees do not depend on technology at all. Whiteboards, Post-It notes, and sharp pencils are sufficient.

Can the impact of the listed technologies (or others that others would nominate) be seen in industry statistics? Is there evidence of Tyler Cowen’s thesis in Average Is Over? Evidence that computers are taking some of the average jobs in the profession?

This chart combines degrees granted data from the American Bar Association with employment data from the National Association for Law Placement.


Degrees Granted


Bar Admission Required

JD Preferred

Other Professional


In Law Firms

































































































Since the Great Recession began in 2008, the employment rate has declined and the unemployment rate increased, as one would expect in the face of diminished demand.

Some of the decline in jobs for which bar admission is required is counter-balanced by a significant increase in jobs for which a JD is “preferred” and a modest increase in “other professional” jobs. We speculate that many of these are in e-discovery and other legal process tasks, which is consistent with the decline in law firm jobs. That is, some work is being shifted from law firms to alternative legal services providers, and not all of that work requires bar admission, e.g., litigation document review.

Changes are too small and time periods are too short to conclude that technology has affected employment rates. Overall demand decline driven by the recession,  cost pressures driven by The New Normal, and law school over-production are more than determinative.

Not finding a technology impact is not a surprise. We are indebted to Bill Henderson for bringing the Rogers diffusion curve to the legal industry. The Curve teaches that the path from invention to visible adoption is long and strewn with obstacles—social, economic, and organizational. Hybrid corn, the benefit of which can easily be seen across the neighbor’s fence in harvest season, reached ubiquity only after 24 years, as knowledge spread, profitability shifted, and localized varieties were developed:

Griliches diffusion of hybrid corn

Machine learning in e-discovery has been faster, better, cheaper than one-email-at-a-time review by humans (lawyers or not) for at least five years, and proven to be so. Yet the machine learning techniques are used in a small fraction of cases, for all the reasons that Rogers (and Henderson) identify. Enterprise search across all a firm’s documents, matter and time records, and people profiles was shown almost a decade ago to increase significantly a firm’s efficiency in re-use of work-product. Yet most firms still don’t have such search systems.

Nonetheless, these technologies continue to spread, and yield big positive returns when applied astutely.

Here at Neota Logic we agree with what Erik Brynjolfsson said at TED, “Racing with the machine beats racing the machine.”


Have the robots come for the middle class, Jim Tankersley, Washington Post, July 12, 2013.

Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work, Frank Levy & Richard Murnane.

Race Against The Machine, Erik Brynjolsson and Andrew McAfee, 2011.

The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolsson and Andrew McAfee, 2013.

The second machine age is upon us: time to reconsider the Luddites?, Robert Skidelsky, The Guardian, February 24, 2014.

If I Had a Hammer, Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, January 11, 2014.

The key to growth? Race with the machines, Erik Brynjolfsson, TED, February 2013.

Why Lawyers Are Still Waiting for the Future, Aric Press, American Lawyer, February 24, 2014.

Will Robots Steal Your Job?, Farhad Manjoo, Slate, September 29. 2011.

The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, University of Oxford, September 17, 2013.

I Am Now An App, Jason Wilson, Slaw, September 28, 2011.

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Law Students Hack for the Employment Justice Center

Is technology rewiring the legal industry? That question is too big to answer. But we do know that technology is making a real difference in real cases.

The Employment Justice Center is a Washington, DC not-for-profit legal services organization that “uses a combination of strategies to protect the rights of low-income workers, including legal services, policy advocacy, community organizing, and education.”

And now, thanks to students in Georgetown Law’s Technology, Innovation and Law Practice course, technology is one of the Justice Center’s strategies.

When employers refuse to pay part or all of a worker’s regular wages, overtime, or other earned compensation, the worker may have a claim for wage theft based on violations of minimum wage and overtime rules. Such claims are very common among Justice Center clients.

Georgetown Law student Elizabeth Schiller led a three-person team that worked closely with the Justice Center and its Executive Director, Barbra Kavanaugh, to determine the potential for technology-enabled process improvements.

The team considered process bottlenecks, agency goals, and key legal issues before deciding what application to build. Then they analyzed legal and policy rules, audience-appropriate language, user interface design, and the most useful forms of output. Based on this knowledge engineering work, the students created the Wage Theft Advisor, a Neota Logic expert system.

Volunteers at the Justice Center use the Advisor to guide clients through an interview to assess whether they have a valid claim of wage theft. The Advisor streamlines the intake and initial assessment process, enabling Justice Center volunteers to serve more clients more efficiently.

The Course

In the Technology, Innovation and Law Practice course, students work in teams to partner with a legal services agency and develop a legal expert system that enhances the organization’s service delivery.

Legal expert systems are designed to function like a lawyer – gather facts, think about them, ask for more facts, evaluate them against legal rules, weigh possible outcomes, and deliver situation-specific legal guidance.

The students build subtle, flexible, powerful, and complex applications from the ground up. No programming expertise is required.

Each semester, students in the course present their applications – the organizational and legal problems identified, the legal analysis required, the expert system solution designed – in the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition. The Wage Theft Advisor was a prize-winner in the spring 2013 semester competition.

Elizabeth Schiller described her experience this way:

“Tech innovation will continue to shape every aspect of our lives, and the legal    profession is not immune to these changes.

“A Georgetown Law education provides students with great training in analytical reasoning and creative problem solving – but it is typically applied in a limited number of ways through traditional lawyering methods.

“Law students and lawyers already possess a lot of the skills they need to design expert systems. Applying both competencies unlocks tremendous potential for creative solutions to clients’ legal challenges.”

Neota Logic provides its namesake software, Neota Logic Server, to the law school. Our Director of Education Kevin Mulcahy co-teaches the course, as an Adjunct Professor at the law school. And when the applications are ready for production, Neota Logic hosts them for the sponsoring organizations.

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Back To School – Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer — Administrative Agency Edition

We have been teaching again, and learning.

Who’s Doing What

Students in Georgetown Law’s Technology Innovation and Law Practice course are creating Neota Logic applications rather than writing seminar papers or moot court briefs.

This semester’s course, taught by Professors Tanina Rostain and Victoria Nourse, focused on federal administrative agencies—the practical realities of agency work, not the doctrinal issues of administrative law.

Teams of students paired up with agencies or organizations, first, to identify significant challenges in the agency’s realm—for example, homeowners’ uncertainty about their rights in foreclosure, veterans’ risks to their benefits, agency officers’ inconsistency in decision-making—and, second, to design and build online applications addressing those challenges.

On December 4th, the teams presented their applications to a panel of judges drawn from corporate legal departments, law firms, academia and government. Giving a tech twist to moot court tradition, the teams compete for the Iron Tech Lawyer Award. The competition was streamed live, and the recording can be watched here.


Building apps is hard work, and most of the work is law, not technology.

Statutes and regulations are often long, complex, interlinked (part X of this reg under this statute depends on part Y of that reg over there under a different statute), interpreted by case law and agency practice, and, yes, occasionally badly constructed and administered.

Good lawyers are good at answering specific questions, rapidly filtering out everything irrelevant to the client’s immediate fact pattern. By contrast, building an app to deal with hundreds or thousands of fact patterns in order to give fact- and situation-specific answers to questions from many clients in many situations requires the opposite intellectual effort—identifying all the possibilities and defining all the answers.

Metaphorically, lawyers in practice prune the analytic tree fast with a sharp axe, lopping off branches to get to the one that matters, while lawyers building apps must start at the trunk and imagine the tree with all its branches, then map a clear, safe routes for users to climb from the ground to the top.

What do students learn from building apps that they don’t from writing papers?

  • Comprehensive, deep analysis of a topic.
  • Rigorous thinking—expert systems can’t be fooled by footnotes to fudge the main text. Everything must be thought through to resolution, even if the resolution is uncertainty.
  • Seeing problems from a client’s perspective—apps have real users with real problems, and no matter how erudite the analysis, it’s useless if the presentation is not accessible to its users.
  • Writing in plain English—ditto.

We call this Legal Knowledge Engineering, and that’s the heart of the Technology Innovation and Law Practice course. Our Director of Education, Kevin Mulcahy, is Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law and collaborates with Professor Rostain and other faculty on these courses.

What The Students Created

This semester’s applications are:

Military Service Pre-Discharge Counselor—Advises active service members on the impact of in-service misconduct on the terms of their discharge and their post-service benefits. Client: Pine Tree Legal Assistance.  Team:  Lindsey Bohl, Kyle George, Thomas Orsak.

California Mortgage Distress Advisor—Advises borrowers on how new consumer protection regulations apply to them, based on the type of mortgage they have.  Client: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with assistance from California Rural Legal Assistance and Visionary Home Builders.  Team:  Shahzadi Ahmed, Johnny Wong, Mike Milea, Angela Omiyi.

Short and Happy Guide to Health Care Coverage—Guides users through the qualitative and quantitative benefits of the ACA, and helps them identify the source of coverage that fits their needs and budget.  Client: Enroll America.  Team:  Gerald Leverich, Jessi Nyman, Will Morrison, Amanda Krause.

Clean Water Act: Section 404 Permit Advisor—Advises homeowners, home builders, construction companies, and agricultural businesses about whether they need to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act when dredge or fill material may be discharged into a water of the US, including wetlands.  Team:  Stan Adams, Ernest Pysher, Sara Atsbaha.

Military Impact of Discharge Assessment System (MIDAS)—Advises military judges on service members’ eligibility for VA benefits. Client: Major Evan Seamone, Judge Advocate USA, in his personal capacity.  Team: Lindsey Bohl, Kyle George, Thomas Orsak.

The Judges

This year’s Iron Tech Lawyer judges were: Andrew Baker, Global Director of Legal Technology Innovations, Seyfarth Shaw; Mark Chandler, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Cisco Systems; Laura Donohue, Director of the Center on National Security and the Law, and Professor, Georgetown Law; Donna McLean, Former Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Transportation.

Before awarding prizes (“a very tight race … indicative of the strength of the work”) the judges each spoke about the course and the students’ work.

Mr. Chandler: “The work all of you did is extremely relevant as a practitioner. As the legal world evolves, the ability to break down legal problems, add efficiency to legal process, and help people get the information they need is very relevant for future careers.”

Mr. Baker: “The methodology and process that you went through is exactly what my group [at Seyfarth] does for the firm’s clients. Every presentation was stellar, and showed a lot of creativity and research.”

Ms. McLean: “The biggest lesson you’ve learned is the ability to take something very complex and simplify it. That’s incredibly marketable. These applications are about information sharing and simplifying, making advice accessible, and not making someone pay a lawyer for what they could do themselves.”

Professor Donohue: “I was particularly impressed that you were able within just 10 weeks to do such extensive research, master a complex area of the law and build an application.”

The Winners

IronTech Lawyer—Military Impact of Discharge Assessment System (MIDAS).  “This team tackled an enormous and growing problem for veterans. The topic is complex, with more than 300 million possible permutations of facts. The app addressed real-world problems with sophisticated, logical solutions.”

Excellence in Design—California Foreclosure Advisor.

Honorable Mention—Short and Happy Guide to Health Care Coverage.

Why—from Neota Logic’s Perspective?

One of our marketing tag lines is “the future of professional advice.” At Georgetown, we see that future—lawyers unencumbered by traditional views of what “real lawyers” do or by standard business models, lawyers focused on the practical needs of their clients, lawyers unafraid of technology and collaboration with other professionals.

We’re helping to create that future—by building state-of-the-art software, the Neota Logic Server (NLS), with which creative lawyers like the Georgetown students can radically transform the delivery of legal services.

Just as the students learn by building applications, we learn by working with the students. Our software is designed to enable people who are not programmers to build powerful, user-friendly applications very quickly. In every release, we simplify so authors can learn and work more efficiently, and extend so they can build ever more useful applications.

Students are terrific users—adept, engaged, and exploratory; conversant with technology; but also busy (semesters are short, they have other courses), purposeful (deadlines loom), and vocal. So we hear from them, promptly and with precision, when the software slows them down or limits what they can do. Scores and scores of software improvements have emerged from their questions and suggestions. We are very appreciative of all their input. And extra thanks to the Teaching Assistants, Bill Cheng, Kara Emery and Jung Hwa Song, and Professor Rostain’s Research Assistant, Zach Hutchinson.

Finally, we admire the students’ commitment to making a difference. As the students’ presentations show (watch the video here), each of this semester’s apps, like those created in the two earlier Georgetown courses that utilized NLS, addresses real problems faced by many thousands of people, and does so more effectively and efficiently than traditional methods. Neota Logic will again be working with the teams and their clients to move these applications into widespread use.


Georgetown Program in Legal Technologies

National Journal Article:  Students Create App Alternative to Obamacare Website

Iron Tech Lawyer Competition

Federal News Radio Interview: Professor Tanina Rostain

Video of December 4th Presentations

Neota Logic Server

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Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Mayson!

Stephen Mayson has been talking and writing again. He’s offering serious answers to serious questions that are too rarely even asked in the blizzard of discussion about the great reset, the new normal, the death of Big Law, LSPs, LPOs, AFAs, VBFs and all the rest.

First in a keynote talk at the College of Law Practice Management 2013 Futures Conference, and then in a more formal paper titled Restoring A Future for Law, Mr. Mayson posed this question: What next for law, lawyers and legal services?

He made the modest suggestion that finding our way through the mix of business models, ownership and capital structures, compensation schemes, and regulatory methods to answer this ultimate, or at least penultimate, question should follow from answers to two primary questions—What is Law for? What are lawyers for?

Positively Descartian, or at least Aristotelian, all this talk of First Principles.

What is the law for?

It is to serve the public interest, in two aspects.

First, so fundamental that we rarely talk about it (except when worrying in the night about the national security state, and when the ABA reminds us to do so on Law Day), the Law serves to maintain the very fabric of society—the rule of law, government (when it’s open for business), and the state itself.

Second, equally fundamental but more ragged in the reality, the Law serves to assure the “legitimate participation of citizens in society.”

This is an evocative and elegant phrasing under which Mr. Mayson places citizenship, migration, and asylum (and, we would like to think, therefore means by “citizens” something broader than those who have all the right paperwork), as well as health, housing, and education.

“Legitimate participation requires access to justice”—the means to assure predictability and enforceability in personal and institutional relationships as well as protection from abuse of power by institutions and government.

As James Madison wrote in 1788, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” And as Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote:

“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building—it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists … it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

These functions of Law, Mr. Mayson realized it was necessary to remind us, are for society and citizens, not for lawyers (except as they are members of society).

And what are lawyers for?

Lawyers serve to advise and represent citizens (again, we suggest, broadly defined as people) and institutions “in the working out of Law’s Purpose.” To that end, and to warrant the privilege granted them, lawyers must have four competences: technical, practical, ethical and business.

Mr. Mayson’s answer to the question What next for law, lawyers and legal services? is succinct, and a sharp stick:

“I believe that there is declining demand for the complex, over-lawyered, over-priced and over-protected advice and representation of the past. If we have lost sight of what Law and lawyers are for, a new approach is needed to ensure a decent, meaningful and sustainable future for Law, lawyers and legal services.

However, there are two significant obstacles to this new future: a broken business model of legal practice; and the closely connected issue of inappropriate regulation of legal services and the practice of law.”

Thus, fully competent though they may be, lawyers need not do all of what today constitutes legal services. Other professionals (no, we don’t call them non-lawyers) and organizations—and technology—can and, for the sake of flexibility and cost, should do some of that work.

Indeed, for the more than 60 million Americans whose income is at or below 125% of the Federal poverty level ($29,437 for a family of four in 2013) and are therefore eligible for assistance from a legal aid organization funded by the Legal Services Corporation, as well as for many millions more who simply cannot afford a lawyer, other professionals and technology are the only effective providers of legal services.

Pro Bono Net, CALI, Apps4Justice, and the many other recipients of Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grants, as well as DirectLaw and other for-profit organizations, have shown that technology can dramatically leverage the very scarce human legal resources available to fill that access to justice gap

Yet regulation stands in the way—very much so in the United States and, since 2007, much less so in the United Kingdom—perpetuating the lawyers’ guild monopoly on the delivery of everything that constitutes legal services. Mr. Mayson has written extensively on regulatory schemes and principles. His summary analysis in this paper is, in our view, a deft evisceration of the arguments that regulators and the “organized bar” make for continued protectionism.

We would add that in the Big Corporate legal market in the United States, there has been de facto deregulation: the general counsel of big companies buy legal services every day from entities that are not licensed to practice law, and do so with confidence that the state bar unauthorized practice of law police will not arrest their “alternative legal services providers.”

First principles indeed.

What’s Neota Logic’s interest in all this?

Well, we do agree with James Madison and Justice Powell. And, we do create software with which smart lawyers can deliver radically more cost-efficient legal services to clients of all kinds—big and small, corporate and individual, paying and not.

We commend Mr. Mayson’s paper to your attention. He’s not joking.

Nor was Richard Feynman, whose memoir “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” inspired the title of this post. We don’t know if Mr. Mayson shares with Professor Feynman a talent as lock-picker and samba drummer, and we doubt he can explain quantum electrodynamics, but we do know he shares a method—start with fundamental principles and reason from there.

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Learning, Creating, Communicating & Testing: NLS 7.0

In our Expert Thinking blog, we write mostly about the world of professional services and technology outside the walls of our office. But from time to time, there’s home news.

We are very pleased to release today Neota Logic Server 7.0, the latest version of our platform for online professional advice, policy automation and decision management. In this version (“NLS 7″), we have focused on four themes – Learning, Creating, Communicating and Testing.


Our work at Neota Logic is guided by two imperatives.

Legal and compliance problems of consequence to people and organizations:

  1. Require solutions that are flexible, subtle, precise, integrated, and often complex – therefore our software must deliver applications with all those qualities.
  2. Outnumber programmers by 1000′s to 1 – therefore our software must enable people who are not programmers (law students, lawyers, tax professionals, business analysts, and many others) to create those applications.

Of course these two goals are always in tension – simplicity to allow the widest possible community of creators, power to build the most useful applications. We confront the tension in every design decision, and continue to examine and re-examine every aspect of NLS from this viewpoint. Is the user experience as simple as possible, for both novice and expert authors? Is every feature useful, logical, learnable, teachable, complete, necessary?

Our collaboration with Georgetown University Law Center has been an invaluable source of good ideas. This year, Professor Tanina Rostain is teaching three courses on Technology, Innovation & Law Practice – each organized around a different topic (regulatory agencies, police procedure, access to justice) – in which students, instead of writing papers, build real applications for real clients using Neota Logic Server, from start to demo within a 14-week semester. (The ABA Journal’s story about last year’s course is here.)

Law students are terrific test pilots for our software: they are tech savvy and fast learners, but also busy (TIP is only one course in their semester), purposeful (deadlines are real, grades are given, and competition is built in), ambitious (the apps they design are not simple), and, shall we say, neither shy nor inarticulate. When the software is confusing or clumsy, we hear about it. And we listen.

We thank the Georgetown University Law Center’s students, faculty and teaching assistants, again and with applause, for their contributions to NLS.

NLS 7 is much easier to learn. We estimate that time from first tutorial to beginner proficiency has been cut in half. How? By simplifying concepts, clarifying terminology, and redesigning screens. And by creating video tutorials, example applications, and learning guides, all available via the training portal.


Having learned the concepts (six key elements compose an app) and the flow (seven steps to a working app), authors of applications want productivity – build fast, avoid errors, test effectively, deploy instantly, update fast. Better tools, fewer mouse clicks, more assistants for repetitive tasks … at every step, let authors focus on substance while leaving mechanics to the software.

The foundations of Neota Logic authors’ productivity are the software’s declarative model and automatic prioritization algorithms (details here). These are unchanged. But in Version 7, core concepts have been simplified. All elements of an application are visible in a single tree view. Every screen has been scrubbed. Assistants automate repetitive steps. Every logic element can be tested immediately while it is being built. Multiple editors open in multiple windows so that authors can flip quickly from one part of an application to another. Breadcrumb navigation tames the view of complex applications. Toolbars have been reorganized. And so on.

We are veteran dogfooders (from “eat your own dogfood,” a software shop mantra attributed to Paul Maritz of Microsoft) – that is, our consultants use Neota Logic Server to build applications for customers, and we especially like beta food. Version 7 has been in the bowl for several months, and meal times are much shorter. To shed the metaphor, we have found that building and maintaining applications, both complex and simple, is about 30% faster.

Oh yes, what about the dogs? Some in the software industry find “dog food” unappetizing. Hence, “drink your own champagne” or “icecreaming.” All are OK with us. We like dogs, champagne and ice cream too.


Smart applications – the kind that Neota Logic Server enables smart people to build – need to talk smart to their users. Well, we don’t mean talk, at least not yet (voice-enabling NLS is on the horizon, though). We mean communicate in writing – in on-screen orientations, questions, hints and messages; in reports, memos, contracts and forms in PDF or Microsoft Word; in email messages and attachments – all precisely tailored to the user, the topic, the context and the problem.

Version 7 adds a comprehensive document engine to our state-of-the-art reasoning engine, so NLS now delivers Word, PDF and PDF Forms for use in contract management, case management, due diligence, regulatory advice and compliance applications.

Unique features of the NLS document engine include:

  • Reasoning and document automation are unified on a single cloud platform, from authoring to deployment.
  • Apps may be built and tested on Macintosh as well as Windows machines.
  • User interfaces for document applications, like all NLS applications, can be 100% customized via the NLS template and style mechanisms, and can include any elements available in web applications – graphics, video, audio, etc.
  • Applications use responsive design techniques to run well on desktops, tablets and smartphones.
  • All document logic is built with the same robust and efficient logic tools used in the reasoning engine. NLS’s unique hybrid reasoning capabilities – which add formulas, weighted factors, spreadsheets, and custom and client-specific reasoning tools to NLS core logic – are all available for use by the document engine.
  • NLS’s comprehensive documentation, validation, verification and testing tools (described below) can be applied to document automation.
  • Close integration with Word and PDF enables NLS Author to parse fields in Word templates and PDF forms automatically, then present the fields in Author for easy drag-and-drop linking to NLS variables.


Things change. Laws and regulations change. Company policies and risk guidelines change. Smart apps therefore need to be updated – swiftly, cheaply, and with a complete audit trail. With Version 7, we are introducing tools for rigorous regression testing – powerful, yet easy to use.

Authors – and subject matter experts – can create tests, run them, save the results to the NLS database, and then re-run the tests after an application (or NLS itself) has been changed in order to verify that the changes have not broken existing logic. Differences between test run results are automatically identified and flagged for review.

Combined with NLS versioning, which saves versions both automatically and at the author’s request, the new testing tools assure that the precise state of an application at any point in the past can be audited.


We are already hard at work on the next version of NLS, which continues to advance the themes discussed here – learnability, productivity, output excellence, and testing – and will add new reasoning tools, SharePoint integration and other good stuff. Stay tuned.

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Douglas Engelbart: True Visionary (for Lawyers Too)

Doug Engelbart died last month at 88. He was famous, in a quiet way, in the tech world, and honored—regrettably late in his career—for the clarity of his vision for “augmenting human intellect” via technology.  He was—also regrettably—unknown in the legal world, which has benefited both far more than it knows and far less than it could from both the technology tools that manifest Engelbart’s vision and the vision itself.

Go here, and watch “the mother of all demos.” Remember, it’s 1968—the year McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. In that year, Doug Engelbart introduced some considerably more nutritious things all in one demo—personal computers connected on a network, hypertext, full-text search, email, file sharing, online and on-screen shared editing, videoconferencing, point-and-click graphical user interfaces with multiple windows, and, last and least, a mouse with which to do the pointing-and-clicking.

blog pic

(Yes, that’s wood.)

But Engelbart wasn’t a hardware maven, or even a software maven. What he cared about, and devoted all of his long career to, was improving “a community’s Collective IQ – its capability to deal with complex, urgent problems.” He was inspired to that challenge in the fall of 1945 by reading—while in a Red Cross library on the edge of the jungle on the island of Leyte in the Philippines—Vannevar Bush’s famous article As We May Think.

To measure progress toward better Collective IQ, he coined the acronym CODIAK—“how effectively a collective of people can Concurrently Develop, Integrate and Apply its Knowledge toward its mission.”

Many have written (see the list below) about the central lines of Engelbart’s career—a vision so far forward that it eluded understanding and acceptance, bureaucratic and corporate lassitude and myopia, the challenges of changing organizational behavior, his engineering view of what was (and is) a human problem, the tech industry’s and the country’s belated recognition.

Here, we invite the legal community to consider CODIAK, from several perspectives.

For law firms, which are “a collective of people” (else they be mere office-sharers), the challenge of knowledge management might usefully be redefined, to de-emphasize managing (with its connotation of static stuff and inward focus) and emphasize developing, integrating and applying (in the context of mapped processes and managed projects, looking outward to clients).

For pro bono, legal aid and other public interest legal services providers, CODIAK neatly encapsulates the aims of the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program and the work of such organizations as Pro Bono Net, the ABA eLawyering Task Force, CALI, and the innovative law schools listed here.

And in the broad legal community, CODIAK as a goal is a reminder of how critical is open, intelligent access to the raw materials of the law. We think of, for example, PublicResource.Org, the Legal Information Institute and RavelLaw. For a sharp (and entertaining) cut at the question, have a look at Ed Walters’ presentation Who Owns The Law? at ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013.

Engelbart himself listed lawyers among those who needed to “approach a complex problem situation, gain comprehension to suit the particular needs, and derive solutions to problems.” Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.

Oh yes, the mouse. Why last and least? Engelbart was most often, and to his annoyance, known as the Father of the Mouse. It’s true he and Bill English invented the thing, and gave it its name (because the wire looked like a tail). But he, rightly, thought it was merely an “artifact,” and not the important thing. We’re not smarter just because we have a mouse (or, for that matter, because we can use our fingers on an iPad). And above all Engelbart wanted us to be smarter. As Bret Victor put it, “this is as if you found the person who invented writing, and credited them for inventing the pencil.”

And what does this have to do with Neota Logic?

We help organizations add to their Collective IQ. Our focus is on how to Integrate and Apply knowledge—to transform dust-gathering texts on law, compliance and policy into operationally useful tools and to leverage the heuristics of busy (or rare) experts so that the rest of us can benefit from their knowledge quickly, cheaply and easily.

And we share an acronym, NLS. For us, that’s the Neota Logic Server, our system with which professionals (even lawyers) can build intelligent applications. For Engelbart, that’s the oNLine System, his hypermedia groupware system.

Good Reads

Douglas Engelbart’s Unfinished Revolution, Howard Rheingold, MIT Technology Review, July 23, 2013.

Computer Visionary Who Invented The Mouse, John Markoff, The New York Times, July 3, 2013.

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, John Markoff, Penguin Books, 2006.

In Memoriam: Douglas Engelbart, Maestro of the Mouse And So Much More, Harry McCracken, Time Magazine, July 3, 2013.

Douglas Engelbart and the Means to an End, Karen McGrane, A List Apart, July 25, 2013.

Doug Engelbart, Scott Griffin, Internet Pioneers.



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