On this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, we sit down with Thomas Hamilton, Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Ross Intelligence. Ross intelligence has created an artificial intelligence system to augment lawyer skills and reasoning abilities with curated collections of the most relevant legal authorities.
The software features a question-based search, allowing you to pose legal questions in language you would use with your colleagues. It also helps with document analysis, and provides question-focused case overviews and case treatment summaries to allow you to quickly spot cases that have been criticized or overturned.
“The goal really from day one was to use breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that were already popping up and being deployed in other industries, and by a lot of the big high tech companies, but use those breakthroughs, specifically in the law to create a tool that any lawyer could use, any lawyer could afford, and that would drastically improve their ability to do legal research,” says Thomas.
We chat with Thomas about Ross Intelligence, artificial intelligence and its application in the legal field, as well as:
- How the software differs from other legal resources such as Lexis or Westlaw
- What types of firms will benefit most from this software
- How the software mimics human thought process to simulate working with a real research assistant
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life.
I’m your host, Davina Frederick and I’m here today with Thomas Hamilton, Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Ross Intelligence. Ross Intelligence has created an artificial intelligence system to augment lawyer skills and reasoning abilities with curated collections of the most relevant legal authorities. Welcome, Thomas. I’m so happy to have you here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Thomas Hamilton: Thanks for having me. Really looking forward to chatting.
Davina: Great, so why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and give us an idea of where you are and what kind of career you’ve had up to this point of being vice president of strategy and operations for Ross Intelligence.
How Thomas Got to This Point in His Career
Thomas: Yeah, sure thing. Okay. So, right up until the part where I helped create an artificial intelligence company, I had a pretty, you know, pretty typical sort of legal career. It went to, went to school for business for my undergrad. Majored in finance. Was always with a very sort of entrepreneurial bent to it. But I minored in the classics. So, you know, a lot of sort of typical stuff as lawyers, we study history, poli sci, philosophy, that kind of thing.
And then went to law school right afterwards. Got hired to a big firm that actually so, you know, you get hired to get your callback. And then by the time I got there for the summer, it had actually become a firm called Denton, which is a megafirm, one of the biggest firms in the world at this point. So it was an interesting time to be there because I was seeing a firm, really kind of struggling with how it could be as efficient as possible and use technology as much as possible in a way that was pretty rare for big firms at the time. Now, it’s, you know, it’s much more common.
And while that was happening, some of my friends were computer scientists who were starting tech companies, artificial intelligence company at the University of Toronto, which is really sort of the birthplace of a lot of modern AI theory. And lo and behold, one of those companies was focusing some really cool breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, specifically on the law. And they really wanted to kind of focus on legal research because it turns out AI systems, you give them a big enough data set, ie all of the common law, can start answering really complicated questions if you have basically smart enough engineers to create it.
So I really kind of saw the value. I was experiencing a lot of problems in legal research myself, so you had to do it on a really quick timeline, it was very hard to build your clients for it. All those typical issues that we all wrestle with as attorneys. So ended up eventually actually helping create the company. And then I’ve been here ever since.
Davina: Wow, wow. So tell us about kind of the company and how it came into being and who the founders are and what their backgrounds are. Like, what are they about? What was their goal in creating this company?
Thomas: So the goal really from day one was to use some really, really cool breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that were already kind of popping up and being deployed in other industries and by a lot of the big high tech companies. All the typical names you’d expect, right? Google, Facebook, IBM, but use those breakthroughs specifically on the law to create a tool that any lawyer can use, any lawyer could afford, and that would so drastically improve their ability to do legal research.
That would not only help every law firm be more profitable, and frankly, play healthier, your work-life balance a little bit too. But it would really kind of better society as a whole because it would mean more people could get access to good legal services. So the founding team was really a mix of computer scientists and former attorneys. And I think what going to be brought everyone together was that passion for using very, very advanced breakthroughs to make technology that was really easy to use, and that would really kind of shape access to justice and access to good legal services in a better way.
Davina: So can you kind of give us like, for people like me who are non-technical, can you give us a sort of explanation of how this is different from something like a Lexis or Westlaw, which is what, you know, most attorneys come out of law school, thinking that these are the research tools out there available to them, right? So how is Ross Intelligence different?
Creating a Google-Like Experience Exclusively for Law Inquiries
Thomas: Yeah, I’d be happy to. I’m, I mean, it’s my job to, right? It would be a bit awkward if I couldn’t explain that. So, you know, look, I was very much a product of that system. I was trying to Westlaw and Lexis. I used them both when I was at my firm. The difference here is it’s a bit like going from, I don’t know if you remember using Yahoo. It’s sort of like using, Westlaw or Lexis is like using Yahoo back in the day to search the internet.
And then imagine going from that to using Google. So what was Yahoo good at? Yahoo was good at categorizing the internet using a lot of human editors. I think they were called Yahooers or something. They had all these categories, right? There’s Yahoo, finance, Yahoo, sports, Yahoo, news, Yahoo celebrity news. And the reason they had to do that is because the core search in Yahoo, like if you just typed a question to the search bar was not good.
So they would try and work around that by having a lot of human editors. And that’s what Westlaw or Lexis do, right? They do a great job of publishing companies, having a lot of books and secondary sources, forms, all that fancy stuff they charge you a lot of money for. What we’ve done is we have spent a ton of time, a lot of energy creating a search bar where you can ask very thorough, fleshed out questions.
Like you’re asking a question to another attorney. So I’ll give an example. Can an individual declare chapter seven bankruptcy in Illinois if their common-law spouse has declared chapter 11 bankruptcy within the last five years? Like that. So, you know, you can imagine your bankruptcy attorney, someone comes into your office, you talk to them, you do the initial consult, and out of that 10-minute convo, that’s sort of like your issue you’re trying to answer for them, right?
A very typical kind of thing. So you can literally just type that into Ross. And then what it’ll do space for a couple seconds is bring you back entire passages, but from case law, so it’s exactly the judge’s word answering that. And why it’s able to do that better than anyone else out there is because our system is built From the ground up to do it. It wasn’t built on Boolean search, which we all remember, you know, you’re kind of writing those lines of code. Every other system out there was built on that.
And the problem is that kind of restricts how advanced they can go. Our search was never built on that, although you can still do it if you want. It’s still helpful sometimes. We let you do it. You’ll never be able to rely on that and that’s why you can ask with very complicated questions and then in just a couple of seconds, get the answers. So like I said, the power is, it’s still from case laws. So in the judge’s words, but it may not need the exact same words as the question you asked. It could be synonyms, it could be analogous reasoning, that kind of thing.
Davina: Mm-hmm. So would an attorney use this product as, in addition to something like Fastcase or something like that? Like, for Westlaw, I mean, would use in addition to that? Or is it
Thomas: So we’re actually officially partnered with Fastcase. So if our executive team works with their executive team, our product team works with their product team. So we’re going to be releasing stuff, basically side by side. So what I always say is think of it like a complement to Fastcace, which the majority of lawyers in the country actually have that free access to through their bar membership.
Their stuff, Fastcase, or Westlaw or Lexis can do that we don’t. We don’t have secondary sources. We don’t have things like automated forms for you. But when you have a system where you can just type that question in and have that sort of Google-like experience, or with perfect answers from case law, you don’t need that other stuff as much.
Now what I will say is we do know from our sales team that folks, especially at smaller firms, that we’re paying a lot of money for Westlaw or Lexis contract will very regularly cancel their subscriptions once they start using our software just because it’s so much easier. It’s also very affordable. We have month to month plans and your subscription even without discounts can be as low as $69 a month for totally unlimited use.
Davina: So, that’s interesting. So you have month to month plans? No long term contracts right now.
Thomas: Yeah, that’s right. And, I mean, this seems sort of silly and a bit geeky but that was actually something that was really important to us because we’ve been attorneys before. Because we knew that especially with a smaller firm when you got to worry about overhead, some of these contracts for these old tools, they can just be huge, right? And they can be, you sign in them for two, three years, there’s hidden fees, hidden rate hikes every year.
So the first pricing option we ever released, like on day one, you could only do monthly because we wanted to sort of make a statement and say, Hey, we get it. We were attorneys. We’re trying to make this really easy, really affordable. You can cancel whenever you want. What we found is people love that option, but then once they started using it, what they wanted was, hey, give me the annual so I can get a bit of a discount here because this thing is great.
There’s no way I’m going to cancel next month. So you can do quarterly, you can do annual, like I said, annual brings the price down to $69 a month. And then if you are a member of different groups, including Florida State Bar, Illinois State Bar, Minnesota State Bar, you actually get further discounts as well because we’re official member benefits of state bars also.
Davina: Now does this have, I saw where you recently added a lot of states. So explain to me kind of the depth of this as far as the information that’s available in there?
Thomas: Yeah. So we have all case law across all 50 states. And you, there’s a, you can go to scope of coverage docs on our website. What we recently added was all stats and regs across all 50 states. So initially, we didn’t have that. We wanted to focus our energy on making our system great, are returning answers directly from case law, because we knew that ultimately, when you’re putting together the memo, when you’re putting together the brief, you need those answers from case law, right?
Case laws are what we use as researchers to interpret statutes and regs. But over time, we would keep uploading data on stats and regs as well. So we now have all case law across all 50 states and all stats and regs across all 50 states. And, of course, federal as well.
Davina: Right, right. When did you guys actually start doing business?
Thomas: So we would have been, I was gonna say we came down to the United States in sort of end of 2015. And then we were still in, I mean, what to call that, like the alpha stage. Not even in the beta stage yet. We’d gotten a group of 20 very large, full-service firms, including the firm I was at to sort of be our first test user.
And then we moved into the beta stage. And then I think we announced our first three paying clients in, I want to say mid-2016, and that would have been Denton Baker Hochstetler and Andreessen Roper. And then from there, we kind of continued rolling it out. We’ve been available for just pure signing up on our website, totally free 14-day trial. No credit card required. That happened about a year ago, sort of a soft launch to start. We wanted to, you know, iron out the kinks and the bugs. And then we’d go in sort of full steam for about six or eight months.
And currently, we’re growing at about 20 to 30% every single month in terms of the size of our user base. So we’re seeing incredible growth. And that’s part of why, you know, we speak on podcasts like this because we know that there’s a lot of interest in it. We’re all trained to use stuff like Westlaw or Lexis from law school, but once folks jump on that, they use that free trial, they talk to their support team, they really love it. And we’re really seeing some really incredible adoption.
Davina: What, is this for, so is this designed for small firms, or is it something that, you said your original testers you had big firm, so this will work for any size law firm in any practice area, or are there some practice areas that may not benefit from it as much as others or size firms that may not benefit as much as others?
Software Built for Firms of all Shapes and Sizes
Thomas: It’s really a tool at this point that will help any firm that has to do legal research. The reason we started with the really big firms is they just had the budget to use it early on, and to, you know, sort of give us feedback on it. They had a very large tech team. The Chief Information Officer whose job it is to study this stuff was just sort of just beginning to be experimented with. But like I said, the goal was always for this to be a tool anyone could use.
I would say the sweet spot that we really see is firms with a sort of one to 10 attorneys where you don’t have that luxury of being able to kind of just throw a junior associate at legal research kind of out of the blue because you got 20 of them, you know, waiting around. And the reason for that also is that typically, the smaller firms, they’re not as often going to be able to bill their clients for legal research. Maybe they can bill for one or two hours, but like they probably can’t bill for like the eight or 10 hours all the time.
And that’s where you’re really looking for the increased efficiency and accuracy. On the other hand, if you’re, say, a one-person personal injury firm, and you do your work on contingency, you probably are doing a lot of legal research. You’re probably not getting paid for it. You’re getting paid if you win. And that’s where you want a tool that not only is more efficient but finds you places you’d literally never would have found on another tool because our search is so powerful. So there’s a lot of different incentives for smaller firms to use it where they can really, really benefit.
And it kind of depends on their business model, which is part of what makes this really cool. It’s also where I think folks get a lot of use out of it. During obviously, you know, we’re recording this right now, end of April. So there’s the shutdown, folks are trying new technology. They have to be more creative, a bit more, maybe entrepreneurial. And this is really a tool that is so powerful that it kind of lets you reimagine or restructure your business model to better tailor what you want.
So if it’s winning the huge cases for the big payout, this is gonna find you that silver bullet case. If it’s just turning around answers for your clients faster to keep them happy, this will do that too. And frankly, if it’s just slightly better work-life balance, you know, maybe getting to leave the office a little bit earlier on a Friday, it helps with that as well. It’s really up to you.
Davina: Sounds like it’s kind of like having a research associate named Ross available that you can just ask Ross what you’re, you know, what do you think about this? This is what I’m thinking. What do you think about this? I mean, I think that’s one of the things that, I loved your image when you talked about going into another attorney’s office and just asking them a question and cut them this allows for a language like that, you know?
Because I think that’s one of the downfalls of when you are a small solo or a small firm, you may not have those other attorneys that you can just bounce ideas off of or ask a question. It kind of like how it’s formulated in your head at the moment, right? And it sounds like you guys are really working to create some language that mimics human thought processes and thought language, you know, patterns to be able to answer those kinds of questions. Is that accurate?
Thomas: That’s totally accurate. And it’s funny you say that because we so often have gotten that feedback from folks that have used the technology that you’ll actually notice when you log in and you play around. The interface and the way that it returns cases, we’ve actually kind of set it up so it looks a bit like you could give the question to a research associate and they’d come back with the case and then sort of panned up, like the different page numbers. You know what I mean? Where they’re like, okay, so on page seven, page 11 and page 14, there’s good answers to the question of law. On page one, you’re going to see it matches the motion we’re looking for.
So we, we’re always looking to both make the software very powerful but also make it really easy to use. And one of the ways that we try and do that is really help the new user think of it and experience it in a way that mimics having given that question to that research associate, to that summer intern, whatever it may be. And then the only difference is instead of waiting eight hours having to send a follow-up email or whatever, just sort of getting an answer back in three seconds virtually right in front of you.
Davina: Wow, yeah, that’s cool.
Thomas: We like to think so, yeah.
Davina: Are you, do you guys have, are you working on, do you have an app or are you working on an app or anything like that? Because I’m just picturing attorneys in courtrooms and, or out in meetings and wanting to look up information or something. I mean, is that something that you guys have now or you’re anticipating doing in the future or haven’t discussed it yet?
Thomas: Yeah, so we’d love to have a fully offline app. We don’t have that yet, but the software is totally optimized for use on mobile as well. And we hear that all the time. So someone’s in court at the recess, they come out and then they either just take their cell phone out and take their iPad out or, you know, turn to their second chair and they just, they literally put the question into Ross and get answers. And because it is that powerful, even on that smaller screen you can right away still find really, really good stuff.
Davina: Yeah, yeah, that’s fantastic. What else do we need to know about Ross Intelligence? Is this the, so this is the product that you guys call Ross Intelligence, the name of the company, which called the product. What else do we need to know about it?
Thomas: The most important stuff I would say is, you know, I would love for you to take my word for it that it’s great. But I think it’s even more important, and probably better use your time to just jump on and try it yourself. We make it really easy to do. Just go to Google, Ross Intelligence, click on the first link. There’s going to be a signup button. Sign up for that trial. You don’t have to put in a credit card or anything. It’s going to take you about five seconds to make an account.
And then just start using it. There’s lots of help docs, there’s an in-app chat. So there’s lots of resources that help you. But it’s also designed to be something that you can kind of get the hang of pretty quick. So just jump on, use it, encourage anyone else you know to use it as well for their research. Let us know your thoughts. It’s all built around attorney feedback. So initially ours but now obviously, our feedback doesn’t matter because we’re all convinced it’s fantastic already.
But any feedback we get from attorneys, positive or negative, goes into making it better. I mean, I really, if listeners took one thing out of this would just be, I really encourage you to try it out. Thousands of attorneys across the country are using it. A number of state bars have us as special partners right now and it’s gonna make your life a lot easier, a bit less stressful, and it can make your firm a lot more profitable as well.
Davina: Yeah. So how long is the trial?
Thomas: So it’s 14 days. We know that stuff comes up, you get sucked into a client matter or, you know, whatever. So if you need a bit more time, just let us know. Typically we find 14 days a good amount of time. We’ve experimented with making it way longer. And then we find that when you have like no urgency, people don’t do it, right? If you’re like, hey, it’s four months free, then you just kind of keep kicking it down the road, right? So 14 days is the sweet spot. But if you need more time, just let us know. We’re always flexible with that stuff.
Davina: Yeah. And I think 14 days is pretty standard for free trials. How is your, do you have like, does this require training? Do you have people available for training? Or do you have videos for training? Or do you have a customer service that’s available to answer questions?
Because I know when I get a new product, and, you know, I get in and start playing around, a lot of times products can feel intimidating. I always feel like it can do more than what I’m doing on it, you know? And so I always check and see if kind of like there’s somebody that can either, I can schedule a training session with or that can answer questions for me. What is, what do you, what setup do you guys have for that?
More Complexity in the Backend, More Streamlined for the User
Thomas: Yeah, so the good news is we really have all the above. So lots of training videos, and we aim to keep them nice and short too. And just the attorneys on the team, myself included, take turns recording them. So they’re like, 30 seconds to a minute. A lot of help docs, in-app support. So there’s a little chat button that you can just sort of open up. And you see that a lot on websites.
Now even some law firms have that, right? You go to like, Hamilton and Hamilton and it says, you have a question. You want to talk to an attorney? But we also allow you to book a personalized one on one demo at a bunch of times. We have a demo team. Once again, all the lawyers, you know, sort of lend a hand on that, myself included, because it’s just good for all of us to always be exposed to that, right? Like, how does someone feel when they first see this product? And then we also just have regular ongoing weekly demos a few times a week that anyone can jump into as well.
So we provide a lot of resources. We also spend a lot of time and a lot of effort making it a very simple to use product even though the AI algorithms keeps getting more complicated on the back end. You always want to make the product like, it’s almost like conversely simpler, right? So the more complicated the tech, the easier it should be. It’s like an iPhone, right? There’s this incredible stuff happening behind the scenes in an iPhone, right? A modern iPhone is like, has more computing power than the computer that sent rockets to the moon, but an iPhone is still easy to use, right? Like, an eight-year-old can play around an iPhone with a little bit of training.
Davina: I know. And we have that expectation now. Like as an end-user of a product, I’m like, you know, we rise to the level of our technology suddenly, you know, things that we never even can conceive of, don’t understand how they work, we get so dependent on them and then we’re just like, if it doesn’t work, the internet goes down or it doesn’t work for a day, you get so frustrated because you’re like, I can’t shoot without this now. And this sounds like one of those tools that as a practicing attorney, you probably get very used to working with it and becoming dependent and relying on it, you know?
Sure beats going to a law library and digging through books. I was asking about all, and it sounds like you have all the different things when it comes to getting the help and support. Because that’s always kind of a beef of mine is I get really annoyed with case management softwares and, you know, other types of research softwares, whatever. If you can’t get the help you need to figure something out, then it’s no good to you, right? You have to be able to get that, you have to make sure that you’re using something to the maximum ability, to take the time to understand it and use it.
And it’s so frustrating if you have a company whose got a great product but then they don’t have good support to help you maybe think of doing things that you, haven’t even occurred to you to do. Or, and also I like that you have, you know, but if I don’t have time to schedule a training session, a private training session and I’m just trying to just try to deal with the issue that’s right in front of me and I need a quick resolution to it, you’ve got some videos that sound like you can listen to the video for less than a minute and find the answer to your question. So I think that’s great. And the live chat’s always a great function.
Guided and Unguided Training Available
Thomas: Yeah. And we just know, as attorneys, how busy our customers are. And things change at the drop of a hat, too. So we really try and be flexible and provide the input. It’s almost like, remember in school when your teacher would tell you that people have different learning styles? Like there’s visual learners, there’s, auditory learners. So it’s almost like with our training, we try and do the same. So in a perfect world, everyone gets a personalized one on one demo, but with attorney schedules and, you know, clients being clients, that’s just not going to happen.
So we always try and find other ways to do it. And one of the other things we know is, you know, to your point about having a tool but not knowing how to use all of it, one of the challenges with some of the software that like, historically lawyers used, if they, myself included, they don’t know how to use most of it. So especially, you know, a smaller firm can be paying for the Westlaw subscription that I was using at a 7000 attorney firm by using like 1% of the functionality of the tool. Because you just don’t need 99% of it. You might not even know 99% of it’s there. I certainly didn’t with quite a few things.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. That’s, when I’m working with my clients, women who, or women law firm owners, one of the first things I talk to them about is are their tools, you know, like their case management tools or the research tools or whatever, and I always ask, Are you using that tool to the best that it can be used? I mean, and 99% of them will tell me now I know I’m not and so I’m always you know, having them recommending that they set up training sessions or, you know, put it in their calendar that they make time to learn how to use their tools.
Because I think that that’s, you know, we can have these great tools out there, but if we don’t really try to understand them and learn them, then, you know, they’re not going to do us a lot of good. This sounds like you guys have made that really easy for people to do. And it sounds from the way you described it, it sounds very intuitive, to begin with. So that is helpful. I’m sure a lot of people love that. All right, well tell us where we can find out more about Ross Intelligence and how we can connect with you and anything else like that that we need to know.
Thomas: Okay, so to connect with me, my email address, super simple, Thomas, [email protected]. So it’s all one word, ROSSintelligence.com. Big user of Twitter as well. I find actually, a lot of folks in the legal tech community are. My Twitter handle is TJ Hammy, HAMMY. If you want to check out our website, we’re actually releasing a new website I think this week which we’re really excited about, so just rossintelligence.com. On there, you’re gonna find A, obviously that you can sign up, B, there’s a whole raft of customer testimonials.
So attorneys of sort of every, you know, profile or firm across the country. We even have a couple law students in there because we give our tech totally for free to law students who I’m sure you can imagine, you’re a one owl, you’re writing your first, you know, like your canned memo, like your practice memo assignment and you get your hands on Ross. Fun testimonials from students. I know the legal research instructors always love it, but like the students, you know, will sort of shoot us an email and say, Hey, man, thanks so much.
Davina: Hey, we gotta do we gotta do.
Thomas: Yeah, we’ve all been there. We know the lay. So yeah, so there’s lots different testimonials in there. There’s also some extra background on the tech, the powers that if, you know if folks are interested, but I would really use our website as a resource. Also, like I said, we’re already actually more benefit of number of state bars with more to be announced. So it’s very possible when you, if you log in to your member bar like, portal and you go to member benefits, we may actually be there as well.
Davina: Yeah, awesome. Awesome. Gonna go check that out on the Florida Bar website. We, of course, we have, you know, women attorneys throughout the country who listen to the podcast, so I encourage everybody to go to their bar website. Check it out, see if it, see if there’s availability there as well. And I really appreciate you being here today, Thomas. It was wonderful talking with you.
Thomas: It was a lot of fun.