Top 10 Health Foods for 2020

/2020 brings a new decade and an opportunity to enhance lessons learned from the past. These foods are heavy in the vegetable/fruit category. Feel free to add in your favorite game bird, or four footed creature. Thanks to research by the National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health.

This tropical fruit in the past has suffered a bad reputation. Transdermally, coconut absorption can be as effective medicinally as when eaten. Thai food recipes for Tom Kha soup use coconut in ways that comfort and soothe. Fresh young coconut when available has potassium for active exercisers. Coconut oil makes luscious popcorn.

The best of Brazilian superfoods, here comes, Acai, with it’s varied phonetic transmutations. The anti-oxidant power captured in a tonic that fights and prevents cancer growth. Consume as much as you like of this berry. It’s filling quality makes no assumptions about your past indulgences with processed fast food sandwiches.

Often touted as a cure for vomiting, ginger cools an inflamed being. Too much emotional baggage from a decade of political and social unrest? Pacify those “seeing red” moments with a cup of ginger tea, or try using ginger in your juicer for a quick bite in the sweetness of a fruity cocktail.


Eat your greens! Seriously, this plant is so prolific you cannot wonder about all its uses. Kale pesto, kale cheese dip, kale bread stuffing; these are only the tip of iceberg that supports eating more of the green stuff. The diversity of species for kale makes finding one to grow in your climate a relatively easy endeavor.

Sushi continues to be a favorite dining past time in cosmopolitan meccas worldwide. Fish oil has been given new consideration for heart health, and those sad days of no sunshine. Try all colors and flavors of this spicy fish egg and choose your new favorite this year.

In the age of food allergy assumptions and questionable sources, a pasta safety net is the quinoa grain. When soy, wheat, dairy or nut allergies drive you away from accessing enough carbohydrates, try the baking friendly quinoa. Spicy salad mixes make quick side dishes for lunches, although the theme for this decade is more humble and less frenetic in the land of healthy living.

Again, with the greenery! Raw foods and spinach have become terrific friends. Low iron in your blood and folate deficiency is easily boosted with spinach. Spinach grows hardy and harvests soon for mass production. Popeye that sailorman knew a trick or two after all.

This delicate tangy fruit is prized as a woman’s essential. The glory of this fruit is its chemistry. They contribute to a more alkaline PH in your body’s ecosystem. This inhibits growth of bacteria or infections keeping your immune system healthy. It can’t be all that bad for males either.

Back to black. We’ve argued and harangued (enough already) over the value of coffee. It’s a go on taking this nectar of the gods into the new decade. Robust flavors and fair-trade roasters support economic growth to small villages, both here and abroad.

Maple Syrup
A sweetener described as something old, something new by way of our native history. The good old standby for sugar is a northern tradition, which in so many ways is perfect and beyond refinement. The expense will repay itself in this clever tree medicine that clearly enhances any plain, dry breads or whole grains. Forget pancakes, syrup is essential in sauces, salad dressings, and yes, even chicken barbecue.

What’s Old is New Again: Gardening for Health, Wealth and Food Security

In hard economic times, people look for ways to supplement their food costs and increase security by raising their own food. This has taken on a whole new experience as gardening becomes a high tech low-work experience.

Some basic definitions and links:

Permaculture is the permanent growing of fruit, nuts and vegetables in a landscape. Low growing grasses are planted for paths and double as animal grazing areas.

Urban farming (see: in which a family grows nearly 80% of all their food from a lot less than .25 acre and sells the rest.

Square foot gardening is maximizing garden space. See:

Areo-gardening is growing plants in air. Nutrient based water is sprayed on the root system using an aerator, something many aquarium hobbyists are familiar with. Light is usually added to extend growing. (See LED lights for low power consumption.)

What you can grow in air – any small plant like cherry tomatoes, lettuces, cabbage, cauliflower, strawberries ( we recommend ever-bearing), herbs, some beans and wheat grass for juicing. Large plants require support and light has a hard time accessing the bottom of the plant so tomatoes, root crops and corn are not ideal.

Hydro-ponics is when the plant is floated in nutrient based water. Sometimes fish are kept in the water (tilapia, crayfish, shrimp and catfish). As you can see on Stealth Hydro – most of the parts are simple plastic tubs or pipe with holes for plants, a pump, a light and sometimes it is all placed in a reflective cabinet. Again, space & lighting are the limiting factors as to what you can grow.

Sprouting is the easiest since all you need are seeds, a jar with a screen top and water. Picking your favorite seeds for sprouting and growing the plants to maturity to collect the seed yourself can give you an endless supply of the healthiest food on the planet.

Potted plants are also good for space-saving food production and recommended for larger plants. Growing citrus fruit trees, bananas and even green beans are possible when either light is provided or placed in a sunny window. Vine plants like passion fruit, kiwis and teas are also ideal potted plants. See Video – SurvivingLA for a self-watering potted plant and EarthBox

Mushrooms can be grown with little light needs, not much space and usually just need water.

Chickens? If you have ever wandered through antique stores and seen the old kitchen hutches with chicken wire then you have seen how the old farm wives kept chickens inside their kitchens to grab an egg when they needed. In turn the chickens got food scraps. Hens are sweet and can be kept in bird cages or the old style hutch. They will sing when being fed and are a delightful pet as well as provider! They only require a nice bed of straw on the bottom of their cage – which can be turned into the potting soil as frequently as needed or fed to the worms. We estimate 2 – 3 hens per person in a household.

Worms! If you don’t keep chickens to feed food scraps to – try a kitchen worm bed.

Here’s one: Worm Composter

And here’s more info – Make it Yourself

Whether you live in a city apartment or do large scale farming – food production is in your hands when all these technologies come together to make food production easy, fun and rewarding.

Living in the Wild West of Law

I recently helped moderate part of a webinar hosted by Viewabill during which we discussed a broad range of issues related to using metrics. The panelists were a combination of in-house and law firm lawyers, with some legal operations folks added to the mix to ground us in the real world. The discussions were interesting, and highlighted our evolving views that the practice of law is, and should be, more metric driven.

At one point, we wandered into a discussion about what metrics and standards each participant is using as key performance indicators. It quickly became clear that the answers were all over the map. Each participant had his or her favorite metric, but we had few overlaps. I described the world of legal metrics as the “wild west” right now. We work in an environment where we really don’t have a set of core metrics we can look to and use to compare performance on an absolute (us versus us) or relative (us versus others) basis.

Lawyers have practiced for a long time without a core set of metrics. At first blush, you may think the lack of a core set is not a big deal. But, lawyers also did not focus on efficiency for a long time. In the modern legal world, we are focusing on efficiency and metrics have become not just important, but essential.

To be clear, I don’t think everyone needs to use the same metrics across the board. Each firm and each company will have things important to them and will want to use metrics to measure those things. But, it would help companies and firms alike if there were some core metrics everyone could use both to measure period over period change and to measure how each is doing compared to others.

What are those metrics? That is the open question right now. I have some ideas as do others, but let’s not focus on the specifics. There are some efforts under way to build a core set of metrics and I think we will get there as long as we keep in mind the benefits to all from having the set. The point of establishing core metrics is that we all start using a common language for measuring what is happening in legal service delivery and, more importantly, how we are improving it. Right now, without that common language, discussions about improvement are a confusing mish mash of incompatible tongues.

It really isn’t strange to want industry-wide common metrics. Certainly for corporations, law departments are probably the only department that doesn’t operate in an industry with common metrics. Some lawyers may prefer the lack of accountability, but most clients recognize those fun days are over.

As the legal industry evolves it also needs to mature. For law, that includes developing and using a cores set of metrics that helps all of us keep improving.

UK Innovative Lawyers Show US the Ways Big Law Fights Back

The FT Innovative Lawyers honors for 2014 have been released, so it’s time to peer across the pond and see what our friends in the UK have been doing. This look becomes more interesting each year as competition heats up with the UK’s adoption through the Legal Services Act of 2007 of the Alternative Business Structures (ABS) model.

As I flipped through the honorees in different categories, and looked at the contenders for and ultimate winner of the Legal Innovator of the Year award, several things stood out. I should note that the award goes to an individual, not a firm. But, I talk about the firms below and not the individuals, in part because I believe the environment must be somewhat open to innovation for the individual to succeed.

I’ve listed below the things that stood out to me with my comments. The list is not ordered, which partly reflects my drafting and partly reflects the eclectic nature of what is happening in the legal industry.

  • Of the ten firms with contenders for Legal Innovator of the Year, four (Jones Day, Latham & Watkins, Orrick, Sidley & Austin) were US-based law firms. FT’s recognition of US legal innovation will come out in December. It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of the same US firms appear on that list. It is too soon to tell whether any of these firms are becoming global innovators, or if innovation is still the domain of isolated partners.
  • One firm with a contender (Mishcon de Reya) has applied to be an ABS. Mishcon is one of the first if not the first major law firm to apply for ABS status.
  • None of the firms with contenders are in the Magic Circle group of firms (Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Slaughter and May). There are many other awards more specific to practice areas and some Magic Circle firms do appear on those lists.
  • Two of the ten individuals contending were women (Joanne Wheeler, Susana Almeida Lopes), and one of these women (Joanne Wheeler) won the Legal Innovator of the Year Award.
  • One of the ten firms with contenders (Eversheds) had a service delivery model that brought it to the judges’ attention. Eversheds has been known for its single-supplier deal with Tyco. That deal, which includes metrics and project management, has expanded and Eversheds has struck more such deals. This structure goes well beyond convergence. We now see a model under which one firm handles or manages the legal services for a company, just as IBM might manage the IT services for a company.
  • The innovations that put the individuals in contention were diverse. The winner (from Bird & Bird) has built a space law practice. Several others were in contention for law firm or talent management initiatives.
  • Practicing law and being a good place to work can work together. One firm (Mishcon) was listed in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For – for the past five years.

I believe competition is having an impact on the UK legal market, and is, at least in part, driving some of the innovative activity now appearing in descriptions of the contenders.

Lawyers are professional skeptics, so I’m sure many reading this post and the FT Innovators list will say there is nothing new here. I respectfully disagree. Although the list may represent the tip of the spear, change is moving lawyers and law firms forward to do things different and in some cases ahead of the market. When the December awards for US firms come out, we can compare how far and fast things are moving in the two markets. Anyone want to make bets about which country will be in the lead?

Design and the Legal Industry

Stop and think about design in the legal industry for a moment. As with most things in the legal industry, design has not changed for a very long time. Prior to 1961, most typewriters used a Courier font. In 1961, IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter with its replaceable typeball. Typists could change the ball, switching between Courier and Times New Roman typefaces (with the Selectric II, they also could change between 10 and 12 characters per inch). Lawyers moved to Times New Roman and never looked back.

This is what Matthew Butterick, a lawyer, Fastcase 50 winner, author of the book Typography for Lawyers, and founder of the website says about the Times New Roman font:

When Times New Roman appears in a book, document, or advertisement, it connotes apathy. It says, “I submitted to the font of least resistance.” Times New Roman is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice, like the blackness of deep space is not a color. To look at Times New Roman is to gaze into the void.

Today, lawyers live in two worlds. One world, mostly the judicial world, often requires that we use Times New Roman font. Specifying the font restricts the creativity of lawyers who sometimes try and wedge more words into the space allotted for legal briefs. Outside the judicial world, however, lawyers generally may do what they want, and yet lawyers typically “connote apathy” and stick with Times New Roman. Beyond typefaces, legal document lack color, graphics, and even a hint of design.

Good Design leads to Delightedness

Design is important. Outside the legal industry, design carries great weight since it can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful products. Designers focus on what separates the good from the bad. At a recent Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, executives from leading software companies talked about how empathy and delight define good from bad.  Without empathy, the user doesn’t engage with the product. Frustrating experiences defeat user delight.

Using good design in legal documents can help accomplish many of our goals. Good design helps clarity. We want clients and opposing parties to understand our documents. Clients need to use contracts, and clear and engaging documents will help them do so.

Good design helps with readability. In an age when adult literacy is declining, it is ever more challenging for lawyers to create documents clients are willing to read. We compete with smartphones, YouTube, Netflix and a host of other content sources. The less distance we put between our content and the competition’s content, the easier it will be to draw our clients into engaging with what we do. We don’t have to create 30 minute sitcom contracts, but a contract that looks more like it came from a magazine than a 1960’s Selectric typewriter will take us a long way towards clients believing we want to delight them.

Change is Easy

Using the same font, even one that causes us to “gaze into the void,” is not the biggest challenge in the legal industry. But, it does speak to our creativity. Even though we have no design restraint on most of what we do, we refuse to deviate from a typeface used for over 50 years that connotes apathy. In this modern era where it is incredibly difficult to engage audiences, we choose to use the path of least interest.

Fortunately for all of us, updating our legal designs does not take much effort. Changing fonts is easy to do, and through the Internet and advisors such as Mr. Butterick, we have a wealth of advice on what to do. Modern software permits us to add colors to titles, callout boxes to emphasize certain points, use formulas rather than text for precision, and add many other design elements to our documents. We have extensive experience putting legal terms in documents that contain other elements (advertisements, instructions) so we know how to point the user to what is helpful and what is binding. Now is a great time to transform legal documentation from apathetic to delightful.

Best Character on “Law and Order – Criminal Intent”

Although I think television is an intellectually barren wasteland with idiotic, crude programming, I have to admit I’m hooked on a few programs. L&O; – Criminal Intent is my favorite. A spin-off of the highly acclaimed Law and Order series, it has an intriguing hook like few others. I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame. The story lines are “ripped from the news headlines”, as it self-proclaims, and the dialogue, cast, settings and balance between the law (justice sytem) and order (police who investigate the crimes) sides are superb.

What cinches it for me, though, is one character in particular: Detective Bobby Goren, played by Vince D’onofrio. In my mind’s eye, he is the modern day equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Goren sees things, both physical and mental, that the ordinary cop on the beat misses. What might appear to be minutiae to one person, even his attractive assistant detective Eames, becomes the springboard for further evidence to investigate.

When I first started watching this series a few years ago, I recognized his name but couldn’t quite place him. I then did what every red-blooded, curious person would do — I Googled his name for background info. When I saw his credits, I laughed out loud! He was the freaking “Bug” in the movie “Men in Black”! Holy bug catcher, Batman! What a contrast between the cockroach-eating alien bug from outer space and the erudite, polished investigator on Criminal Intent. It didn’t seem plausible, but it is. That in itself says something about his acting talents, by being able to break out of a comically ludicrous role into a deadly serious one. Normally they get type-cast and can’t make the transition between the vastly different genres.

Bobby’s peers, and certainly his precinct commander, don’t quite know what to make of him. I noticed, though, a progression of understanding and acceptance by those around him, particularly his sidekick played by Katherine Erb. In the early episodes, she is almost besides herself with Bobby’s intellect and gestures. He is certainly out of the mold of the average detective. She discovers, along with their commander and the assistant D.A., that for all his kookiness and eccentricities, he blows them all away with his powers of deductive reasoning. Indeed, it’s revealed, through a flashback, that Eames had actually requested a different partner due to Bobby’s persona. She didn’t understand him back then, but is now an integral partner in their investigative forays. They play off each other very nicely.

Goren is a complex, multi-faceted character that possesses the right degree of conflict, both inner and external. The son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother, he is acutely aware of mental illness and, I think, is fearful for his own psyche — the terrible fear of genetic eventuality, becoming a clone of his mother’s delusional life. The outer conflict seemingly involves his sense of place, as he is the proverbial square peg in a sea of round holes. A likable loner, he draws the viewer close to his world but never into it. The personal enigma becomes him. He can be both physically tough, slamming a criminal around (albeit on a rare occasion) and yet a very compassionate person. Even towards a criminal that he thinks is innocent while everyone else wants to hang the perp.

It’s interesting also to note the character development of those in his department from the earlier to the later seasonal episodes. They are not only more comfortable with his quirks, but understand and encourage his peculiar investigative style. He himself goofs on the various criminals during intensive questioning, always throwing them off guard with his exaggerated gestures and props. He has fully blossomed into a character that you either love or hate. I have yet to find someone who takes the middle ground in this regard.

His tenure on the show will eventually come to end, bringing a sad note to us fans of this creative series. Bobby, we hardly knew ye!

Lemon Law: The Importance of Documentation for Your Vehicle

Buying a vehicle can be a highly stressful time. Next to purchasing a home, American families struggle with the next major financial investment in car shopping. For some, shopping for a vehicle can be so overwhelming that we avoid it at any cost. However, once the financing process is complete, many will find the vehicle purchase will provide for a sense of accomplishment and excitement when traveling in the new car. Unfortunately, in rare cases, some individuals suffer from defective vehicles resulting in a complaint or claim filed under what is known as the Lemon Law.

Lemon Law, as it pertains to vehicle purchases, is a federal and state regulatory measure to ensure the vehicle consumer is protected against defective vehicle parts and accessories. By definition a vehicle which does not provide service, value or safety to the consumer is a vehicle which may fall under the Lemon Law. Depending on the state in which you reside, the vehicle Lemon Law may vary slightly. However, the overall goal of the Lemon Law is to protect consumers with proper financial compensation when the vehicle purchased does not hold up to the expectations of the market demand.

For many consumers, when purchasing a new vehicle, we do not anticipate the vehicle is a “lemon”. As a result, we fail to properly document the initial repairs made to the vehicle while covered under warranty. However, documenting not only the type of repair but also the name and numbers of those you speak with at the dealership, manufacturer as well as the timing involved with repair will only serve to proof up a case for compensation under the Lemon Law.

To file a complaint under Lemon Law, most states provide assistance in completing the appropriate complaint forms. In Texas, for example, the Texas Department of Transportation, also known as the DOT, will provide a complaint form to be filed when there is sufficient documentation to warrant a review of a vehicle under the Lemon Law provisions. The important key factor to remember, however, is to provide enough documentation to proof a consistent pattern of failure with the vehicle in question.

If confirmed as a “lemon”, there are a variety of suggested options for the vehicle owner. Most commonly, the vehicle manufacturer will provide you with a replacement vehicle, at no cost. In some cases, however, the manufacturer may opt to provide cash settlement or provide a full refund of the purchase process. The decision with regard to resolution of the Lemon Law compliant is, generally, made final by the state in which you reside.

For more information regarding Lemon Law, visit the National Lemon Law Center online.


The Top 10 New Health Foods for 2020

They may not be new, but here the top ten health foods for 2020. If you are like me and my family, and well, the rest of the world, the start of the New Year also signals a fresh start. This year I wanted to focus on eating healthfully, not just starving myself. As a result, I have come up with a list of the top ten health foods for the New Year.

Concentrated Tart Cherry Juice– My dad and my aunt started drinking concentrated Cherry Juice diluted in water. You can pick this super healthy drink up at any health food store. My dad swears it helps combat his gout flare-ups, and my aunt says that it helps with her arthritis. Not just those who suffer from gout or arthritis down this beverage because apparently athletes drink concentrated Cherry Juice to relieve post-workout pain.

Pumpkin Puree-High in fiber and quite tasty. I have recently started trying to find ways to incorporate pumpkin puree in my diet. Just this week, I mixed a can of pumpkin puree with lowfat yogurt and cinnamon. What a tasty and nutritious treat. Pumpkin packs a healthy punch!

Roasted and Milled Flax seed-Flax Seed is packed with Omega-3s, lignans, and fiber. The best part of this health food is you can sprinkle it on unhealthy things like… ice cream!! Ease the guilt of eating ice cream by adding some goodness to it. I like to add flax seed to my chocolate chip cookies, so I don’t feel so horrible eating them.

Raw Wheat Germ– Like flax seed, wheat germ can be added to other foods. I use it to bread chicken, as a filler in meatballs, to bake cookies, and to make smoothies. Wheat Germ has not only fiber, but folic acid and vitamin E. This is a great food for pregnant or soon to be pregnant women.

Whole Wheat Flour-Again, this is a easy swap from your regular Bleached White Flour, and the benefits are worth it. That way you can make your cookies and eat them, too. Whole Wheat Flour is a good source of fiber.

The skin on cucumbers-Really, the skin on cucumbers. For years, I have been eating cucumber with the skin peeled off. I have since discovered that the skin contains all the nutrients of this favorite on the crudités platter. The skin of the cucumber is full of tons of vitamins and nutrients. Vitamin C, A, magnesium, potassium, and fiber are just few found hanging out in the skin of a cucumber.

Coffee-Yup, another shocking new healthy food. It reduces the risk of Parkinson disease, type 2 diabetes, as well of colon cancer.

Dark Chocolate– Go ahead, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy a square of dark chocolate. It has been found to reduce blood pressure, and besides that it tastes great. Who says eating healthfully has to taste bad?

Blueberries-Eat them for the benefits in the future. It is believed that blueberries increase cognitive function and decrease the chance of memory loss (

Prunes-They aren’t just for old people. Besides being rather tasty, they help with constipation. They, like blueberries, are believed to decrease the chance of memory loss ( So, eat those prunes, so when you are old you won’t forge

New Law: Car’s Headlights Must Be On When Raining in Pittsburgh

This year something else became a law in Pittsburgh. When you are driving and it is raining and you put on your windshield wipers, now you much also put on your headlights. Driving in the rain without putting on your headlights can and will get you a fine. Starting this January you must put on your headlights when you are driving in the rain. Be sure that you do and you can save some of your money. The last thing you want is a fine for either not knowing about the new law or not following it. It just passed this year, so remember turn the headlights on at the first sign of rain and then you won’t have to worry.

So for a rule of thumb, if you are driving and it is raining, put on the headlights and don’t forget. This way you will always be safe as you travel about the Pittsburgh area. It is just another thing that you must be aware of when you are driving in and around the Pittsburgh area. Be sure that you pay special attention to it and make sure that you follow all the rules of the road when you are in the city of Pittsburgh. The rules are there for a reason and they must be followed.

The law passed in the beginning of the year and it seems that many people do not know that the law has passed. When it is raining you still see many cars without their headlights on. To be fair, perhaps some of the people don’t know that it is now a law. Maybe they don’t know that when it is raining and you have to have your windshield wipers on that your headlights must also be on. Hopefully they will know soon, because today there would have been many citations given. It rained and lots of people did not have their headlights on. As it seemed, one out of every three cars did not have their headlights on. Though, I didn’t see the police out in full force enforcing the new law, it is only a matter of time. So remember, that now when you are driving in and around the Pittsburgh area and it is raining, please put the headlights on. Follow the rules that they give in the city of Pittsburgh and you will save yourself some money. It is the law.


Why a Computer Won’t Replace Law Firm Associates Tomorrow

I am an unabashed technology fan, but I’m also a lawyer and, therefore, a professional skeptic. So, when I read speculation about the one of the artificial intelligence (AI) packages taking over the work of law firm junior associates in the near future, the geek in me is intrigued and the skeptic in me says “no way.” Right now and for the foreseeable future, the skeptic is going to win. In fact, right now the chances of getting a computer to do first year associate legal research in the near future are about the same as getting Shakespeare verses from a monkey with a typewriter.

Let’s start with what is possible in the real world today. Siri, Contara, Google Now and Watson each can do wonderful things when it comes to tracking down information in data sets. They have, in varying degrees, the ability to take a query, parse the query, search databases, and come back with information relevant to the query. In some cases, they just deliver web sites that seem to have relevant information. In other cases, they can go much further. Some of the sophistication in these packages lies in their abilities to understand queries with some ambiguity built into them. The more ambiguous the query, the more the software must work to decipher the query, and that is much more difficult than simply searching databases.

The challenge becomes even greater when the complexity of the query grows. In other words, as we move from data searching to compound analytics, the software can’t simply go to one database and extract the answer. It may have to tie together multiple databases and knit an answer. Parsing the query also becomes more difficult, since compound queries typically include more ambiguity.

If you read Wired’s story about Viv, an AI package in development that, from the sounds of it, would blow the existing contenders out of the water, you will find a nice infographic showing how Viv would work through and answer the query, “On the way to my brother’s house, I need to pick up some cheap wine that would go with lasagna.” Using database searches and matching the results, Viv finds the route to “my brother’s” house, locate wine shops along the way, picks red wines that go with lasagna, and finds the prices of the wines.

AI and the First Year Associate

Ron Friedman and Alan Rothman discuss the logical question of interest to lawyers: could Viv take over doing basic legal research? Basically, could Viv become a first year associate? The same question has been asked about other AI efforts, but since Viv aims to play in a different league, I’ll focus on what I think would be the barrier to Viv taking over that first year associate’s job.

Legal research is quite complicated, but for purposes of this post I’m going to grossly oversimplify it by dividing it into two very large buckets. The first bucket is the easier of the two. It involves queries such as: find a case that supports the statement I am making in my brief. If I want to say “granting summary judgment in a patent infringement case is appropriate in the Federal Third Circuit when …” I need a case supporting that statement. As I understand Viv, she would parse the sentence into something like “what is summary judgment,” “what is a patent infringement case,” “what is the Federal Third Circuit,” and “what is appropriate.” She would then do something similar to what any of us would do, and follow the databases to find that case in the Third Circuit that says, “granting summary judgment is appropriate in a patent infringement case when the following test is met …”

Of course, things become more complicated if there isn’t such a case in the Third Circuit. Now, Viv must reason that the general standard for summary judgment in the Third Circuit also should apply to a patent infringement case. To do that, Viv would have to know whether a patent infringement case is distinguishable from other cases in a way that is meaningful for determining summary judgment. Even this simple question can quickly become confusing.

Let’s go back for a moment to the “cheap wine for a lasagna dinner at my brother’s” example from the Wired article. Viv recommended wine stores selling cabernet’s ((Viv’s wine suggestion) on the route from the requestor’s house to her brother’s house and found the prices for those wines. While Viv’s ability is amazing, it misses the human elements. Would a different wine choice be more inspired? Was the requestor’s brother serving tomato sauce lasagna or white lasagna? Should the requestor also bring a white wine, because her brother’s girlfriend is allergic to red wine?

You could argue I’m just making the initial query more complicated by adding facts. But, that is what humans do, although often subconsciously. We simplify what we are doing when reporting it out loud, but when we actually perform the task we take into account those unspoken factors. Con=mbining database research on discrete factors into an answer isn’t the same as legal research.

Similarly, when lawyers do research they don’t articulate all of the factors they are using when they select cases, they rely on factors not articulated. It is the factors not articulated, but used in the research, that can distinguish the quality of product returned. Unless the person asking Viv to do the legal research is very detailed when giving Viv the inquiry, and unless Viv can handle extremely complicated inquiries for even the most basic case support, I think it is unlikely Viv will be doing legal research anytime soon. I’m also skipping over the fact that frequently legal research involves finding the analogous case, not the case directly on point (because no such case exists), and that type of reasoning is well beyond Viv’s capabilities.

Respect, But Don’t Fear

If Viv and other AI software won’t be doing legal research soon, should we as lawyers care (er, worry) about these packages? I think the answer is yes, and for several reasons. First, Viv may not get to legal research, but undoubtedly a Viv in the not-too-distant future will get there. The discussion about computers doing some form of research is not one of “if” but of “when.” Second, the path from Viv to that future researcher probably won’t be linear. The path will involve leaps and plateaus, but we should be prepared for the leaps because each one will be a bit more of technology encroaching on what lawyers formerly did. Third, even though Viv can’t do research there are things a Viv-like AI package soon will be able to do and even those things will impact the way we practice law.

Lawyers today already face a deluge of information. Software packages today are good at and quickly growing better at pre-sifting information. This isn’t legal research; it is sorting through hundreds, thousands or millions of documents to find those relevant to the inquiry. Obviously, eDiscovery is the leading area where we see this happening, but these skills are now being used in other (though related) areas such as due diligence. Vendors are starting to find ways to gather and structure the unstructured information sitting in corporate and law firm databases. As more data becomes readily accessible and “meaningful,” software will use it more effectively.

Right now, we all seem focused on when certain changes will occur.  Instead of focusing on the unknowable, we should focus on what we can control. Eliminating non-value added activities in what we do frees up our time to focus on value added activities. The more we focus on value rather than effort, the more we have a chance of staying ahead of the technology curve.

[N.B. – Points for those of you who figured out the “monkey with a typewriter” reference is to the picture which shows one of the members of the 1960’s band Monkees sitting at a typewriter. Extra points if you know which member of the band is shown, and points deducted if you have to look it up on Google.]