Artificial Intelligence Startup Founder Jason Velez, Esq., is chairing VLAB panel “Automated Attorneys: Will AI Kill All the Lawyers?,” taking place October 24 at the Stanford Faculty Club.
As background, a February Forbes article says that law firms use artificial intelligence to better conduct research, efficiently perform due diligence and track and invoice hours. Some expect it to be much more transformational in the near future saying it could replace paralegals in less than a decade.
But will automation ever replace attorneys themselves? In the past, regulations in most modern places prohibited non-lawyers from practicing law. However, now deregulation is starting to happen thus opening the door for robo-lawyers.
I interviewed Mr. Velez to find out why he decided to chair a VLAB panel and how and when robo-lawyers might change the world.
It was fascinating to learn about how robo-lawyers and legal tech like a product he has developed Docubot™ which could alleviate problems due to something called The Justice Gap. The vast majority of citizens don’t have access to lawyer representation due to their financial situation, etc.
Legal tech could level the playing field. It got me thinking, why should the rich people always get the legal advantage? Here’s a Q&A on our discussion.
Michelle: What is your day job?
Jason: I’ve been a lawyer for 19 years. About four years ago, I turned tech developer. I realized that much of the practice of law is inherently inefficient so I developed a platform which provides on-demand legal access and document automation via AI, called Docubot™.
Docubot has grown into a platform that allows lawyers to take their knowledge base and build custom automations or expert systems. We offer Docubot within a secure communication platform to ensure that client information is protected and organized to create the best user experience with the legal industry — and we’ve made sure to make it smartphone-centric.
I spend my days as an evangelist for lawyer technology adoption and growing our network of attorneys and legal professionals. I am often on the road between Orange County and the Bay Area looking to take our platform to the next level.
Michelle: Are you for or against robo-lawyers? Why or why not?
Jason: My lawyerly answer: it depends. It is a question of procedure versus substance. Robo-lawyers should provide significant improvement in the procedural elements of the law (information gathering, basic legal forms, messaging, etc.). However, the substance of the law is something that I see remaining within the purview of actual humans, bolstered by technology — what I call augmented lawyers.
Stripping away all the nuance, lawyers serve two primary roles, trusted advisors and deal makers. Technology should serve to enhance, not eliminate, a lawyer’s ability to serve in these two roles. I don’t believe that technology will ever eliminate all legal jobs when the individual consumer is afforded a choice.
The argument could be made that technology could ultimately disrupt the actual underlying disputes (smart contracts, open court dockets that help evaluate case outcomes). However, the role of trusted advisor and deal makers remains.
In the end, robo-lawyers should deliver more procedural advantages to law firms and consumers while augmented lawyers, who leverage technology, will deliver more substance and serve more clients at a lower cost.
Michelle: Jason, let’s talk “future of work.” What new jobs will be created at law firms when robo-lawyers become ubiquitous?
Jason: I believe the legal automation professional will emerge as an important job in the short run. We’re in a truly exciting time where a lawyer can digitize his or her knowledge base into a proprietary expert system (AI) and deliver that knowledge 24/7 at a fraction of the cost of traditional legal services. The individual that helps curate this AI will have significant job security in the short run while potentially working themselves out of a job in the long run.
Also, I see the role of a production manager to provide quality control to the increased volume that technological advances promise to deliver. It is very important to make sure that legal services move along, especially in areas of litigation, claim administration and M&A work.
Michelle: A Forbes article says robots may replace paralegals in the next decade. Do you agree? Explain how this is possible if AI is not supposed to reach human intelligence level for 50 years?
Jason: Well, certain aspects of the paralegal profession are repetitive processes: these include creating documents, gathering information, and coordinating calendars. These areas do not require general AI that is out of reach at the moment. As I mentioned, procedural actions are best suited for a machine, while substance is for humans. Paralegals that become machine operators will see themselves employed in perpetuity. Paralegals that try to compete with a machine will see themselves becoming less and less economically viable in an increasingly competitive market.
In the current legal marketplace, clients are becoming increasingly savvy and not willing to pay for first- and second-year associates, let alone paralegals. The clients will be the primary driver of law firm technology adoption simply because they are unwilling to pay for human labor. To compete against the machine, these associates and paralegals should learn to provide additional substance by becoming domain experts in operating and using the technologies in a way that both clients and senior attorneys see the value added.
Michelle: What was your first VLAB experience and what made you step up and chair a panel?
Jason: I attended the VLAB Blockchain event last year. I was able to mingle with Gigi Wang, a superstar in her own right, who welcomed me to the community. I also made a connection with Luca Rigazio and Stefano Foresti, both who helped me realize that VLAB is the organization to be a part of.
While attending a planning meeting in April of this year, Ravi Prasad asked about any ideas for a future event and I shared some thoughts on the opportunities in the legal technology sector. The timing was perfect because Utah and California were both exploring regulatory change that would open the legal sector to outside investment. Many people are unaware that non-lawyers cannot own or profit share in a law firm. This is about to change. For the first time, there is an opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to create a legal services model that focuses on efficiency and aggregating costs in an industry that has remained largely unchanged (lawyer-owned and operated) for thousands of years. Our event is going to present this greenfield opportunity to the VLAB community.
I chose to chair the event because I am passionate about Access to Justice (A2J). Currently, we have a crisis in America and the world where nearly 90% of the people have no access to legal services. This is known as the Justice Gap. Automation, new technologies, and regulatory change are coming together to help meaningfully impact the Justice Gap. I believe that a VLAB event will help increase awareness and present some great opportunities for the community.
Michelle: University of California San Diego is a high-caliber school with admissions becoming more competitive each year. And how about that neat library? How would you characterize your experience there?
Jason: I loved my time at UCSD. Like most university experiences it was a time to mature and grow into the person I have become. The UC system has many opportunities for its students. My Senior year was spent studying in Chile, which solidified my Spanish and opened my eyes to the importance of maintaining a global focus for the projects I work on. This has become particularly true as I have worked to develop a global network of legal professionals driven by communication and automation technologies. 1LAW is working on solving global Access to Justice issues that affect nearly 90% of the world’s population.
Michelle: What is your philosophy of life and/or work and how has this helped you?
Jason: First, treat others as you would like to be treated, and second, time is a truly unique resource. As to the first, this is a transcendental ideal that exists in one form or another throughout the world’s religions and cultures. Products and services that are based on this principle have a better chance at being enduring and transformational.
Regarding the second, by recognizing that time is irreplaceable, I strive to make the most of each day, and this, too, flows into product development by “creating time” through automating the procedural and allowing users to obtain or provide more substance.
Michelle: Thanks Jason for your time. This is really interesting stuff, especially the update on The Justice Gap.
Here’s the line-up of panelists for the event on October 24:
Drew Amerson, Director of LexLab, UC Hastings
Patrick Barry, COO, Logikcull
Amélie-Sophie Vavrovsky, Co-Founder & CEO, Formally
David Wang, Corporate Strategic Innovation Counsel, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Dan Jansen, CEO and Managing Director, NextLaw Ventures
Michelle McIntyre, a Silicon Valley PR consultant and IBM vet wrote this story. A #futureofwork influencer herself, she’s @fromMichelle on Twitter. Follow VLAB as well at, you guessed it, @VLAB.