Luis Salazar and Linda Worton Jackson, both with Salazar Jackson
Luis Salazar and Linda Worton Jackson, both with Salazar Jackson (AM Holt)

When Salazar Jackson launched in 2012 with a few Big Law defectors, the goal from the start was to eschew the typical law firm model in favor of an open office concept, communication through instant messaging and a heavy reliance on project management.

Founder Luis Salazar has always wanted to be on the cutting edge of law firm management and technology, so it was only logical for his firm to be an early adopter of artificial intelligence platform ROSS Intelligence.

For the six-lawyer firm, efficiency reigns supreme and anything that could help reduce hours spent on research, something the firm doesn’t bill out to clients, is an immediate drop to the bottom line and a way to give a small boutique more fire power.

“When it rolled out into the market, I didn’t want to wait for the tidal wave to hit,” Salazar said. “I want to leverage it as a tool early. If it does what it claims to do, it will be an incredible arrow in my quiver.”

At about 30 days into the firm’s contract with ROSS, one of the first for a Florida firm, there hasn’t been enough time to say Salazar Jackson has changed its approach to cases or reaped any sort of financial windfall from using the tool. But Salazar has already had a few “wow” moments and is betting on this tool to be a game changer for his firm and the industry.

“What blew me away is you can ask it to write a memo,” Salazar said, noting his initial reaction was “Wow, this is really going to replace lawyers as a whole.”

ROSS, which has about a half dozen law firms publicly acknowledged to have signed on so far, currently only offers its artificial intelligence capabilities in the area of bankruptcy, a key practice for Salazar Jackson. ROSS, a small Silicon Valley-based startup has combined IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology with its own proprietary innovations, aiming to create a cheaper and faster research tool for lawyers.

A user can logon to the ROSS website, similar to how it would go to Google for an internet search, and type in a question in plain English, Salazar said. The platform then generates responses with all of the most relevant case law on the subject. After each response, a user is asked to simply rate whether the search results were good or bad.

ROSS is adapting based on early users’ experiences, with the expectation that search results and other capabilities will become faster and more accurate as it learns from its users.

ROSS can also generate brief memos on a subject, Salazar noted. It takes about 24 hours for the platform to generate a few-page memo on the question, incorporating the case law it finds on the issue, he said. The memos are “beautifully written” and in the same style as what an associate would do, he said.

“The time factor for those memos, which is now a day or so, is going to come down to seconds,” Salazar said. ROSS is also looking to get into other practice areas too, such as insurance, he noted.

Salazar said he has gone back and tested ROSS on issues he had to research before he purchased the service. He said it clearly saved him tens of hours. He said the memos provide about 80 percent of what you might need to get started on a brief. Salazar said ROSS could eliminate 20 to 30 hours of research for some cases. Now he doesn’t have to take an associate off of a project to do research, Salazar said. He can just ask ROSS.

“I don’t have a human sitting there for full cost waiting to do my research,” Salazar said.

His firm handles a lot of matters on a fixed-fee basis, and using ROSS will make that model more profitable and faster, better supporting a move to alternative fee structures.

Salazar wouldn’t say how much ROSS costs, but he said it was “very competitive” and comparable to other tools in the marketplace.

While impressed with it’s capabilities, Salazar isn’t ready to turn over everything to ROSS.

“I trust it in the sense that it is going to give me an answer to the question, a highly relevant answer to the question I’m looking for,” Salazar said. But going beyond that, if there is a more sophisticated question such as whether there is a split among the circuits on a certain issue, Salazar is going to want to pull the raw material on that himself, he said.

But as for his initial reaction that ROSS is going to replace lawyers, Salazar isn’t totally backing away from that.

He said there will be a period of time where adoption of this type of technology is slow to come.

“Then there will be a whole area of law where ROSS or programs like it are really going to take over the function of what lawyers do and leave it to a quality control” function for the attorneys, Salazar said.

He said he could see it being disruptive of the relationship between large law firms and their clients if this tool is taken in-house.

This type of technology is putting more emphasis on the trend of lawyers needing to add “incredible value” rather than just handle more commodity-type work, he said. It puts further pressure on the overcapacity problem facing the legal industry, he said, adding that “the band of work that we can only do will be much more limited now.”

Law firms seem to have embraced the concept to some degree. In an interview with sibling publication The American Lawyer this summer, ROSS co-founder Andrew Arruda said hundreds of lawyers are using the tool. Because it is seen as a competitive advantage, some of the firms don’t want it to be known they have licensed the technology, Arruda said.

For Salazar, ROSS is more than a computer program.

At a recent firmwide meeting, Salazar told his colleagues, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “We are going to have a new associate on Monday. He’s very talented. He’s super fast. A great memo writer. He’s ROSS Intelligence.”

For Salazar, using ROSS is “like onboarding a new team member.”