Artificial Intelligence & Robotics

How Fisher Phillips helped test and then implement Casetext's CoCounsel into its practice

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“While our attorneys, of course, still have to take it from there, they’ve reported that they feel like they are in a science fiction novel when they use CoCounsel,” says Evan Shenkman, chief knowledge and innovation officer at Fisher Phillips. “It’s that good.” Image from Shutterstock.

In 1950, Isaac Asimov’s book I, Robot provoked readers with speculative tales from the future—including how humans might put thinking machines to work. And now that artificial intelligence has gone from fantasy to fact, law firms are discovering how they can benefit.

This year, Fisher Phillips became the first major firm to deploy Casetext’s AI legal assistant CoCounsel, according to a March 1 joint press release. Casetext, which employs GPT-4, the most advanced large language model from OpenAI, was acquired by Thomson Reuters in June for a reported $650 million.

Lawyers at Fisher Phillips—after aiding in CoCounsel’s development—say it’s gotten an enthusiastic reception. Evan Shenkman, chief knowledge and innovation officer at Fisher Phillips, calls CoCounsel “earth-shattering” in its ability to accomplish numerous legal tasks based on up-to-date caselaw, statutes and regulations.

“What that means is that our attorneys now have access to a tool that can help them efficiently and responsibly research any legal question; that can help them come up with creative legal arguments; and that can help them efficiently review, analyze and summarize documents and files,” Shenkman says.

Asimov would be proud.

“While our attorneys, of course, still have to take it from there, they’ve reported that they feel like they are in a science fiction novel when they use CoCounsel,” Shenkman says. “It’s that good.”

He explained Fisher Phillips’ input this way: “During CoCounsel’s development, our firm rigorously tested and evaluated CoCounsel; proposed, and then tested, evaluated and reported on, numerous additional use cases for this technology; ideated and prototyped with Casetext; met at least weekly with the Casetext development team for months; and guided Casetext through CoCounsel deployment strategies.”

Casetext co-founder Pablo Arredondo, a 2017 ABA Journal Legal Rebel, added that the firm had previously worked with the company before GPT-4 came around on projects that worked, as well as ones that did not.

“It’s no accident Evan was my first call after seeing GPT-4,” Arredondo says. “Long before the fervor of ChatGPT provided ‘cover’ for law firms to test gen AI, Evan was all in helping us validate it.”

Evan Shenkman headshot Evan Shenkman is the chief knowledge and innovation officer at Fisher Phillips.

Trial and error

Shenkman supplied an example in which he told CoCounsel to write him a research memo detailing the language required for an employment application under Massachusetts law. The result was a 20-page document that began with three chief bullet-point requirements followed by a detailed analysis and a list of citations to 28 cases containing background information on the state’s anti-discrimination statutes, a ban on requiring lie detector tests and a description of the state’s pay equity law.

That was the research question that Shenkman posed when he first tried the program in its beta version a year ago and again recently.

“It took about five minutes to run,” he says. “It was incredible then and remains incredible now.”

He tested CoCounsel’s document review skills by uploading a 2,520-page PDF of Leo Tolstoy’s 1860s book War and Peace and tasking it with reporting on which characters die and how, the ways that the protagonist experiences personal and professional growth, and what annoys him.

The 32-page result, which took about an hour, includes a summary chart and a detailed analysis backed by page and line citations.

“While the document does not explicitly mention the protagonist being annoyed, there are a few instances where he seems to be,” according to CoCounsel. “For example, in line 172, the protagonist expresses frustration with his two sons, calling them ‘fools.’”

“I also ran a legal research skill request for what arguments would be the best defense to a slip-and-fall case in a restroom in New Jersey and what laws are at play,” Shenkman says.

That answer took five minutes and 12 pages to outline the elements of a negligence claim and the available counterarguments.

CoCounsel adds value, Shenkman says, though so far not in the billable hours sense.

“It helps us turn over more stones in the same amount of time, and that lets us spend more time and attention on developing a well-rounded strategy, a better-developed argument and focus on the more interesting aspects of litigation and counseling.”

Danielle Moore, a Fisher Phillips employment class action defense partner in San Diego, gives CoCounsel a thumbs-up.

“It’s phenomenal,” Moore says. “I can start with a legal question, and within five minutes, it produces an analysis that would take an associate five hours. I use it on all my cases. It’s terrific for employment law.”

“You have to use it responsibly, of course,” Moore says. “You double-check all the citations, all the work, for example. You can ask it to write a four-page brief. Then you can ask it to put in a more persuasive tone—and it will. I’ve been using it for about six months.”

Nick Hafen, the head of legal technology education at Brigham Young University’s law library, investigated the software and found a lot to like—with limitations. He recently conducted a training session for law faculty members on using CoCounsel for research.

“Casetext’s CoCounsel tool would have undoubtedly saved me hours of work as an associate at a BigLaw firm,” Hafen says. “If I had had access to CoCounsel, I would have lost some time asking it to perform tasks it wasn’t ready for, but that lost time would have been far outweighed by the time I saved, particularly on legal research.”

CoCounsel’s accurate memo summarizing the caselaw on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago’s standing doctrine in cases regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act took minutes—“something I’ve put hours into researching on my own,” Hafen says. “And the cases it cited were all real.”

Completing a more complex task involving how four different jurisdictions treat a debtor’s “stub rent” in bankruptcy, CoCounsel fell short.

“On my own, I quickly found some cases CoCounsel had omitted that were directly relevant to the subject of the memo,” Hafen says.

Though he cheers the output that he got as a time-saver.

He found a few hiccups regarding CoCounsel’s transactional work, as when it refused to draft a privacy policy for a social media startup. But overall, Hafen was impressed.

“In many contexts, CoCounsel outperforms attorneys, especially when you consider how much faster it is. That’s an incredible technological achievement. I look forward to seeing it progress in the areas where it still falls short,” Hafen says.

See also:

“Thomson Reuters announces new AI initiatives and CoCounsel integration”

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