This past summer, as some of the largest law firms continued to slash student positions, a new legal-tech startup hired 10 summer students — nine of them being first-years. That’s pretty remarkable.
The startup in question is Blue J Legal. And what does the company do? At root, it sells software that helps lawyers predict how a judge may rule in a given case. Say you’re advising a client on a case that hinges on whether her employer should classify her as an independent contractor or a full-time employee. The first thing you’d do is gather past rulings, looking for cases that resemble your client’s situation. It might take days or weeks to conduct the research. And even then, you may not be able to make an accurate prediction.
Enter Blue J Legal. Its software hoovers up all the available precedents and runs simulations on how the court would rule in your file. “It basically takes five minutes to get a 90-percent-or-better idea of whether a court would rule in favour of your client or not,” says Benjamin Alarie, the CEO of Blue J Legal, and a law professor at the University of Toronto.
The software relies on “machine learning,” which allows it to analyze and learn from huge swaths of data. But that means it needs people to feed that data. At Blue J Legal, those people are law students. Last summer, one of those students was Theresa Donkor, a 2L at the University of Toronto. She scanned pages of caselaw, and served up the salient bits to the software — in effect, teaching it how to spot the minor differences in jurisprudence.
Donkor learned about the job opportunity when Alarie posted the job on U of T’s Facebook group. “Working at Blue J was a really unique experience,” she says. “We got to see how the legal landscape was developing. It was exciting to see that there are so many different areas opening up, and so many things you can do.”
Indeed, although large firms continue to shed student jobs, emerging legal tech is creating brand new opportunities.
For the upcoming summer, Alarie only hired three students — but that’s only because he needed more full-time employees. He recently hired five full-time legal researchers, bringing the head count at Blue J Legal up to 15. (Four of those hires are recent law grads). He believes law is moving towards using algorithms and data to guide decision making, rather than relying on heuristics, or gut feel. “I see nothing but hiring for Blue J Legal in the future,” he says, “and a big part of that hiring is going to be really talented law students interested in building the next generation of legal tools to make professionals better.”