What Suits can teach us about AI Law

suits allowed

In the opening episode of hit TV show Suits, Mike Ross finds himself in an interview for a legal associate position despite having no formal qualifications. Mike has never stepped into law school, yet wants a job in the most prestigious law firm in New York. The only thing, it turns out, is that he is a unique type of non-lawyer. Mike possesses a photographic memory,  and is able to comprehend and remember every legal case and clause that pretty much has ever existed. If a lawyer could give an interview to an automated AI associate to test their skills, the conversation would sound a lot like this (Suits Season 1 Episode 1):

HARVEY: Unfortunately, we only hire from Harvard. And you, not only did not go to Harvard Law School, you haven’t even gone to any law school.

MIKE: What if I told you I consume knowledge like no one you’ve ever met and I’ve actually passed the bar?

HARVEY: I’d say you’re full of crap.

MIKE: [Pointing at a book on the desk] That’s a BarBri Legal Handbook right there, right? Open it up. Read me something. Anything.

[Harvey picks up the book, he looks slightly intrigued, but also doubtful. He opens it up and starts reading.]

HARVEY: Civil liability associated with agency is based on several factors, including-

MIKE: Including the deviation of the agent from his path, the reasonable inference of agency on behalf of the plaintiff, and the nature of the damages themselves.

HARVEY: [Shocked] How did you know that?

MIKE: I learned it. When I studied. For the bar.

HARVEY: Okay, hotshot. Fire up this laptop. [Stands and walks to the other side of the desk as Mike sits in Harvey’s seat and fires up the laptop] I’m gonna show you what a Harvard attorney can do. Pick a topic.

MIKE: Stock option backdating.

HARVEY: Although backdating options is legal, violations arose related to disclosures under RIC section 409A.

MIKE: You forgot about Sarbanes-Oxley.

HARVEY: The statute of limitations render Sarbanes-Oxley mute post-2007.

MIKE: Well, not if you can find actions to cover up the violation as established in the Sixth Circuit May 2008.

HARVEY: [Stumped] That’s impressive, but you’re sitting at a computer.

MIKE: [Turning the laptop around] Playing cards. Sorry, if you want to beat me, you’re gonna have to do it at something else. [Closes the laptop.]

HARVEY: How can you know all that?

MIKE: I told you. I like to read. And once I read something, I understand it, and once I understand it, I never forget it.

From here on in (after Mike is hired) much of the dramatic tension of the show focuses on the relationship between the traditional ‘real’ law practitioner, Harvey, and the ‘fake’ lawyer, MIke. There are several times that the question of what it means to be a lawyer in today’s age are brought up. Though Mike never went to law school, he knows every aspect of clauses and contract and has passed The bar (the creators of IBM’s Watson have suggested their version of legal intelligence could pass the bar ‘without a second’s thought’).

Mark Rogowsky, writer and former communications lead at Uber (Uber is a big AI user) says that Mike’s abilities are not so far fetched—and superbly suited to law and contracts (of the type LawGeex Contract approval is trained in, based on a corpus of hundreds of thousands of contracts).

Rogowky says: “Mike Ross, a fictional character who never attended a day of law school as far as we know, has an eidetic (often called photographic) memory of a very advanced type. He can read large volumes of information and also process it.

“This makes him very well equipped, for example, to learn contract law, which is mostly about a lot of rules and their application in specific contexts. He similarly has the ability to read scores of existing briefs and other legal filings and rapidly understand what is in them. Since we are led to believe he is also intelligent, it shouldn’t be stunning that he can apply his (1) knowledge of the rules and regulations against (2) existing successful templates of the work product he is supposed to produce.”

Secondly, Rogowksy points out that both Mike and his mentor Harvey both have another more exciting ability, “Winning Cases via Interesting Strategies“. This is where AI is even more relevant. With LawGeex’s contract review and negotiation brain, our AI is constantly learning and finding ways to improve and enhance in ways humans could never do alone, learning and remembering preferences of our clients.  It is no surprise that in the show, Mike is also banned from playing poker in casinos. “Don’t play cards with a guy with a photographic memory,” Mike says in one episode. Recently another real-life AI version of Mike Ross, called Libratus out-Bluffed the Best Human poker players.

The deeper message of Suits targets those concerns about lawyers being replaced by Mike-style robots. Ultimately, Mike, an untrained lawyer practices law, overhauls a profession focused on precedent, tradition and credentials.

However something interesting happens. The main character, Harvey, an archetype of innovation, is improved by having this “artificial lawyer” on the team. Harvey is the biggest advocate of this brave new world. In a particularly hopeless junction, Harvey boasts he has one thing his opponents do not: his “superpower, Mike Ross”.

Through the ups and downs of Suits, and for all Mike’s genius and talent,  Harvey remains the “real lawyer”. He is in the driving seat of the show.Harvey has the best lines Harvey takes the credit for the efficiency and enhancements that Mike brings. Harvey is the mentor of his young talent (“I’ll help you school those Harvard douches, and I’ll be the best god-damn lawyer you’ve ever seen“). He has the reputation that holds the firm together. It is Harvey who everyone wants to meet, and whose name and swagger strikes awe into all who cross his path. He is clearly the dominant partner in this relationship. In the final analysis, he actually ‘knows’ much more about the realities of law in real life than Mike’s pure AI superpower brilliance. Harvey sets and signs off the game plan for most of their legal strategies (like, say, LawGeex does in the legal “playbook”, with our lawyer bosses guiding the processes they want to follow).

The comforting lesson of Suits is that the rise of an AI Mike Robot will not see lawyers lose their job. On the contrary it is enabling lawyers to look better, win more, and be relevant.

In the final reckoning, having a Mike on your team means you get to be Harvey.


Jonathan Marciano, Communications Director at LawGeex, is  originally from London. He is  currently in Tel Aviv,  helping to bring about the legal revolution, one press release at a time. Follow him on Twitter. @J_Marciano

LawGeex‘s artificial intelligence solution helps legal teams automate the review and approval of contracts. We make in-house legal work easy, efficient and impactful, allowing our customers to focus on the big picture instead of getting lost in the paperwork.

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