Graduate Student Awarded American Bar Association Center for Innovation Fellowship

Jason Morris is working on technology that could help automate legal reasoning

Brea Elford and Helen Metella - 05 October 2018

An LLM student in the Faculty of Law has received a fellowship from the American Bar Association Center for Innovation to work on a technology to predict legal outcomes.

Jason Morris, '10 LLB and '07 BA (Hons), who received the centre's prestigious Innovation Fellowship, will spend most of his fellowship (which will run at least three months) developing an extension to an open source legal expert system tool called Docassemble. He hopes the software he is building will be able to predict the outcome of certain matters and explain the basis of its prediction.

Explaining why Morris' project was chosen, the Center of Innovation Fellowship Selection Committee said, it is "devoted to promoting the use of free and open source software that can be replicated to help modernize the delivery of legal services. Jason's project aligns well with our initiatives in this area. His experience as a multi-disciplinary professional will be an asset to our team and to future alumni of our fellowship program."

For the Innovation Fellowships, the centre provides training, connections to experts in its centre and other practical support. The fellowship is typically sponsored by recipients' employers. Since Morris is self-employed, he found funding from Clio, a Canadian firm that builds law practice management software worldwide.

"If not for the Center thinking the project is worthwhile, I would not have been able to ask Clio for support," said Morris. "And I would not have had the audience for this idea, which is still very obscure technology in parts of the legal profession."

By the end of the fellowship, Morris hopes to have written a module that will not only collect information from a user or client, but will use that information and plug it into a case-based reasoning tool that can quickly and accurately predict the most likely outcome for a user's particular case.

Morris' work is closely tied to his LLM thesis, which focuses on declarative programming technologies for coding laws.

Through his work, he hopes to better understand both the current strengths and weaknesses of the existing tools and how they can improve, as well as how to change laws to capitalize on what computers can do.

Morris is a former programmer and database analyst who founded Round Table Law in 2012, a virtual, cloud-based law firm which specializes in computational law, civil litigation, wills and the laws surrounding mental health.

In May, he presented as part of UAlberta's TEDx Program on the idea of artificial intelligence in the legal system and was also one of the speakers at the 2018 inaugural Legal Innovation Conference, co-hosted by the Dean's Office of the Faculty of Law and the Law and Business Association student group.

The fellowship takes place both at its headquarters in Chicago, and virtually. It is awarded to professionals more than five years into their career who are involved in projects intended to improve the legal sector and the practice of law through innovation and technological advances. It is one of just two innovation fellowships offered annually.