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This Silicon Valley start-up wants to replace lawyers with robots

This Silicon Valley start-up wants to replace lawyers with robots

September 14, 2017 / No Comments

Silicon Valley’s next hot start-up isn’t likely to be a video chat app. Nor is it likely to be an on-demand service, like Instacart or Uber.

But maybe it could be — and this isn’t a joke — a law firm.

That is, at least, the ambition of Justin Kan, a serial entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about hot start-ups. The 34-year-old Kan built the video game streaming Twitch, which he sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. He then helped launch hundreds of companies as a partner at the prominent Silicon Valley start-up incubator, Y-Combinator.

Kan’s months-old legal technology start-up, Atrium, is actually incorporated as a law firm — and may be the only Silicon Valley start-up ever to have done so. It has raised $10.5 million so far, and it is even more unusual in a region where rule-breaking and rule-bending are celebrated, and lawyers are among a start-up founder’s last and most reluctant hires.

Walking into Atrium’s sleek, 34-person offices in San Francisco’s design district, is in some ways like stepping into the prototype for a law firm of the future. In it, lawyers and paralegals wearing T-shirts and jeans sit side by side with coders on bean bag chairs (who are wearing the same attire).

Throughout the day, the lawyers field questions from a roster of start-up clients looking to execute routine legal tasks, like fundraising from venture capitalists and issuing stock options to employees. Engineers watch the dealings closely, extracting bits of information from the conversations and the documents exchanged. They’re trying to build technology that will ultimately automate that work — and replace some of the human beings who are doing it.

Or, as Kan and his co-founders put it, they want to create a law firm full of technology-turbocharged lawyers who can offer clients more efficient services for a single, transparent bill.

In the past two years, automation and artificial intelligence tools have become sophisticated enough to influence professionals and white collar work. Administrative assistants, radiologists, financial advisers — and now lawyers — have all become the targets of such software. McKinsey estimates that 35 percent of all professional tasks can be automated these days. JP Morgan recently marshaled an army of developers to build software that can do in seconds what it took lawyers 360,000 hours to do previously, the company said.

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By Elizabeth Dwoskin

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