Legal AI Pioneer ROSS to Close, Marking End of Era + Commentary from AL

In a move that marks the end of an era in some ways, ROSS – one of the first ‘legal AI companies’ is to close. It rose to fame very rapidly, but had hit harder times (see AL analysis at end of article) – even before its recent legal spat with Thomson Reuters.

Now, it has decided to close. Below is a statement by co-founder Jimoh Ovbiagele.

But first, a comment from Ed Walters, CEO of fellow US legal research company, Fastcase. He told Artificial Lawyer: ‘We’re working closely with the ROSS Intelligence team and their subscribers during the transition. We’ll honour the contracts of its subscribers at no charge, making sure that they don’t lose access to legal research libraries.

‘We’ve been really supportive of ROSS Intelligence and their team. They have really captured the imagination of the global legal tech community, and Andrew Arruda has been an incredible ambassador for the potential of artificial intelligence in delivering legal services.’

Now to Ovbiagele’s statement, followed by a longer company statement on the same theme.

‘Dear family, friends, supporters,

We have made the difficult decision to shut down operations at ROSS Intelligence.

Six years ago, we set out to make legal services more accessible by innovating legal research. We felt then, as we do today, that legal research could be more efficient, less expensive, and more accessible. 

In the spring of this year, Thomson Reuters and Westlaw brought a spurious lawsuit against ROSS. When the news broke, we were grateful to receive so much community support. However, just as Westlaw devised it to be, this ongoing suit has been heavy for ROSS to bear. 

We have not abandoned our vision for access to justice through the use of technology. We will continue to fight the good fight. However, we are now pursuing that vision in the courthouse rather than the marketplace.

I’m so proud of the work that our team has done over the last five years. Words cannot express how thankful I am for everyone that supported our dream to revolutionize legal research and increase access to justice.

We hope that by continuing in this way, the precedent this court case sets will inspire innovation rather than shut down competition. We must go, but we will not go gently. ⚖️’

And in a longer statement on behalf of the company, ROSS said this:

‘Dear customers, friends, supporters,

We have made the difficult decision to shut down operations at ROSS Intelligence. As of Monday of this week, we have no longer been accepting new customers. As of January 31, 2021, the ROSS platform will no longer be available. Between now and then, our priority is to help our current customers transition to other services.

What happened

Six years ago, we set out to make legal services more accessible by innovating legal research. We felt then, as we do today, that legal research could be more efficient, less expensive, and more accessible. 

Since then, we’ve created a product that legal researchers love. We’ve worked with amazing partners to make legal research tasks more efficient and delightful. At every turn, we’ve been grateful to receive lawyers’ and other legal researchers’ feedback to shape ROSS’s development. We’ve been honored to serve legal researchers in many contexts across the U.S.: lawyers in large firms and small firms; solo practitioners; students; pro se litigants; academics; librarians; and more.

In the spring of this year, Thomson Reuters and Westlaw brought a spurious lawsuit against ROSS. When the news broke, we were grateful to receive so much community support. However, just as Westlaw devised it to be, this ongoing suit has been heavy for ROSS to bear. Litigation is expensive — no matter how speculative the claims against you nor how worthy your position. With our company ensnared by this legal battle, we have been unable to raise another round of funding to fuel our development and marketing efforts. Our bank account is running out, and we must cease operations in the New Year.

What this means for our customers

ROSS will continue to be available as it is today until January 31, 2021. Each customer will be able to export their personal data, including all data from their saved folders, beginning in January. We will be working with our customers to transition them to other services — including platforms by our friends at Fastcase, vLex and Casetext.

What this means for the legal industry

We have not abandoned our vision for access to justice through the use of technology. We will continue to fight the good fight.

However, we are now pursuing that vision in the courthouse rather than the marketplace. Although we are out of funds for our operations, ROSS has insurance for our litigation costs. The company will continue as a going concern so that the facts at the heart of this lawsuit are brought to light and so that Westlaw’s tactics — using litigation as a weapon and stifling competition — do not succeed.

We hope that by continuing in this way, the precedent this court case sets will inspire innovation rather than shut down competition. We must go, but we will not go gently.

Andrew Arruda, Jimoh Ovbiagele, Pargles Dall’Oglio, and the ROSS team’

It was a company that also made CEO, Andrew Arruda, a household name in legal tech circles. Whatever happens next, it has been quite a ride.

Artificial Lawyer has followed them since starting this site – see early interview here – and it’s a shame to see them leave the field. Good luck to the team. They helped to start something that will never end.

Some additional thoughts from Artificial Lawyer

How much TR finished off the company is unclear. And given that the court case is still in play it’s wise not to wade into that. But, more broadly, even without the TR spat, would ROSS have survived as an independent business? This site doubts it.

The reality is that back when they started in 2014/15 and then as they rose to fame in 2016/17, much of what they did in legal research using NLP/ML techniques to get a better result for lawyers was cutting edge. It has not been cutting edge for a couple of years now.

Both LexisNexis and TR have very good and comprehensive legal research tools that use NLP/ML – and in Lexis’ case they bought LexMachina and RAVEL and spent several years integrating that tech into their research products.

In such a market was it really likely that a company of ROSS’s size and limited funding – which according to Crunchbase had three separate Series A rounds in 2017, 2018 and 2019, i.e. it was not moving rapidly through a company maturation curve – would be able to compete?

It was also not clear how many large law firms were using the company still. And that is key, as when you move out of the Big Law market the returns are lower.

In the long term, it doesn’t seem likely that ROSS would have carried on as an independent business. To be a small legal research company is to be at risk these days, it also demands huge amounts of innovation to stay ahead of companies like TR and Lexis. And that needs huge amounts of funding as well.

For example, a search on LinkedIn shows that at least as of today, the day of the shut down news, there were just 15 people listed at the company. For a startup to have operated for six years and had multiple funding rounds and only to be this size indicates that all was not well.

Some exploration of GPT-3 was not going to make a sufficient difference. Not yet anyway.

The reality is that this really is the end of an era – at least for legal AI tools in the research space – having NLP/ML capabilities is just not enough to generate a competitive advantage when far larger, integrated platforms with oodles of legal data, e.g. TR and Lexis, are your competitors.

So, this is a sad end, i.e that it was on balance the court case that tipped this over. But, ROSS probably would have had to merge with someone else in the coming years either way.

All of that said, we need to applaud Andrew Arruda and team for what they achieved and how they helped to popularise and normalise the use of ‘AI’ in legal work. The irony is that by normalising it, they in the end helped to encourage and spur on far larger competitors that made it hard to continue as a small independent business.

2 Comments

  1. The ROSS team who started this venture are extraordinary people with their hearts in the right place and heads screwed on tight. They developed a brilliant resource in which they should take personal and professional pride. I’m proud to have known them “when,” am proud of them now, and will just be fiercely proud when they take on their next venture.

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