CARA: The First Year Associate’s Pocket Calculator

by Erik Adams

Anyone who has watched a child learning to do math will have heard the complaint that doing it by hand shouldn’t be necessary in the age of calculators. Or, I suppose, in the age of the Calculator app, right there on the home screen. Why should the child carefully write out “342 – 173” and work out the answer with pencil and paper when 8 quick button presses and the answer is there? I kept coming back to this images as I watched a demo of CARA, a new artificial intelligence product from Casetext.


CARA is described as

… your automated research assistant. Securely upload any brief or memo, and CARA searches the universe of federal and state law to find relevant cases you or opposing counsel may have missed. Once you find a case, you can read it in full — and see how it’s been cited — so you’ll have all the information you need to win.

From this description, it might seem that CARA is a competitor to West’s Westcheck or Lexis’s Briefcheck – i.e. a software tool that will extract citations from a document and then report on whether or not those cases are good law. It does do those things, but CARA’s party trick is that it will also recommend cases that the uploaded document has missed.

This is where the artificial intelligence comes in. CARA doesn’t just look up a citation and then present a red flag or stop sign; it will find other cases that deal with the same issue and attempts to present the results with a little more finesse. For example, if you upload a brief that cites 3 cases in favor of an argument (all of which are good law) but ignores 3 cases that are opposed to the argument (which are also all good law), CARA will offer up all the cases, with an explanation. CARA will also point out oversights in research: if a brief fails to cite to a key case on an issue, CARA will let you know.

My first question for the people at Casetext was if we subscribe to CARA, what will our first year associates do with themselves? The salespeople had obviously heard this question before, and had a ready answer: CARA automates the most tedious parts, but the real work still has to be done by a human being. It will offer up the list of relevant cases, but it is still necessary for an attorney to review that list and decide how important the missing cases are.

I know a librarian who used to show new associates how to Shepardize cases using the books as a part of his library orientation. Then, after spending 5 minutes processing a single citation, he would demonstrate how to use Westcheck. The idea was that if new associates knew how complicated a task this used to be, they would appreciate all the more how simple it is today.

CARA has a slick web interface and is very easy to use, as a modern web application should. But as I was watching the demonstration, I kept thinking of the child who is tired of long division (or the first year associate who is tired of Shepardizing in print). At some point his or her teacher will be satisfied that they have mastered the basic skills, and now having to do the work is only going to be scut work and keep the child from learning new skills or applications for what they have already mastered. Similarly, CARA automates what can be a truly boring task: checking citations in a brief. But as with a calculator, I can’t help but wonder when we should be letting our first year associates start using it.

This entry was posted in Artificial intelligence, Legal Research, Legal Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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