Ron Dolin: Measuring Legal Quality

Ron Dolin, Harvard Law School

April 18, 2018
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CERLP welcomed Ron Dolin, Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Law’s Center on the Legal Profession, to discuss his work on the modernization of legal practice and the ways in which new systems, technologies, and analysis may allow for increased efficiency and quality for both practitioners and clients.


Although more slowly than many would prefer, the legal system is increasingly adapting to the injection of efficiency across all forms of delivery. One can debate the causes (e.g. globalization, technology, Innovator's Dilemma), as well as the nature of the barriers (e.g. business models, regulations, bureaucracy). However, there are strong indications that old models are falling and new methodologies are rolling out. Examples include an increased use of data analysis, machine learning, expert systems, and online dispute resolution. In all such cases, increasing efficiency comes with some impact on quality—usually better, sometimes not. The goal of new systems is not perfection, but an increase in value. That may entail an increase in both efficiency as well as quality. It may also allow for a degradation of quality where accompanied by vast increases in access, or in comparison to on-the-ground realistic alternatives to self-representation. While questions about quality are valid, the answers can no longer be a claim to the status quo. Quality concerns, once raised, lead to an analysis as much of past methodology as of future ones, with a corresponding development of metrics of one form or another. At the end of the day, we need to compare old systems with new ones, and alternates among various approaches. We need to be able to estimate ROI on legal spend, and we need to be able to re-focus claims of UPL away from protectionism and toward actual client protection. Developing a robust set of standardized quality benchmarks that formalize some of our subjective notions of good legal work product pushes us past existing barriers. It has the potential to open up the law to modernization and efficiency without sacrificing clients in the process.

About Ron Dolin

Dr. Ron A. Dolin is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Law’s Center on the Legal Profession. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Notre Dame Law School. Dr. Dolin teaches a course, first taught at Stanford Law School, on the impact of legal technology on the practice of law. He is currently co-editing and authoring chapters in a forthcoming book on legal informatics to be published by Cambridge University Press, expected in early 2018.

Dr. Dolin’s areas of research include developing and analyzing legal quality metrics: definition, implementation, and assessment of the metrics; impact of standardized quality benchmarks and testing methodology on the legal system, including in-house selection and management of outside counsel, increasing access to justice, legal technology startups and general competition, latent middle-class market, and UPL regulations. Dr. Dolin’s research considers legal market analysis from the perspective of Innovator's Dilemma (Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School) including the role of bar associations, incentives, business structures, and other factors impacting the adoption of, and barriers to, legal innovation. This research includes comparison of the legal profession with other sectors such as medicine, hi-tech, and consulting, including the use of standardized billing codes, quality metrics, and education.

Dr. Dolin has advised both legal technology companies and computer science graduate students on, and directly contributing to, core legal technology engineering efforts including the application of Natural Language Processing (NLP) to automated bar exam question answering, and the automated classification of legal documents and general legal information.

Dr. Dolin received his B.A. in math and physics from U.C. Berkeley before heading to Geneva to work at CERN, the high-energy physics lab. After a few years, he left for graduate work, obtaining a Ph.D. in Computer Science from U.C. Santa Barbara with his dissertation on scalable search. Dr. Dolin was one of the first 100 employees at Google, and left after several years to get a law degree. He is a licensed attorney in CA.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Dolin is also an angel investor, focusing on legal technology startups. He has taught MCLE courses on document automation for the CA Bar, and was on the executive committee of the Bar’s Law Practice Management and Technology section. He co-founded the Program for Legal Technology and Design with his ex-student and Stanford alum Margaret Hagan and worked on legal innovation at Stanford Law’s Center on the Legal Profession. Ron has been asked to participate on panels and give talks at universities and organizations such as Stanford, COLPM, ILTA, ACC, and CLOC on issues related to legal technology and innovation. Ron was selected as one of the 2014 Fastcase 50, and 2014 ALM Recorder’s Innovator Award recipient.

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