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Computers Set to Upend Law Profession

In what may become a landmark moment for the legal profession, a New York District Court Judge has issued an opinion—the first of its kind—approving the use of “computer-assisted review” by law firms in an upcoming case. The decision allows both sides’ lawyers to use computer programs to scan through large amounts of data relevant to the case. The traditional methods, manual document review and keyword searches, can be extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive (hence expensive). If this technology is approved for wider use, smaller law firms that lack the armies of paralegals and assistants heavyweights deploy to do this work will be able to compete in covering major cases.

Industries like travel, healthcare, and lately education are already going down this road. Law, evidently, is the next sector up for an automation-driven revolution. This may be bad news for law students, who will have to compete for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs in order to pay off ever-higher tuition costs. But bad news for aspiring lawyers is good news for the rest of us—especially individuals and small businesses worried about being bankrupted by legal fees.

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  • John Foster

    1. To be precise, Andrew Peck, the author of the opinion, is a “magistrate judge,” not a “district judge.” In the federal system, magistrate judges are not political appointees and do not hold lifetime tenure. In most courts they supervise the pre-trial “discovery” process.
    2. “Predictive coding,” the technology at issue in the decision, is relevant only when dealing with massive amounts of documents. Consequently, it probably won’t have any impact in the kinds of cases involving individuals (unless Rupert Murdoch-types) or small businesses.

  • alex scipio

    As were many things, this was pre-saged by Heinlein in a short story, the name of which I unfortunately cannot recall. But two lawyers squared-off in a courtroom with the conputer of each vying for overriding precedent. One overriding precedent after the other spooled-up on the adversary’s computers until one came up that just destroyed the opposition, which then shut down. Case over.

    Sure will cut our legal costs. We REALLY don’t yet understand the changes coming with easy access to lots of data and information… but as we get there, politics, law, banking – everything – will be massively overturned as we move past the Information Age and in to the Internet Age with a vengeance. The question, of course, as raised in the Blue Model series, is what to do with those who are not bright or motivated enough to keep-up as we leave-behind the Industrial Age? Of course, Progressives will continue to demand that we hold-back progress so as not to leave-behind their voters, but that will become more and more difficult to do. And Obama and his fellow ignoramuses will continue to call progress a job-killer. (I can now use my iphone to take a picture of a check for deposit, link that pic to Citibank and viola! the check is deposited.. don’t even need an ATM, Barry!)

    We’d better get a handle on education soon (outlawing Schools of (mal)Education and teacher unions, paying teachers what they are worth, hiring and firing on merit alone and moving from memorization of stuff comptuers can do to problem understanding and setup – and solid Liberal Arts to understand WHY we do all of this – why it’s important… unlike Liberal Arts since they’ve been taken over by the illiberal Left…

    Gonna be a whole new world .. if we can get past the Industrial Age Oracles of the Left…

  • Jordan

    Yup, so now we are replacing lawyers with software engineers. And so it goes.

  • Alex Weiner

    I suspect that consulting firms especially those with IT/SAS/SAP expertise such as Accenture, IBM, and Capgemini to be big winners here. They can have a team of top tier BA’s do what Big Law charges thousands of dollars an hour to do, in less time.

  • bob sykes

    Knowledge and symbol processing professions are every bit as subject to automation as are assembly lines. Automation has eliminated many engineering jobs, especially entry level jobs. The issue in the future will be how to distribute the wealth produced by the machines.

  • Luke Lea

    Contra scipio, what we’re looking at is not the post-industrial but the post-service economy. I predict a larger not a smaller fraction of people will be making things in the future — and performing more services for themselves which now they pay other people to do for them.

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