Big data is already changing how America’s court system works, the Wall Street Journal reports:
Lawyers looking for an edge in court are increasingly turning to hard data to predict how judges might rule, in some cases long before the judges put pen to paper.
New tools, mined from millions of court documents, offer lawyers statistics on the likelihood of a lawsuit’s being dismissed, for instance, or the average wait time until a trial. Lawyers say the data can help temper client expectations, influence courtroom decision-making and even save money by flagging strategies unlikely to succeed.
“Everybody knows litigation is wildly expensive and risky, but the fact is, all of those risks can be quantified,” said Kirk Jenkins, a Chicago lawyer who blogs about the behavior of the highest state courts in Illinois and California based on years’ worth of data analysis.
Traditionally, judges’ reputations have spread through anecdotes, often gathered by lawyers’ sending a firm-wide email to colleagues. This has led to broad insights, like knowing that the Eastern District of Texas is a plaintiff-friendly patent court, or that a certain judge is short-tempered or gives out light sentences.
Some day in the not to distant future, algorithms are going to reduce the number of cases, civil and criminal, that go to trial. The prospect of a legal system that works faster, gives fairer results and costs much much less than what we have now is coming closer.
Legal reform is one of the most promising avenues to make American society richer and more fair and to reduce the time it takes to settle even complex cases. Some law firms will figure this out and ride to glory in the fast lane of the information highway. Others will stick to the old ways and be road kill.
Meanwhile, politicians looking for populist ideas that are also good policy should jump on legal reform as a way to help ordinary people get through life with greater dignity and ease.