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Tue Jun 19, 2012, 03:54 PM

iLawyer: What Happens When Computers Replace Attorneys?

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/ilawyer-what-happens-when-computers-replace-attorneys/258688/


In the end, after you've stripped away their six-figure degrees, their state bar memberships, and their proclivity for capitalizing Odd Words, lawyers are just another breed of knowledge worker. They're paid to research, analyze, write, and argue -- not unlike an academic, a journalist, or an accountant. So when software comes along that's smarter or more efficient at those tasks than a human with a JD, it spells trouble.

That's one of the issues the Wall Street Journal raised yesterday in an article on the ways computer algorithms are slowly replacing human eyes when it comes to handling certain pieces of large, high-stakes litigation. It focuses on a topic that is near and dear to the legal industry (and pretty much nobody else) known as discovery, which is the process where attorneys sort through troves of documents to find pieces of evidence that might be related to a lawsuit. While it might seem like a niche topic, what's going on in the field has big implications for people who earn their living dealing with information.

The discovery process is all about cognition, the ability of people to look at endless bails of info and separate the wheat from the chaff. For many years, it was also extremely profitable for law firms, which billed hundreds of dollars an hour for associates to glance at thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of documents, and note whether they might have some passing relevance to the case at hand. Those days are pretty much dead, gone thanks to cost-conscious clients and legal temp agencies which rent out attorneys for as little as $25-an-hour to do the grunt work. Some firms are still struggling to replace the profits they've lost as a result.

And now comes the rise of the machines -- or, more precisely, the search engines. For a while now, attorneys have employed manual keyword searches to sort through the gigabytes of information involved in these case. But as the journal reports, more firms are beginning to use a technology known as "predictive coding," which essentially automates the process at one-tenth the cost. Recently, a magistrate judge in a major Virginia employment discrimination suit ruled that the defense could use predictive coding to sort through their own data, despite objections by the plaintiffs who worried it might not pick up all the relevant documents (Probably left unspoken here: plaintiffs in lawsuits also like to drive up the costs for defendants, in the hopes that it will encourage them to settle).

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Reply iLawyer: What Happens When Computers Replace Attorneys? (Original post)
xchrom Jun 2012 OP
HopeHoops Jun 2012 #1
AnotherMcIntosh Jun 2012 #2
Zalatix Jun 2012 #3
stevenleser Jun 2012 #4
Blue_Tires Jun 2012 #5
Geoff R. Casavant Jun 2012 #6
longship Jun 2012 #7
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #8
former9thward Jun 2012 #9
Zalatix Jun 2012 #10
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #11
Zalatix Jun 2012 #12
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #16
Zalatix Jun 2012 #17
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #18
Zalatix Jun 2012 #19
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #22
Zalatix Jun 2012 #24
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jun 2012 #26
lonestarnot Jun 2012 #21
aint_no_life_nowhere Jun 2012 #13
cap Jun 2012 #14
WillyT Jun 2012 #15
riderinthestorm Jun 2012 #20
white_wolf Jun 2012 #23
GReedDiamond Jun 2012 #25
white_wolf Jun 2012 #27
GReedDiamond Jun 2012 #30
backscatter712 Jun 2012 #28
knitter4democracy Jun 2012 #29

Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 04:46 PM

1. "Please touch the screen to begin. Are you innocent or guilty? Do you prefer execution or jail?"

 

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 05:05 PM

2. Jordan Weissmann is wrong. This is a sales pitch for the latest, super-duper software

 

to be sold to large law firms. It doesn't affect us on DU3 or the great majority of Americans at all.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 05:09 PM

3. Hey, look at all the jobs that are being created! This is driving unemployment down and wages up!

 

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 05:16 PM

4. Like the article said, the doc review process is already the low end of the practice of law

That is pretty much already built into the industry. Only new and temp attorneys do doc review.

What this might do, and it would be a good thing, is it might further drop the costs of doing business for medium and small sized firms who otherwise couldnt afford even the $25/hr temp attorneys for certain types of work.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 05:43 PM

6. Well, speaking for me personally, I like DIY law packages.

I charge around $500 to prepare a will and other related documents for my clients. Someone could easily pay $50 to get a DIY package done through OfficeMax software or on the web. So, to their mind, they have saved $450 they didn't have to pay to some shyster.

But if their personal situation is too far out of the norm (hint: these days, pretty much everyone is), the software can't necessarily account for anything unique. So either the will says something it was never intended to say, or worse, it may not be signed and executed correctly, and so is invalid.

And I can tell you from personal experience, I make a lot more than $500 correcting someone else's mistakes after the fact.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 07:09 PM

7. 100,000,000 computers at the bottom of the ocean?


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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 08:23 PM

8. We use this for sorting and sifting

But you would have to be insane to let a computer make determinations of privilege or relevance.

We have a system developed in-house that first locates and flags duplicates and then based on the visible characteristics of the document will sort them into correspondence, invoices, emails, forms. If the document is legible it will OCR the text and flag the document as searchable and identifies documents containing certain key words for high-priority follow-up and sorted by skill sets and blasted into FileMaker where a lawyer, accountant or other expert can review them from a computer or iPad and comment on them.

But producing documents based on review by a computer? Never.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 08:43 PM

9. Lawyers are just another group living in denial about technology and this economy.

There are high rates of unemployment in the legal field and it is not going to get better. Technology and the internet has permanently wiped out legal work for attorneys. Yet the ABA, to their everlasting shame, continues to accredit new law schools. Law schools are a big profit center for universities so money rules and who cares what happens to the graduates. I see many posters on this thread saying computers will "never" replace attorneys. BS.

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Response to former9thward (Reply #9)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 08:48 PM

10. Attorneys are working class people, too.

 

And their loss of income will impact the economy just as bad as a bunch of unemployed construction workers.

As we replace these lawyers with computers, nobody ever seems to ask... what jobs will be around for these unemployed people?

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #10)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 08:56 PM

11. Hop in your time machine...

Okay, stop around 1990 or so.

Wander around a "Big Law" law firm and get back to me on how many of them have more than one or two IT people and how many employ their own programmers, database developers, e-Forensics and other professional IT roles.

Okay... now make the same survey today.

The number of lawyers has not gone down, and numbers of professional support staff have exploded. While computers make some parts of litigation much easier. Computers have also made litigation itself much more complicated.

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Response to Sen. Walter Sobchak (Reply #11)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 09:00 PM

12. Ah so that's why unemployment is down, nationwide and/or worldwide?

 

Wait, no it isn't. Your theory explodes. Sorry please try again.

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #12)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:18 PM

16. We were talking about technology in the legal profession, not your coveted plastic utensil industry

At our main office in Costa Mesa there are:

5 Full Time IT people for administration, help desk and training.
3 Full Time Database developers responsible for FileMaker and Summation.
3 Full Time Programmers responsible for our inhouse document management system described in an earlier post.
There are also a couple of imaging tech who do almost nothing but scan documents.

Please explain how the employment of these 11+ people is detrimental.

Many large east coast firms employ no less than 40 people in these roles, although building your own document management system isn't typical.

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Response to Sen. Walter Sobchak (Reply #16)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:24 PM

17. Like I said, if you were so incredibly right, unemployment would be down.

 

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #17)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:32 PM

18. Do you actually read and comprehend before you spit out a pithy reply?

You are aware you are replying to a topic on esoteric legal document management tools and not moulded plastic bits of junk right?

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Response to Sen. Walter Sobchak (Reply #18)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:40 PM

19. Do you actually read and comprehend my question before you spout off?

 

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #19)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:13 AM

22. Indeed I did

Had you not been posting your poorly informed nonsense for as long as you have been, I would just assume you were a spammer padding your post count.

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Response to Sen. Walter Sobchak (Reply #22)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:20 AM

24. Actually, no you didn't.

 

I have long known you weren't a spammer - you actually believe the garbage you post.

Edited to add: if all those jobs were created that you said were created, your employer would have lost just about all the savings they gained from getting rid of attorneys. I guess I should have just ended your errorfest right away by letting you know this from jump.

Have a nice day!

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #24)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 01:46 AM

26. When did we lay off attorneys?

or anyone for that matter. In the eight years I have been here there have been no layoffs and to get fired around here you need to do something like use a company owned condo to host a swinger party the police are called to.

In any event, if your legal counsel has lawyers pushing paper and hunting and pecking for keywords with highlighters, you are being played for a fool and bled dry.

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #10)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:49 PM

21. As it all grinds to a halt eventually, there will be none.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 09:40 PM

13. Judges and juries might not be far behind

In the case of judges, I'm not sure a machine could do worse. Having been an attorney in California since 1983, I've seen so many cases of sheer audacious arrogance, sloth, and ineptitude on the bench in the California legal system that I think a computer should be given a shot.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 09:42 PM

14. There are always holes in computer programs these days

And a clever attorney coupled with a good programmer will be able to detect these.
I predict more work for the attorneys in years to come especially in legal malpractice.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 09:42 PM

15. K & R !!!




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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:47 PM

20. The first time legal research was outsourced to India meant this was an inevitability imho

Paralegals in India were the harbinger of major seismic shifts in the legal profession. Algorithms will certainly be the next new wave in information sorting... intuitive legal research will still have massive value but for the regular Joe and Jane looking for relief? Computer software is going to be a big part of their case....

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:16 AM

23. Well, gee as someone who is planning on law school, this is slightly troubling.

Then again, no job seems secure these days, so I might as well do something I will enjoy.

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Response to white_wolf (Reply #23)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 01:15 AM

25. Why not go with the training in Old School methodolgy you plan on pursuing...

...but combine it with getting schooled in these technical advancements in computing, so as to be able to cover both bases?

It will take a person knowledgeable in "law" to operate these digital devices or whatever comes along.

Or, at least, it would be a plus.

That's my 2 cents.

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Response to GReedDiamond (Reply #25)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:42 PM

27. I'm actually pretty good with computers already, so learning about these wouldn't be too hard.

You're right, though, it would be really good thing to know. I, honestly, didn't even know about these technologies until this I read this thread.

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Response to white_wolf (Reply #27)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 09:07 PM

30. Whatever you do, white_wolf...

...may you be happy and successful.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:46 PM

28. Lawyers will never go away.

And the reason why is because a human lawyer can go golfing with the judge who may be deciding your court case. Computer programs haven't been able to manage that feat yet.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:49 PM

29. You'll still need the right person in the courtroom at the right time, though.

The right person at the right time is worth the money. Trust me.

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