September 29, 2011
Run! Hide! The Lawyers Are Being Replaced By Machines
There are a series of articles in Slate lately on how computers, or, more generally, technology, will changes professions by automating the more mundane tasks and possibly the more complex ones as well. Today’s entry takes a look at the legal profession. I won’t build up any suspense. The prediction is that computers will tread into the advising clients area through litigation analysis. The example is a company trying to decide if it wants to defend a patent suit or settle by licensing. A computer program with enough analytical power along with a database filled with reams of documents from a statistically significant set of similar cases could predict the outcome of the current dispute. The Justice Machine™ says settle.
The article notes the work of Professor Daniel Katz at the Michigan State College of Law who is working on just such a product. One of the points made is that Professor Katz needs that large cache of documents to build his system. These are locked in PACER unfortunately. The work may be slowed due to the time it takes to liberate these documents via RECAP or some other free archive. For my own part, I suggest that Professor Katz work with Lexis or Westlaw on this. They have the goods documents in their systems. Assuming he can work out compensation with either of them he can help them develop a new line of business. If WestlawNext can predict the documents we want, why can’t it predict our litigation strategies and outcomes? Get a patent, Professor Katz. The new patent law revision changes the rule from first to invent to first to file. I can see someone in Eagan right now mouthing the words “By the pricking of my ears….”
There are companies out there doing some of this analysis. The article mentions Lex Machina, a company which started as a Stanford University project. It analyzes patent litigation that makes forum shopping a bit more predictable for the desired result. I’ll assume that counsel at Lexis will let this one slide as a possible trademark confusion issue. I wonder if Lex Machina’s computer system can figure the outcome of that one, or will they have to ask an attorney. Recall that Lexis famously sued the makers of the Lexus luxury automobile for trademark violations.
Let’s not forget Google. That company capitalized a documents automation system to the tune of $18.5 million. I expect that if that venture turns out well Google would buy the service outright and merge it into its offerings. Google loves to automate the obvious stuff and be disruptive at the same time. Artificial intelligence and legal advice is so that. Better yet, something like this would give the Justice Department something else to think about. If not the Department, then it’s brand new antitrust analysis machine that it purchased from…Google.
I think artificial intelligence and the law are made for each other for the type of analysis the article describes. Nonetheless, I doubt that computers would supplant the legal industry entirely. The article takes a slightly different view:
If automation brings more people legal services, at lower prices, while also pruning the ranks of human lawyers, I suspect most readers will consider that a win, win, win. And in the long run, this could well be. The trouble is that the path from here to there will be rocky—many firms will be shuttered, an ever-larger number of newly minted young attorneys will fail to find work, and a huge industry's economic prospects will fade.
I don’t think so, at least not for a long time. In any event, the legal industry seems perfectly capable of doing this without automation helping it along. I don’t know if you need an attorney-client relationship for something like a simple document preparation scenario. I think you do need one for litigation strategy. It may take fewer lawyers to deliver the machine’s result, but the machine has to be that accurate before that will happen. I mean, WestlawNext isn’t perfect yet, is it? We are indeed a long way from lawyer apps provided to indigent criminal defendants. [MG]