Yesterday, I read an interesting article in The Atlantic “iLawyer: What Happens When Computers Replace Attorneys?” The article describes the rise of predictive coding being used in the discovery phase of litigation. For those of you who are not legal eagles, discovery is essentially when opposing counsel dumps a massive amounts of emails, documents, power points, bank statements, etc in your lap and your job is to sort through it all and find the ones that are relevant to your case.
Predictive Coding allows an attorney to plug in search terms and have the software automatically pull the relevant documents. The article suggests that predictive coding will eliminate the need for most attorneys. I agree that as software becomes better at pattern recognition, attorneys will not be needed in the first phase of discovery and other rote tasks, however I don’t think better software will entirely eliminate the need for attorneys for a few reasons:
1.) The interpretation of law is ultimately a value judgment. Our legal system is designed to be flexible and allow for all sorts of exceptions and based on the facts surrounding each particular situation. For example, the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees a person’s right to a jury by one’s peers. I don’t really see a day when being judged by robots for a crime will become an acceptable substitute for peers.
2.) Law is a dynamic system. Just as the interpretation of law is a judgment of another individual’s actions, society’s views of what is appropriate changes over time. At one time, society thought slavery was righteous, then we went through a civil war and did away with slavery, but still allowed segregation, and then we outlawed segregation, to allowing affirmative action. Software programs are not dynamic enough to keep pace with society’s constantly changing mores and attitudes toward various topics.
3.) Computer programs are really bad at common sense. A software program is only as effective as the human programmer. For example, if you were to ask WATSON (the computer that won Jeapordy!) to mediate a custody dispute between two spouses in the middle of a nasty divorce, Watson may be able to pull up all sorts of case law, precedent, and cite statistics about whether or not kids are better off living with the higher earning parent. However, if the kids don’t want to live with their father, because he’s a raging alcoholic with anger issues, then it really won’t matter what case law or statistics a software program spits out.
So for the time being, I’m not worried about lawyers being completely replaced by robot overlords, but maybe I should be more worried about the rise of Skynet and programmable matter turned into autonomous killing machines? See,Terminator 2: Genesis of Skynet