Software Legal Angels of Creative Destruction

Kenneth Anderson of the Volokh Conspiracy discusses the automation of boring legal tasks, spurred by a judge allowing the “use of predictive coding, a computer-assisted document review that turns much of the legal grunt work currently done by underemployed attorneys over to the machines.”

Scan. Point. Click. Repeat. That’s the job. Contract attorneys are paid by the hour to sit in front of a computer and review a mind-numbing sequence of uploaded documents…. Predictive coding promises to make this job much more efficient over time – and drastically reduce the amount of work and number of contract attorneys employed.

Using the technology, a senior attorney familiar with the intricacies of a specific case reviews and codes a “seed set” of documents…. Proponents say predictive coding is not only more accurate than using human reviewers, but also more efficient…. Judge Peck noted the technology will require human review of less than 2 percent of all documents in an average case.

Score one for engineering over law as the higher education bubble deflates:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck of the Southern District of New York (who has authorized the use of ‘predictive coding’ in a case before him) has struck a blow against the profession of law as we know it. He has condemned untold numbers of hungry lawyers to marginal economic conditions and killed the business model responsible for keeping many of the country’s law schools afloat.
It was the right thing to do. He has also opened the door to the next stage in the information revolution, a vast and many sided process that will ultimately change the way we work and live as much as the industrial and neolithic revolutions did in their day.

Readers of the Volokh Conspiracy are the smartest on the net and the best rated comment, by Chris Tompkins, opines:

It’s a pretty cruel fate to spend three years and a ton of money getting a law degree, only to end up in the mindless, low paid drudgery of permanent doc review. Better not to go to law school at all.

I wonder how this kind of software deals with handwritten documents or pictures, or other things that are easy for humans to recognize but very difficult for machines. I can also imagine all kinds of interesting litigation about what constitutes a suitable “seed” document, motions based on a failure to disclose things the software didn’t catch etc.

Still, this looks like the future for discovery and that’s a good thing overall, even if it’s bad for unemployed lawyers. Litigation is largely unaffordable, a big part of why it is unaffordable is the cost of discovery, and a big part of why discovery is so expensive is the cost of reviewing all those emails and other electronically stored documents that didn’t exist in litigation prior to about 1980.

Related posts:
Lawyers Reviewing Documents for Temp Agencies
Is Engineering a Better Career Than Law?
What Professors Refuse to Teach in Engineering and Business Schools

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