Trimming Legal Costs and Jobs: A Predictive Coding Unintended Consequence?
July 17, 2012
Predictive coding and eDiscovery are circling the legal communities gossip rings about what it means for the future of legal costs and jobs. The Huffington Post addresses the topic in “ ‘Lawyerbots’ Offer Attorneys Faster, Cheaper Assistants.” The US court system has made new regulations when it comes to eDiscovery technology and how it can be used in court cases. Lawyer, legal professionals, and even the companies licensing various programmatic content processing systems are struggling to understand the upside and downside of the algorithmic approach to coding. One-way eDiscovery and predictive coding will be used is to cut down on the many, many hours of post-processing some electronic documents. This new technology is being referred to as “lawyerbots.”
Lawyerbots cut through the man-hours like an electric knife, saving time and clients money. Many are optimistic about the changes. But some clients are ambivalent:
“But how will clients feel about a computer doing some of the dirty work, instead of a lawyer or paralegal manually digging through documents? Some could be concerned that a computer is more apt to make an error, or overlook crucial information. In a recent study in the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, lawyer labor was tested against lawyerbots with predictive coding software. Researchers found “evidence that such technology-assisted processes, while indeed more efficient, can also yield results superior to those of exhaustive manual review.” In basic terms, the computers had the humans licked.”
Faster and more accurate! It is an awesome combination, but the next question to follow is what about jobs? There are several predictions already out there; the article mentions how Mike Lynch of Autonomy believes the legal community will employ fewer people in the future. Others are embracing the new technology pattern and plan to see changes as the older lawyers retire. Here’s one observation:
“Jonathan Askin, the director of Brooklyn Law School’s Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic (BLIP)…said, ‘When I look around at my peers, I see 40-year-old lawyers who are still communicating via snail mail and fax machines and telephones and appearing in physical space for negotiations.’ He said he hopes to better merge the legal sector and technology to serve both lawyers and their clients more efficiently.”
We arrive at yet another crossroads: traditional, variable cost ways vs. new, allegedly more easily budgeted approach to content analysis.
As a librarian, I predict, without having to use predictive analytics that eDiscovery will take some legal occupations. Online wrecked havoc in the special library market. However, I am confident that there will still be a need for humans to keep the lawyerbots and maybe the marketers of these systems in check.
After all, software technology is only as smart as humans program it and humans are prone to error. The lawyerbots will also drive down costs, a blessing in this poor economy, and more people will be apt to bring cases to court, increasing demand for lawyers. In order to get to this point, however, there needs to be an established set of standards on how litigation support software can be programmed, how it can be used, and basic requirements for the processes/code. What’s the outlook? Uncertainty and probably one step forward and one step backwards.
Whitney Grace, July 17, 2012
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