A Legal Information Truth Inconvenient, Expensive, and Dangerous

December 5, 2022

The Wall Street Journal published “Justice Department Prosecutors Swamped with Data As Cases Leave Long Digital Trails.” The write up addressed a problematic reality without craziness. The basic idea is that prosecutors struggle with digital information. The consequences are higher costs and in some cases allowing potentially problematic individuals to go to Burger King or corporate practices to chug along with felicity.

The article states:

Federal prosecutors are swamped by data, as the way people communicate and engage in behavior scrutinized by investigators often leaves long and complicated digital trails that can outpace the Justice Department’s technology.

What’s the fix? This is a remarkable paragraph:

The Justice Department has been working on ways to address the problem, including by seeking additional funding for electronic-evidence technology and staffing for US attorney’s offices. It is also providing guidance in an annual training for prosecutors to at times collect less data.

Okay, more money which may or may not be spent in a way to address the big data issues, more lawyers (hopefully skilled in manipulating content processing systems functions), annual training, and gather less information germane to a legal matter. I want to mention that misinformation, reformation of data, and weaponized data are apparently not present in prosecutors’ data sets or not yet recognized as a problem by the Justice Department.

My response to this interesting article includes:

  1. This is news? The issue has been problematic for many years. The vendors of specialized systems to manage evidence, index and make searchable content from disparate sources, and output systems which generate a record of what lawyer accessed what and when are asserting their systems can handle this problem. Obviously either licensees discover the systems don’t work like the demos or cannot handle large flows of disparate content.
  2. The legal industry is not associated with groundbreaking information innovation. I may be biased, but I think of lawyers knowing more about billing for their time than making use of appropriate, reliable technology for managing evidence. Excel timesheets are one thing. Dark Web forum content, telephone intercepts, and context free email and chat messages are quite different. Annual training won’t change the situation. The problem has to be addressed by law schools and lawyer certification systems. Licensing a super duper search system won’t deal with the problem no matter what consultants, vendors, and law professors say.
  3. The issue of “big data” is real, particularly when there are some many content objects available to a legal team, its consultants, and the government professionals working on a case or a particular matter. It is just easier to gather and then try to make sense of the data. When the necessary information is not available, time or money runs out and everyone moves on. Big data becomes a process that derails some legal proceedings.

My view is that similar examples of “data failure” will surface. The meltdown of crypto? Yes, too much data. The downstream consequences of certain medical products? Yes, too much data and possibly the subtle challenge of data shaping by certain commercial firms? The interlocks among suppliers of electrical components? Yes, too much data and possibly information weaponization by parties to a legal matter?

When online meant keyword indexing and search, old school research skills and traditional data collection were abundant. Today, short cuts and techno magic are daily fare.

It is time to face reality. Some technology is useful, but human expertise and judgment remain essential. Perhaps that will be handled in annual training, possibly on a cruise ship with colleagues? A vendor conference offering continuing education credits might be a more workable solution than smart software with built in workflow.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2022


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta