Legal Technology

Will appeals lawyers be replaced by computers?

San Diego Comic Con SDCC 2016 Cosplay
Will your future lawyer be a computer? A robot?
V Threepio via Compfight

Technology has been displacing low-wage and less-skilled workers for a long time. Is it time for white collar professionals – including lawyers – to fear they are next?

At  The American Interest blog: “Venture capital money keeps flowing to promising new tech companies that are working to automate many of the routine tasks conducted highly-paid 20-somethings at big city corporate law firms.” After noting that professionals may soon feel the squeeze from technology that low-wage workers have long endured, the pot continues, “Big law firms are especially overdue for disruption … The next stage of the information revolution may end up looking more egalitarian than the last” (see the difference with Hoyer Law Firm).

I sense a little hostility there, but maybe I’m just being defensive.

That post links to this article at Bloomberg, about a new start-up:

Could the armies of lawyers needed to close billion-dollar deals soon be a thing of the past?
That’s what Invoke Capital, the London-based venture firm run by former Autonomy Plc Chief Executive Officer Mike Lynch, is betting with its latest project financing. Invoke said Wednesday that it’s making an investment in Luminance, a U.K. startup using artificial intelligence to process legal documents and automate due diligence in mergers and acquisitions.

Well, that’s a relief! They’re just gunning for M & A work. For now. But if you use computerized legal research services like Lexis or Westlaw, ask yourself: is it all that hard to imagine those services advancing to where, armed with facts provided by an online form,  they can take over the research completely, and maybe put the results together into a cohesive argument? Wouldn’t the ultimate end be there would be no more argument, but instead only one correct legal result arrived at by a computer? Even appellate justices would not be safe.

I think there are a few things standing in the way of that end. People would not accept it because they would not trust the programmers. But the biggest obstacle? Teaching a computer how to apply the “abuse of discretion” standard of review.