On March 5th, the New York Times published an article entitled “Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software” which discussed the “new e-discovery software that can analyze millions of documents in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost consumed by human lawyers, even deducing patterns of behaviour”. It discussed the explosion of electronically stored information, the technology used to analyze that data and how all this has disrupted the legal job market.
The article provided a clear and concise overview of the new systems available to assist legal teams. However, the conclusion that these technologies will replace “expensive lawyers” misses the mark. All of the technologies mentioned in the article require a combination of machine and human interaction in order to operate. Humans have to “teach” the computer to identify relevant information. As with any educational process, the more highly skilled the teacher, the better the lesson will be. What the technologies will replace are lawyers working at very basic levels without a strong understanding of the case.
Although the new technologies will force lawyers to learn new ways to approach document discovery, the technologies are just one cog in the legal machine. Lawyers still need to understand the content of the documents to build their case. The new systems will help lawyers to zero in on the documents containing the relevant content.
No matter how sophisticated a computer system gets, it can’t make subjective evaluations. The legal process is not black and white – it’s ultimately based on judgement and inference. As a result, it will always require highly skilled talent.