When Predictive Coding was first introduced, newspapers such as the New York Times and the Globe and Mail heralded the end of articling students and junior associates manually reviewing millions of documents in litigation discoveries. While lawyer review is still a very necessary part of the discovery process, electronic culling can certainly make document review more efficient by reducing volume.
Determining if a document contains relevant information after a lawyer has trained the computer is one thing, but will the ability to develop a legal argument always be the purview of legally trained human beings? Maybe not!
Last month, as reported in American Lawyer magazine, IBM demonstrated the newest incarnation of their famous Watson computer (the one that won on Jeopardy three years ago). This version of the machine, dubbed the Watson Debater, was able to synthesize information to develop arguments on different sides of an issue. The article quotes Robert Weber, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of IBM, who said that although he didn’t think Watson could replace the judgment of a senior law firm partner, it could certainly handle tasks such as summarizing the law, suggesting arguments and precedents, or quickly reviewing stacks of contracts, to look for differences in indemnification clauses, for example.
As emerging technologies move into the mainstream, fewer lawyers are likely to be needed to meet existing clients’ needs. However, before you start looking for a new career, consider this: as costs fall due to technological advances, small businesses and private individuals will increasingly be able to afford legal services, which means that some lawyers will serve a larger client base.
Embrace technology – it’s the way of the future.