Your next lawyer could be a machine

Written by : Ephrat Livni, Writer, Quartz

Lawyers are the professionals everyone loves to loathe. Jokes about attorneys abound, and Shakespeare’s line from Henry VI remains a cultural favorite: ”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Soon, that dream may come true, and machines will be the ones to do it.

Academically trained attorneys are increasingly being replaced by technology to analyze evidence and assess it for relevance in investigations, lawsuits, compliance efforts, and more. Forty percent of more than 100 in-house attorneys in major American corporations told the industry publication Corporate Counsel, in a survey published on Jan. 23, that they rely on technology assisted review (TAR).

Technology assisted review (TAR) is a term that covers many different aspects of machine reading, including analytics, predictive coding, and more. Predictive coding uses patterns of human responses to “train machines to read” and decide if documents are relevant to a legal matter, ostensibly as attorneys would. So, rather than having many lawyers read a million documents, a few review a percentage of the possible evidence and predictive coding technology uses those answers to guide a computer review of the rest. This eliminates the need for all but a few lawyers to review evidence and assess it, then train machines, rather than lawyers with training eyeballing all the documents.

As the Wall Street Journal asked in 2012, “Why hire lawyers? Computers are cheaper.”

Law firms and corporate counsel now often hire electronic discovery companies who manage these sorts of computerized reviews, like Update Legal—formerly a staffing firm—and Epiq Systems. These e-discovery companies then hire attorneys on an hourly, per-project basis and provide the law firms with the software and technological expertise needed to run reviews; the human lawyers then review the documents that haven’t been eliminated.

Image: Bloomberg News/Dave Merrill/Bloomberg Visual Data

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