Lawyerbots Given the Green Light in the US

Illustration for article titled Lawyerbots Given the Green Light in the US

Being a lawyer isn't perhaps as much fun as it seems in the movies, in reality involving weeks of reading incredibly boring documents. Which is why many of them are probably now celebrating, as a recent court ruling suggests that computers can take over part of their job for them.

New Scientist reports that a US judge has approved the use of "predictive coding"—software which can sift through millions of documents and spit out only those the lawyer might need—for use in a case. It's a landmark victory, and looks set to to save massive amounts of both time and money.

Thomas Gricks, the lawyer who was pushing for the use of predictive coding, wanted to use the software to sift through 2 million email in a case defending aircraft-hangar operator Landow Aviation against private-jet owners seeking compensation after a roof collapse in 2010. He estimated that the email would take 20,000 person hours to sift though, in the process costing $2 million. Now, the software will provide just a couple of thousand relevant documents, cutting the time investment to two weeks, and slashing the cost by 98 percent.


Anyone concerned about the accuracy of the software can rest assured, too. In a recent study, pitting lawyers against the software over the course of 800,000 Enron emails, the software came out on top. In fact, it even manged to spot relevant details that the humans didn't. Now that is progress. [New Scientist and Richmond Journal of Law and Technology]

Image by Shutterstock/Rafa Irusta

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While one's initial knee-jerk reaction to this news may be repulsion, this really is a good thing. Such software will be more diligent, many magnitudes cheaper, and possibly even less corruptible than humans doing the same task.

This kind of streamlining is desperately needed in the modern legal system. The quantity of time and money that large, convoluted lawsuits are absorbing these days is astronomical. ANYTHING that can be done to reduce these factors without bringing harm to due process should be strongly encouraged.