Posted by: Joe Eds | March 7, 2011

So Long Lawyers

A big meme in the manufacturing world in the last 20-30 years is that machines and computers can better put together products and appliances than hundreds of union workers. The demand for these jobs, and the workers with that skill set, has painfully shrunk. The legal world, might be heading toward that direction too.

This NY Times article about electronic software designed to sort through documents used for massive litigation cases I find quite fascinating. Here are some key passages:

“E-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. In January, for example, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000 (typically these cost millions of dollars).

The programs can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.

“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.

For the record, I have a younger sister in law school, a mother who is practiced law for over 30 years and a father who has sat behind the bench as a district judge for nearly 20 years. I take the legal profession and its merit in society very seriously. A computer cannot stand in front of a jury and give a summation that will argue to his client’ case. But this story is a warning sign to higher-education jobs like attorneys or tax accountants or architects – your jobs are replaceable too.

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