New York Times – EDiscovery and Beyond

New York Times article on E-Discovery Software documents how software and technology are competing with lawyers for for large-scale litigation due diligence work.

Traditionally, armies of young lawyers spent hundreds, even thousands, of hours reviewing boxes of documents in large scale litigation. The article cites a dispute in which “a platoon of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates” examining “six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million. . . . “

Increasingly e-discovery software is offering clients a competitive alternative to lengthy, expensive due diligence. E-discovery software in a recent case helped a company analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100K. Similar technology has also been successfully applied to settlement negotiations.

The article discusses only litigation and settlement but it’s not a stretch to see application of this technology in any other document-heavy practice area such as due diligence in a merger or acquisition, or prior art searches in patent prosecution, just to name a two. In addition are the areas of family law and commercial transactions that were mentioned inA Whole New Mind (see the immediately prior post).

While most lawyers would rather make the transition to more “whole-minded” lawyering in pursuit of a carrot and not as a result of prodding from a sharp “stick,” the following statements, also from the article, underscore the new reality in which an unrelenting focus upon left-brain skills may not provide the steady income that it once did:

Generally,“legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future . . . .”

“From a legal staffing viewpoint,” increasing use of e-discovery software “means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out . . . .”

One executive at an e-discovery firm states, e-discovery software is “likely to lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500” and with further innovation not far down the road, cutting that “head count by another 50 percent.”  

There’s been extensive commentary on this article but I thought I’d toss out my take: In short, I say, “Let it come.” Previous posts have laid out my position that changes in the legal profession are long overdue. While the bigger picture implications of this software remain to be seen, I see absolutely no downside if lawyers are forced to give up those functions in which they, like mindless computer programs, analyze mountains of endless information. Not only can the professions’ minds be put to better use by holistically and creatively tackling problems, but the people to whom those minds are attached are likely to be happier as human beings when they actually stop trying to do something that a computer can do better anyway.

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