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The future is now

by Joe Kaczrowski | May 15, 2015

People are generally aware of tools like mndocs intended to increase a lawyer's efficiency and make his or her day-to-day tasks simpler or easier, but there is another class of technology out there that seeks to not only replace the routine clerical work in an attorney's practice but also some of the analytical reasoning that to-date has generally been considered to be a fundamentally human part of the process.

Hollywood has long warned us that our technology will be the downfall of mankind, from movies like the Terminator and Matrix series to television shows like Revolution.

An earlier post discussed the keynote speaker at this year's ABA TECHSHOW, Nick Carr, whose writings include Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr's writing also has explored the effect of automation on humans and specifically lawyers.  The thought is that automation removes the routine low-level tasks from high-value assets (like an attorney) thus freeing the asset up to concentrate on more complex and high-level tasks.  However there is also some evidence to suggest that rather than increasing efficiency automation can lead to passivity and inattentiveness.

Regardless of one thinks the effects of these new legal technologies are, there is little dispute that technology is dramatically changing the legal industry. One such innovation is Lex Machina. Lex Machina is a legal analytics provider, focusing specifically on litigation. Legal analytics combines big data with advances in computer science to solve a problem in the legal industry. Lex Machina goes a step beyond the predictive coding used in e-discovery and analyzes judges and courts to predict the outcome of motions and help lawyers make strategic decisions about their cases.

Legal analytics or informatics has been described as "moneyball for lawyers." Systems like Lex Machina can take in large amounts of data, process it, and reach conclusions and make strategic decisions. This sort of analysis and reasoning has long been thought to be one of the roles necessarily handled by humans, or lawyers specifically. While tools like Lex Machina are designed and marketed to help attorneys, technology is continually creeping into territory and tasks long thought to require human action.

Word processing programs like Microsoft Word have long offered users proofreading tools to correct spelling and grammar mistakes. Recent versions, however, also include a 'readability' check. Google "Microsoft Word readability score" for instructions on how to enable it on the version you are using. For example, in Word 2000 it's a checkbox under options; in Word 2010 it's a checkbox on the Proofing tab under options.

Your readability report will provide a score for reading ease, grade level, and an evaluation of the use of passive voice throughout. Using Flesch-Kincaid scoring, Microsoft suggests that with most documents writers should strive for a reading ease score of 60-70 and a grade level of 7-8.

 

This post has a reading ease score of 35, grade level of 13.5, and passive sentence rating of 8%.

readability statistics

Tools like WordRake give lawyers another option for proofreading briefs and forms. WordRake is a plugin for Word and Outlook that uses the built-in 'track changes' functionality to suggest alternative text that improves readability and simplifies the language.

In addition to strategic planning, e-discovery, and proofreading/editing, technology has also moved into the dispute resolution arena. An earlier practiceblawg post referenced Suffolk University Law School professor and next dean Andrew Perlman's experience with eBay's automated dispute resolution system, through which his disagreement with another user was resolved through an automated portal with no human intervention.

Similarly, there are a number of tools out there for lawyers looking for alternative or additional revenue streams, and ways for the public to get legal help at a lower cost or on a limited basis. These tools also increase the access to justice for those with limited means.

New technologies and innovations can help lawyers practice more efficiently and effectively, but with tools like Lex Machina technology has also moved into areas many attorneys may have felt were safely beyond the threat from automation. Computers have bested humans on a number of battlefields, including chess and Jeopardy!, but also arguably improved our lives in numerous ways. The legal profession is rapidly changing, due in no small part to technology. In Minnesota and other states that have adopted the revised ABA Model Rules, attorneys have a duty to keep abreast of changing technology. Document automation systems like mndocs can increase process efficiency by ninety percent, but other systems like eBay's dispute resolution portal can cut out the attorney altogether. Innovation is inevitable, or, if you prefer, resistance is futile. How attorneys and the legal profession adapt, and how quickly, remains to be seen.