by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
automation, lawyers

First Thing We Do Is Automate Away All The Lawyers...

from the paraphrasing-shakespeare dept

Since we write about an awful lot of lawsuits and public policy issues around here, we often can be pretty harsh on lawyers (admittedly, we often fall short of appreciating the good lawyers who protect everyone from the worst abuses). But, one thing that has seemed pretty clear is that, by opening up more legal issues, the pace of technology innovation has increased the demand for more lawyers. But will that always be the case? Apparently, some believe that a business ripe for disintermediation, thanks to the internet, will be the legal profession. The idea is that a lot of basic (high margin) legal work can now be automated. Part of this is probably true. The amount that businesses have to pay for fairly routine processes can be quite ridiculous at times. However, I doubt that the legal profession is really facing a shift as major as those facing, say, the entertainment industry. It may cut out some margins on the low end of stuff usually handled by paralegals or new associates, but it seems likely that there will be plenty of room for lawyers. Sometimes, in fact, it seems like our elected representatives are really mostly focused on a program of "full employment for lawyers," by passing laws that only require more lawyers.

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  1. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 8 Dec 2008 @ 10:37am

    They're doing it already

    E.g., DMCA takedown notices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    The Mad (Patent) Prosecutor, 8 Dec 2008 @ 10:47am

    Automating legal work would be a big mistake. Generally, you only know bad legal work when it is too late to correct the situation. I went to law school for four years - I would never handle my own divorce, adoption, etc. Why is that - because the potential liability is immense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, 8 Dec 2008 @ 10:50am

    From the more-than-meets-the-eye department...

    One of the things I failed to appreciate as an outsider to the legal profession is how much the profession is affected by litigation. Congress passes laws, but the interpretation of those laws is affected by litigation. Recent examples include Bilski, KSR, and Leapfrog v. Fisher-Price. We know that these litigations will affect how the USPTO views patent applications and how the courts will treat issued patents, but it may take years to understand the full effect. In the meantime, attorneys (and patent agents) have to consider options in the best interests of their clients (a federal requirement, actually), which can be hard to quantify in a computer program.

    On the other hand, people have acted pro se for a long time. In circumstances where an individual is well educated or the issues are relatively straight forward, acting pro se may work. On the other hand, there is an old saying that an attorney who represents himself (or herself) has a fool for a client...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    The Mad (Patent) Prosecutor, 8 Dec 2008 @ 10:53am

    To clarify, by "potential liability" I mean the chance for error, based on misunderstanding or mistake, may be extremely high in any area in which I do not practice daily. I practice patent law. Similarly, I would have any other legal work done by someone extremely knowledgable in that particular area.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:10am


    Why do you think that automation is automatically bad?

    Feel free to go back to manpower for all your computing, travel, manufacturing, farming and cooking needs, if you think it is so bad.

    Paying some lawyer to do law entirely manually is ludicrously expensive - paying many many times less for automation-assisted law services will be the choice of the great majority as soon as it is available and fairly good quality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:21am


    The first rule to automate something is to find a subject matter expert, have him tell you exactly how the system works, model his system for a given task and finally end up with a system that takes input (guy who wants divorce) and provides output. (a divorce)

    The problem is, automating a lawyer is to big of a task, and different lawyers do things differently, have special tricks, know some judges and can do back room deals to make more time in court. (and charge more money)

    Yes, a specific task a lawyer does could be automated but it would be vary location specific. The challenge would be to have many many tasks automated, then put together to make a lawyer bot who still cant show up in court for you, and your still going to file as you would when you don't have one (see the case of the clerk who killed himself and left a note saying all appeals from people with out lawyers were auto trashed) and you know your odds are stacked against you because the system keeps it self going via things you cant program into a computer.

    Im not saying its impossable, im just saying lawyers dont want to make it possable so thay pass laws written so strange that noone can read them.

    If anything we need a HTML system for law, where a render program looks at the law and desplays it for normal people, then shows all cases that use this law the same way. Right now people go to 4+ years of law school to learn to do this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:22am

    We need more automation

    Creation of music and movies should be automated. Even writing articles on techdirt should be automated (commenting is already automated!).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Ima Fish, 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:29am

    We use lawyers for three reasons. First, the law requires it, second, it's easier, and/or third, it's more advantageous.

    The first example could be a corporation defending a lawsuit. Under the laws of my state, for example, a corporation must be represented by a lawyer.

    The second example could be hiring an attorney to handle your divorce rather than doing it yourself. You could file your own divorce. But it might be too complicated to fill out all the forms. Thus, if you have the money, you'll pay someone to do it.

    And the third example could be if the divorce is contested, it's to your advantage in an adversarial system to get as much as possible, or to protect giving as much as possible, by hiring an attorney.

    We could get rid of the laws requiring attorneys, but that would still leave the last two. What CEO is going to go through the hassle of defending a lawsuit when he could simply hire an attorney?

    We could get rid of the second one by making the legal process as simple as possible. But that doesn't really work either. For example, it's actually quite easy to get a divorce in the US when the parties agree on everything. But that rarely happens, because it's rare for both parties to agree on everything. So most divorces are still accomplished with attorneys because it's an adversarial system and both sides want to get or not give as much as possible.

    That leaves the last one. And it simply makes sense when your money, property, or liberty is on the line not to participate in an adversarial system in a half-assed manner.

    Of course it's possible to get rid of our adversarial system. Cultures such as China do not have the same view of individual rights so personal lawsuits are rare. And even when they are filed, they are solved via a process more similar to arbitration than our adversarial system. But I highly doubt if our culture could ever access that type of system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:51am

    Lawyer becomes politician

    Sometimes, in fact, it seems like our elected representatives are really mostly focused on a program of "full employment for lawyers," by passing laws that only require more lawyers.

    That's because half our legislators started out as lawyers. You expect them to hurt their buddies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Noah Callaway, 8 Dec 2008 @ 12:10pm


    Anyone suggesting we could replace a lawyer with a program is, I think, looking too far into the future. I think a lot of the routine documents lawyers produce may become more automated (think Legalzoom, a prime example of the kind of automation that's possible).

    We'll have living breathing lawyers for a long time to come for more complex legal documents, legal advice, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2008 @ 12:11pm

    Why do we need lawyers?

    I always wondered about the need for lawyers. I would say the current legal system is more complicated than it should be and that has created demand for lawyers. If the laws are simplified or presented as such, should help common people make their own argument.

    I don't get argument part also. If all the evidence is presented as facts and the jury/judge are capable of extracting truth from these facts, the we wouldn't need "extra-ordinarily talented" lawyers.

    I am sick of the current legal system where we have to depend on these super-expensive lawyers and where "quality" of hired lawyers has more impact than the truth itself.

    A question: if I break a law without realizing I am breaking one should I still be punished?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, 8 Dec 2008 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Automation

    Link or it didn't happen.


    I'd like to read about that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Ott Litigator, 8 Dec 2008 @ 12:46pm

    I think some may be missing the point. Automation wouldn't replace Lawyers with Robots, but many mundane tasks could be done electronically, via standardized forms instead of having attorneys handle them. Simple uncontested transactions, tax filings, deed changes etc.. Many of those issues are already being handled via legal websites with forms and canned advice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Hawk, 8 Dec 2008 @ 1:52pm


    Some things can be automated; others cannot. Simple document preparation can be automated. See But more complex legal matters require thinking; you can't automate a process that requires thinking unless you come up with an amazing artificial intelligence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Willton, 9 Dec 2008 @ 6:30am

    Re: Why do we need lawyers?

    A question: if I break a law without realizing I am breaking one should I still be punished?

    An easy one: yes. As is often said, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Otherwise you'd find people pleading ignorance of the law all the time, and if they can escape liability because of their ignorance, then the law would become unenforceable. Escaping liability because of ignorance of the law would make a system of laws meaningless. That's why ignorance of the law cannot excuse liability.

    Besides, why would we want a system that rewards ignorance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 9 Dec 2008 @ 10:11am

    Automating away all the lawyers...

    Well, there's one critical problem with automating
    away all the lawyers. Lawyers typically deal with
    belligerent parties and beauracrats. Neither one of
    these classes of people have any interest in making
    the system any simpler. The Law is very much
    organically grown it is the process of centuries of
    evolution and caselaw. Individual laws may themselves
    be the subject of decades of evolution that make them
    quite byzantine.

    Working out such a suitable expert system would be no
    simple task and there are areas subject to interpretation.
    Also, you might have a particular beaurocrat or belligerent
    pushing an alternate interpretation.

    Conflict is bound to happen and you will likely need
    an expert with a bludgeon to sort things out.

    "being your own lawyer" can be very disasterous. A
    "bug" in your expert system could generate VERY DIRE
    unintended consequences.

    Although this is also true of a shoddy lawyer too.

    Then there's the problem of software quality in
    general. "Microsoft Layer"? I think not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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