Image [cc] estudioquimbya

Last weeks’s post from Toby on “The First Time I Saw a Computer Practice Law” jogged my mind of my recent trip to Georgetown Law School and talking to Roger Skalbeck about assigning his class called “Technology, Innovation and Law Practice.” The major assignment for the class was to create an application that could be used in the practice of law. At the end of the course, there was a competition called “The Iron Tech Lawyer” where the students displayed their creations to a panel of judges and explained how the technology worked to assist (or replace) the lawyer in making practical decisions in the practice of law.

I’ve embedded the video of the Nightly Business Report’s coverage of the competition, and as you watch it, you might notice a couple of the same things that I did:

  1. The technology is available now to replace some of the functions that we have thought only lawyers could do properly.
  2. Watch the excitement on the faces of the students. They are not thinking of technology of killing off the practice of law, but rather enhancing it and making it available to the masses.
  3. The law professor did notice that the technology may lead to a reduction in overall work for lawyers, but that the trade off is that lawyers can make up for this by servicing the legal needs of those that might not have been able to get access before.
Whenever someone talks about tech replacing lawyers, the initial reaction of the establishment, especially bar associations, is to circle the wagons and fight against it. Watching how a few law students could come up with practical applications for the practice of law for a classroom project should put everyone on notice that this is the wave of the future, and fight it though you might, it will eventually become a reality. Better to start facing it now and begin understanding ways of using it to supplement the practice of law, or one day the wave of new technology will simply drown those that think they can fight to keep it from changing the way they practice law.

  • Very interesting. I'm in the business of providing automation tools for software engineering, and I sometimes see similar reactions by the establishment. My own view is that a lot of progress stems from replacing lower-level functions with automation, pushing the field to a higher level of innovation or (in the case of law) service. This follows the pattern we saw in the industrial revolution; why would you hire 100 ditch diggers when you can rent a backhoe and get the job done faster, cheaper, with higher quality, and lower risk of project slippage? We now have a knowledge and information processing revolution.

    I'm actually applying what we do to automate forensic code analysis in my expert witness work, so watch out! Automation is on its way.

  • 1. Agree that as a general rule it's a really bad idea for humans to compete head-to-head against comparable tech. LegalZoom-like software should (though I have no experience with LZ itself) be able to create higher quality contracts than most human lawyers in far less time for far less money. Predictive coding software can do more accurate litigation document review than humans in way less time. Our (still in beta testing) due diligence contract review software accurately summarizes contracts in seconds per page, where it takes a human minutes per page for similar quality. Happily, as MIT's Eric Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee point out in "Winning the Race With Ever-Smarter Machines", human + computer combinations can be much more powerful than each alone. For more on this, see (

    2. I can say from experience (as a former Biglaw lawyer now working on a lawyer automation project) that automating law is a (mostly) fun job. It's very rewarding to build something that will save people from having to repeat a task over and over again. And great that students are doing this. That said, many more complex legal problems require lawyers who have practiced for some time to properly automate. For more on students programming law, see Marc Lauritsen's thoughtful talk at Ignite Law 2011 ( and our blog post going into some detail on the subject (

  • Technology, as it has been for a long time, is not necessarily about removing workers, but rather about making workers more efficient as the example here would indicate for the law profession.

  • I don't believe replacing lawyers is necessary nor do I believe it will happen with today's technology. Computers are not able to invoke the ethos that lawyers do so well when providing litigation. However, I do believe that simplifying their tasks through the use technology can be beneficial to everyone; they might charge lower rates.