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A New Way to Practice Law: A Lawyer’s Postcard from CES


So there I was, at the Consumer Electronics Show, fighting the Las Vegas maze to get from A to B (hint: it always required walking through a casino), listening to pitches, rubbing elbows with 200,000 or so non-lawyers, and musing on the future practice of law.

On one of those dizzying nights, I attended a keynote presentation by Jen-Hsun Huang, the founder, President and CEO of NVIDIA. For those that aren’t familiar with Huang and NVIDIA, it is a publically traded company in the forefront of GPU development for the gaming, entertainment, mobile computing, and automotive markets.

Huang presented several new products and concepts, including a system for turning any PC into a gaming PC through the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) systems for self-driving cars, and Spot, a small voice recognition product for the home that plugs into an electrical socket.

Without going into all the specifics of each device and system, the whole presentation got me to thinking about how cloud computing, AI, and voice recognition systems could all work together to change how we practice law.

Artificial (Legal) Intelligence

Imagine walking into your office and having your computer already turned on, your account logged in, and set up to show you the day’s first project. And imagine that you have asked for your workstation to be on from your car, via voice activation, on the way in. Who knows – maybe your smart coffee machine may have already brewed your first cup of coffee as well.

This is where it gets interesting: Now imagine that today you have a new case involving a products liability case in Illinois. You ask your computer to summarize relevant products liability law in Illinois, since that’s not a state you normally practice in. You very quickly get a summary of the relevant cases with appropriate and relevant language highlighted.

Then you ask your computer for recommendations for local counsel in the county where the case is filed. Again, you quickly get a list of recommended attorneys pulled from the cloud that both your client and your firm has worked with before. Your computer even gives you a recommendation based not on Martindale Hubbell or reputation but on the attorney’s actual past results, as well as other pertinent information.

Now, say that you accept the computer’s smart recommendation. Your computer contacts a new local counsel with the relevant case information and schedules a conference call to discuss the case. It also prepares the pro hoc vice materials you will need.

Next, you turn your attention to the Judge. Again, your computer pulls the history of the Judge’s record in products liability cases and accurately predicts what the results of any motion practice might be with her. All with data from the cloud.

Opposing counsel: no problem. Your computer gathers the information from the cloud and then tells you about your opposition, his success rate and the nature of the experience and your firm and your client has had with him.

Based on the nature of the case, you then ask your computer to pull form pleadings from a vast cloud based library and prepare a draft of the answer and the initial written discovery. Your computer also prepares a draft litigation hold and other information for your client. Of course, you review these and tweak them appropriately.

Next, you need to do a case budget. You ask your computer to prepare a draft budget based on your firm’s and clients experience with this type of case and opposing counsel. The computer gathers the information from cloud based data banks and gives you ranges and estimates that you tweak.

Finally, you ask your computer for a prediction of the result, the chances for summary judgement, and what a jury might do with this case (based on verdicts rendered before).

Time for your initial client report. Again, your computer prepares the shell and draft using the information you asked it to obtain. You review and enclose the answer, initial discovery, budget and result prediction. Once completed, your computer sends it off via email.

Now time entry. Your computer automatically enters the half hour you have spent completing these tasks.

Of course, this all hinges on the assumption that the in-house counsel of your client has not already done all this before you even get the contact.

So, by talking to your computer, accessing the cloud, and relying on accurate AI, you have done what used to take an entire morning (if not longer). Plus, you don’t need to rely on associates that you have to train and manage to do the work.

And AI provides you with a crystal ball – you no longer have to guess about the judge, local counsel, and the long-term result. Instead, AI has given you an initial cut on all this that is more accurate. All in the blink of an eye.

Also, let’s consider discovery. Your computer can do even more for you: using technology assisted review (TAR), it will review documents for production, as well as review the documents the other side produces. Your computer helps you prepare for deposition, and afterwards (based on your input), guides its way to a summary of the most important points of the deposition. Based on your voice request, it can even find relevant documents and evidence as the case progresses.

Future Law

Sound familiar? This is what many of us have traditionally used associates and paralegals to do. Personally, I think it sounds like nirvana, and we should all be rushing to develop and use this technology. Believe it or not, much of this technology is available today or soon will be.

But we aren’t. One reason may be that billing by the hour doesn’t necessarily drive us to do things that saves time. Another reason is that we make a good living by using leverage: cadres of associates doing the time consuming and relatively routine work many matters demand. Since you can’t bill your computer by the hour, much of the leverage pyramid would be reduced to rubble. And it’s our nature to approach anything new and different with skepticism.

Only now are clients and in-house legal departments beginning to demand the use of time-saving technology but more and more they will. Boutique and nontraditional law firms are quickly moving to a time saving, technology based way of doing things and are marketing and branding themselves as such. As they succeed and gain market share, the rest of us will have to take notice.

Change is hard, and for our profession, slow. But it’s also inevitable. We can’t ignore it. The successful lawyers of the future will use technology both in marketing their skills and abilities and handling their matters. This raises the question: how will future associates– who in the past had done much of the work computers will do in the future– get the experience and training they need? Perhaps that’s best left for another discussion. Stay tuned.

By: Steve Embry, Attorney at Law, Frost Brown Todd LLC

About Steve: Stephen is a member of Frost Brown Todd LLC and is a member of the Firm's class action and privacy groups. He frequently defends participants in consumer class action litigation and mass tort litigation. Stephen is a national litigator and advisor who is experienced in developing solutions to complex litigation and corporate problems. His mission is to find simple, successful, and elegant solutions to the problems posed by complex and substantial civil litigation, primarily in the mass tort and consumer class actions, and privacy and data breach arenas. Stephen is also a member of fbtTECH, the firm’s technology industry group that focuses on the future and anticipating the ways in which technology will impact the legal system and the issues facing clients. He writes frequently on the impact of technology on the practice of law and is Vice-Chair of the American Bar AssociationLaw Technology Resource Centerand an Editor ofLaw Practice Today Webzine.You can find him onLinkedInandTwitter.

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