Skip to main content »

So a Lawyer Walks into CES


Sounds like the start of a joke, right? It’s not. Here are my tales from CES.

“Unsuspected by this dark land, I had the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very nose.” Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

You may remember Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. It’s about a 20th century engineer who gets hit on the head and wakes up in medieval England, where he astounds and astonishes King Arthur and his Court with technical 20th century knowledge – until the Church calls him a witch.

That’s what it felt like for me at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – only I was the peasants in the field. And everyone else was the time traveler with a head injury.

The Show’s slogan, Whoa! , is a bit of understatement (to put it mildly) and, like most non-techie lawyers, what I hear and see borders on magic.

I came to CES with one goal in mind: to represent lawyers and the legal field to the creators of next-gen tech. Why? Well, because lawyers are consumers of electronic devices too. There is virtually no area of legal practice not touched (or let us be honest, radically changed) by new and evolving technology.

It has fundamentally changed how people live and work. Moreover, our expectations about the world we live in – from business to relationships to ethics to rule of law – has been changed. And everyone is a consumer of tech – clients, jurors, judges, consultants, expert witnesses – are all tech consumers. And if we want to be a part of the process, we’d better know the technological solution.

But with the good – showboating in front of King Arthur, let’s say – comes the bad. Technology has created new issues, new legal questions, and novel claims. It has asked us to answer hard ethical questions – some of which we are still debating.

Much like the time traveler, technology also disrupts standard business. What was the world like before we had a camera on your phone? Or the cab industry before Uber? So knowing where technology is going may help me adapt my business model and perhaps stave of disaster.

So what did I learn?

On the first day I attended a talk entitled “2017 Tech Trends to Watch” by the Consumer Technology Association’s Chief Economist, Shawn DuBravac. He outlined five key trends in technology – and I think every one of them could revolutionize the practice of law. Here they are:

  • Voice Recognition

The word error rate with voice recognition systems has declined to virtually 0 today. Voice will be the next computer interface. What could that mean for lawyers? Instant transcripts. Voice records of key meetings and negotiations. Disruption of Court reporting services. Use of voice to find selected portions of transcripts. The disruption of administrative staff in law offices. Once you cross the accuracy bridge, everything about how we interact with computers will change.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI facilitates automation. Automation drives costs down. AI will change legal research and how we practice law but it was also change our client’s cost expectations.

  • Connectivity (and Data Mining)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the very concept of network and networking. Diverse IoT objects can now connect with one another as a system. Smart homes and appliance automation will inevitably lead to “smart” law offices and the automation of office systems. Adaptive automation will allow the blending of data from diverse objects, which systems can then use for aggregated learning. What will this blending and aggregation mean for personal health care and patients responsibility? What will collection of manufacturing data mean for workers comp? Industrial exposure claims? What will the collection of all this data and the automated learning capabilities of systems do to litigation and claims counts? Constant monitoring and learning will no doubt avoid workplace accidents and unfortunate industrial exposures. And the predictive maintenance that IoT devices enable will reduce malfunctions and unfortunate consequences. What will it do to the insurance industry and the cadres of lawyers it supports? How will all this data transform evidence and discovery?

  • Transportation Transformation

We have all heard of the self-driving car and its relative the semi-autonomous vehicle. A few years ago, this was science fiction — now it's on our doorstep. But what will it do to the automobile economy and the scores of lawyers that depend on it? If accidents decline by 70%, we are facing enormous legal and insurance disruption. What new legal issues will this transformation create?

  • Virtual and augmented reality

DuBravac thinks this will move us from the time shift that video provides to a place shift that virtual reality (VR) provides. In other words, as much as video allowed us to see things in real time, VR will allow us to operate independent of place. What does that mean for the trial lawyer? How will it alter their story telling process? What evidentiary issues will be raised? How might it affect negotiations? And this is not to mention the expectations that the Whoa factor of VR and AR creates that we as lawyers need to sensitive to.

So, why did I attend? Maybe the better question is why other lawyers aren't. Why as a business do so many of us ignore technology and the future? Technology is not just something that we use and get entertained by, it affects how we work, how we live and communicate. We as lawyers have a duty to understand this impact and navigate both ourselves and our clients through it. And given the role many of us have with public policy, its part of our public responsibility as well.

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 Association Law Technology Resource Center and an Editor of Law Practice Today Webzine.You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Share this article