Computers do not practice law, nor will they be able to at any point in the future. Headline’s such as The Lawyer’s “Firms warned technological change is eating your lunch” are just drivel – pure clickbait to hang a weak article from. This sort of commentary has been around since the 1980’s when mainframe computers became viable to purchase for the larger law firms.
In 1987 Richard Susskind’s “Expert Systems in Law” sought to predict software that was better than a human lawyer and he defined such software in the following manner “Expert systems are computer systems that engage in legal reasoning by solving legal problems beyond the general legal practitioners' range of knowledge or expertise.” 30 years later and such systems do not exist. Computers can do routine tasks faster than humans but that was true and not news to anyone in 1987. Every few years Mr Susskind has produced a new book with a modest variation on his original theme: a quick run through shows titles including 2 X “Future of”; 1 X “Transforming” 1 X “Tomorrows” and even an “End of”; all rather dramatic titles, most preceding the existence of the term “Clickbait” but with the same intended effect.
What has, in reality, changed over the 30 years in which the demise of the profession has been predicted is an absolutely enormous increase in the size of the legal profession. This might give an informed observer a sense of the validity of today’s predictions of doom.
Along with the explosion in the size of the profession there has been an even greater explosion in the regulatory and statutory environment in which business is being conducted and the ability of businesses of all sizes to transact internationally. Commerce is a lot more complex than it used to be – a deal that was once done with a handshake now occupies reams of pages of contractual provisions that no one will read but which must exist because of the endless drive for accountability and the unlimited desire to avoid being accountable.
The vast volume of documentation which accompanies a straightforward transaction means that the amount of data that needs to be considered and assessed in a transaction or dispute is immense: in the 1980’s no transaction or dispute would ever have involved a million pages of information – today this is routine and civil, criminal and commercial matters involving tens of millions of pages of information are not at all unusual. This is the place of the computer – it would take a large number of human lifetimes to read ten million pages of information. Computers are both the partial cause and substantial cure to the excess of information now available to us. None of this lessens the need for sharp, experienced human lawyers to advise, contextualise the factual matrix within the framework of the law and within the nature of their client’s instructions and plot a course which provides the best prospect of a positive outcome.
Moore’s law, conceived in the 1970’s continues to accurately predict the doubling of processing power every two years; if computing power was, in any way connected to or causative of the “End of Lawyers” it would have done so by now!