The development of the digital associate

When listening to the futurist Michael Rogers at Legal Tech in New York, he was talking about the more efficient use of computers and mentioned the computer Watson who recently was on "Jeopardy" in the US. The news about Watson has now been around for a while and there have been a lot of interesting blog posts and articles about this. In New York Times there was an article about how the automation and specifically e-discovery could have a great impact on legal work. By use of a sophisticated search engine there was one example of a law firm that analyzed and sorted 570,000 documents in just two days when preparing a court case. The shift from use of manpower to the use of e-discovery could reduce the number of lawyer from 500 to 1 for these types of tasks. Besides that, "People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don't."  Just think of the possibilities and the impact this could have on the legal profession. Imagine having a "digital associate" doing the legal research, gathering all the information and facts relevant in a legal matter. Maybe this "digital associate" also could build legal arguments and support the lawyer in a negotiation. This idea was launched by IBM General Counsel Robert Weber in the National Law Journal.

What impact will this have on the legal profession and on the legal industry? Is it possible for lawyers still to argue about only doing high-level work which cannot be done more efficient by use of IT? Jordan Furlong from Edge International does not believe in a future of the traditional law firm model "that collects and leverages dozens of junior lawyers to carry out any task that (a) is tangentially legal and (b) can be billed to the client will, very shortly, not be fit for service."

What law firms will take the lead in this development? There is one interesting analysis of this done by Ernie the Attorney: "Large law firms have no advantage whatsoever when it comes to technology; if anything technology is a hidden trap. Lawyers who believe that they don't need to know much about technology in order to make good decisions are dangerous to their clients." Do you agree?



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