'Lawyerbots' Offer Attorneys Faster, Cheaper Assistants

Reading through long documents and analyzing lists of emails are just some of the not-so-enjoyable tasks lawyers deal with on the daily. But recent U.S. court-approved technology may lessen the more mundane and timely aspects of attorneys' jobs and see them team up with "lawyerbots."

As NewScientist reports, the new predictive coding software could "sift through millions of documents and spit out only those the lawyer might need, saving them time and -- crucially -- their clients' money."

Thomas Gricks, an attorney with the Schnader law firm, told NewScientist that the 2 million emails his team needed to review for a case would require 20,000 hours and cost $2 million if searched by human lawyers. He estimated that specialized software programs could perform the same task in two weeks for just 1 percent of the cost. Despite objections from the plaintiffs' legal team, a U.S. judge approved the use of the technology.

But how will clients feel about a computer doing some of the dirty work, instead of a lawyer or paralegal manually digging through documents? Some could be concerned that a computer is more apt to make an error, or overlook crucial information.

In a recent study in the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, lawyer labor was tested against lawyerbots with predictive coding software. Researchers found "evidence that such technology-assisted processes, while indeed more efficient, can also yield results superior to those of exhaustive manual review." In basic terms, the computers had the humans licked.

Still, with computers taking over tasks formerly done by humans, particular jobs will inevitably be lost. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, a company that uses "pattern-matching technology" to organize digtial information for clients, told The New York Times he believes the legal sector "will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future."

Some lawyers are trying to learn how to ride the digital wave. Earlier this year, The Huffington Post reported on a "Legal Hackathon" in New York aimed at bringing lawyers and law students together to think more like hackers.

Jonathan Askin, the director of Brooklyn Law School’s Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic (BLIP) and one of the organizers of the hackathon, said, “When I look around at my peers, I see 40-year-old lawyers who are still communicating via snail mail and fax machines and telephones and appearing in physical space for negotiations." He said he hopes to better merge the legal sector and technology to serve both lawyers and their clients more efficiently.

How do you feel about a lawyerbot digging through documents? Do you think this technology will affect the legal industry in a positive or negative way? Sound off in the comments section or tweet us at @HuffPostTech.