The Digital Future of the Oldest Information Profession

Recently, Ray Worthy Campbell (Peking University School of Transnational Law) uploaded to SSRN The Digital Future of the Oldest Information Profession, very interesting. From the essay’s introduction:

This article will look at three ways legal practice is being disrupted by the digital information revolution, and then examine how education for legal service providers might evolve to best serve society in light of those disruptions.

First, from outside legal practice have come and will come changes in how white collar work is performed that affect law practice along with other occupations. For example, the digitization of documents and the development of digitally monitored business process management both arose outside of law practice, but have combined to change how documents get reviewed and processed in major litigation and corporate deals. Digital documents are easy to ship worldwide and susceptible to machine review, and technology enables higher levels of planning and performance tracking than were possible in the era of legal pads. While not limited to law practice, such exogenous business process changes have had and will continue to have a significant impact on how traditional legal businesses operate.

Second, digital products and processes will arise or be modified specifically to solve legal problems without resort to traditional legal practice or analysis. An example of this type of innovation would be LexMachina or IBM’s legal application for its Watson product, ‘Ross’, which apply Big Data techniques to legal issues. Other examples would be rule-based document assembly systems, which assess client needs and deliver appropriate legal documents. Some of these digitized systems will replace lawyers as software-only solutions, while others will assist lawyers. Still others – and perhaps the most economically significant, if regulation allows – will enable non-lawyers to serve as the interface between client needs and digitized expert knowledge, delivering an acceptable level of problem solving without recourse to traditionally trained lawyers.

Third, and not least important, will be changes in the law itself to adapt to a digital environment – that is, the ways in which legal rules and processes will need to evolve to function effectively and justly in a digital world. Many of the new digital technologies rely on massive data sets, and the justice system does not – and perhaps should not – create data in the same way Internet sites or retail supply chains do. Just as businesses and government bureaucracies have had to adjust workflows and information capture to take advantage of digital possibilities, pressure will be brought on legal systems to restructure in order to be digital friendly. As rules become embedded in software code, perhaps even removing the option for choice, legal thinkers will have to address how such embedded directives fit into a system of rules formerly captured only in text.

— Joe

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