When five television studios became entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS, the cost was immense. As part of the obscure task of “discovery” — providing documents relevant to a lawsuit — the studios examined six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million, much of it to pay for a platoon of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates.
But that was in 1978. Now, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. In January, for example, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.
Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.
“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t…”
Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants.
These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress.
RTFA for the details. The questions asked about job security, employment, acquired skills are interesting, relevant.
They don’t ask one which questions the motivation for developing the software. The greed of law firms doing the searching is what prompted the software development.
Billing for these services is something I know a wee bit about. I’ve known national-class attorneys who contracted similar work out to law firms doing this kind of work. They were staffed by searchers who were paid something similar to lawyer minimum wage for their work. Less than $20 an hour. Clients were billed $150 to $200 an hour.
Pay fees like that a few times and you run full speed to the nearest software design firm. Now that we’ve achieved the quality of data mining at least capable of performing tasks previously left to graduates from the bottom third of their law class – and took three tries to become admitted to the bar.