Data analytics enables companies and organizations to easily examine large amounts of information to find patterns and correlations previously inaccessible. While businesses in a wide range of industries are using data analytics to determine how to improve products, cut costs, and increase efficiency, up until recently, those in the legal field have been largely underutilizing the technology. One reason is that the legal profession, rooted in tradition and precedent, has been historically resistant to change. But as a new generation of attorneys, who grew up with technology, enters the workforce, the profession has become much more receptive to new technologies. Now the legal profession finds itself on the cusp of a technological revolution that has the potential to reshape the entire industry.
The practice of law produces an exorbitant amount of data. Every new case adds numerous briefs, memos, pleadings, and legal records to an already enormous collection of legal data. A sizeable proportion of a lawyer’s time, and thereby a client’s money, is spent sifting through that data. Presently, the main legal research tools, LexisNexis and Westlaw, function primarily as search engines, simply matching keywords to produce thousands of results (although both systems are rapidly developing more sophisticated analytical capabilities). Typically, it is the job of junior attorneys and paralegals to sift through the vast amount of legal information and evaluate the findings. Data analytics is capable of streamlining the process by more accurately matching relevant cases, approaches, and judgments, allowing lawyers to quickly decipher what’s important and understand how to use the material effectively, thereby reducing the time it takes to complete research. For clients, less time spent on research means fewer billable hours and reduced costs, making litigation more affordable and theoretically improving access to the justice system.
Analytics can also help lawyers and judges make better-informed decisions. Lawyers can draw important insights and spot patterns and connections from voluminous legal precedents that would have otherwise been missed by traditional means of case research. In addition, lawyers can use analytics to find patterns in a particular judge’s decisions to help attorneys understand how he or she tends to rule on a particular motion or argument. These insights can help firms develop better case strategies and prevent them from pursuing tactics that have a low chance of succeeding, saving everyone time and money. At the same time, analytics will put judges under increased pressure to be consistent and impartial in their rulings. Luckily, tools such as MLex, Ravel Law, and Lex Machina provide access to accurate up-to-the-minute data on how the law is evolving in key areas like competition law, allowing judges to make better-informed decisions. Better-supported judicial rulings are more likely to be correct, thereby reducing the need for time-consuming and costly appeals and retrials.
Advancements in text-mining and data analytics will enable computers to perform many of the tasks performed by paralegals and entry-level attorneys. Companies, such as Lawgeex, Casetext, and Logikcull, are rapidly developing programs that use data analytics to provide key legal services. At the moment, these tools are still being refined and are not widely used, but soon these types of tools will likely become an integral part of the legal practice. For example, the law firm Baker & Hostetler recently hired “Ross,” an artificial intelligence software package built on IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform that is designed to perform the work of legal researchers to support attorneys. Ross can read and understand questions, read through the entire body of law, and return a cited answer and topical readings from legislation, case law, and secondary sources. And, much like how Watson is used by healthcare professionals to stay up to date on the massive amounts of new medical literature constantly published by researchers, Ross can automatically analyze and flag new court decisions relevant to an attorney’s case. Ross can do the job of paralegals and lower-level attorneys, but arguably more thoroughly, efficiently, and at a lower cost.
As the law firms becomes more dependent on these tools, the skills needed to succeed in the legal field will change. In the future, there will be less need for workers with basic legal research and analytical skills and increased need for legal experts with data literacy. To keep pace with these changes, law schools and paralegal certificate programs should begin to introduce data science concepts into the current curriculum. In a profession that has failed to fully recover from the economic downturn in 2008, data science programs could help law school become more competitive and give their graduates an edge in a difficult job market.
In addition, those in the legal field need to become champions for open legislative and judicial data. Bills such as H.R. 4006, the Statutes at Large Modernization Act introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA-7) which would make the U.S. Statutes at Large available online to the public at no cost are important steps in this direction. Similarly, efforts to provide open access to public records in the federal court system are necessary steps towards enabling those in the legal profession to make use of analytical tools. Without access to authoritative, timely, and complete machine-readable data about the law, the potential benefits of many of these advanced analytical tools will be limited.
The legal profession is poised for a data revolution. Big data offers opportunities to not only cut costs and increase efficiency for law firms, but also to increase accessibility to the judicial system for everyone. Though law firms and analytics companies are increasingly recognizing the potential of data, achieving these benefits will require some changes. Those in the legal profession should be encouraging policymakers to provide open access to legislative and judicial data and educators to train the next generation of lawyers with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a data-driven world.