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The Impact of Automation on Legal Research


"Armies of Expensive Lawyers Replaced by Cheaper Software," an article by John Markoff published in The New York Times, discussed the use of "e-discovery" (ediscovery) software which uses artificial intelligence to analyze millions of electronic documents from the linguistic, conceptual and sociological standpoint in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of the hundreds of lawyers previously required to do the task.

"These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress.  

"David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being 'hollowed out.' New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.  

" 'There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,' Professor Autor said. 'Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.'

"Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation. 

“ 'The economic impact will be huge,' said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 'We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.'

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