The Future of Law (15): Law By Algorithm

Google customizes the news you see. Amazon suggests if you like this, you might like that. Your cellphone carrier, bank, and pretty much everybody else you deal with on a regular basis gives you the option to customize your own account page.

  • The new commoditized/democratized purveyors of legal products will also give this option to consumers. The days of “mylaw.com” are upon us.

Welcome to law by algorithm:  artificial Intelligence at work, serving up the customized law you need personally and for your work and business. And you don’t have to go looking for it — it will come to you automatically, based on your preference settings and past choices.

  • Law by algorithm will enable consumers to self-diagnose legal issues and access legal “remedies” for what ails them.
  • We’ll also see online diagnostic networks geared for legal professionals only — similar to those that already exist for physicians.

Think WebMD. And yes, we will see WebJD — someone is already working on it. Also check out A2J Author, sponsored by the Center for Access to Justice & Technology, a project of the Chicago-Kent School of Law. The Center’s purpose is “to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law.” And for a thoughtful introduction to online legal diagnosis, see this blog post by Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, a Fellow at Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession and Co-Director of the Center for Law Practice Technology. The post was written four years ago — an eternity in the tech world — but it’s still worth a read.

  • Law by algorithm will take us all the way to its extreme expression: to open source law.

For an introduction to this topic, see this Forbes review of open source as applied to the law. It was written in 2008 — again, ancient techno history. Seven years later, open source law is no longer mere speculation; we are already living in the Outer Limits (remember that show?) of this future legal reality.

We aren’t talking here about the law concerning open source software (like this and this). We’re talking about open source practice applied to the law itself. In his book The End of Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes open source law as sustained, online, mass collaboration re: the application and creation of the law, where content is user-generated, derived from public sources such as judicial and regulatory filings. Open source users engage with this data, extracting, analyzing, applying, and creating the law they need.

Thus open source law takes the creation of the law out of the exclusive hands of lawyers and the legal system as we have known it, and instead puts it into the hands of end-users, using artificial intelligence algorithms that incorporate the best of “thinking like a lawyer.” (Without, we might add, the risk that the lawyer doing the thinking might be suffering from stress-related cognitive impairment.)

Which takes us back to the topic we looked at last time:  the place of human legal experts in the future of law. We’ll look at that topic again next time, with a new twist.

[A few posts back, I noted legal futurist Richard Susskind’s opinion that commoditization would improve access to legal advice in the future, in what he termed the “latent legal market.” Would that include clients of moderate means? I think so. As an example, consider this resource I became aware of last week re: creating a virtual office to serve this market — yet another example of how technology is creating the new world of law.]

Author: Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

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