McGinnis and Pearce: The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services

Professor John O. McGinnis of Northwestern University and Professor Russell G. Pearce of Fordham University have published The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services, Fordham Law Review, 82, 3041-3066 (2014).

Here is the abstract:

This Article argues that machines are coming to disrupt the legal profession and that bar regulation cannot stop them. Part I describes the relentless growth of computer power in hardware, software, and data collection capacity. This Part emphasizes that machine intelligence is not a one-time event that lawyers will have to accommodate. Instead, it is an accelerating force that will invade an ever-larger territory and exercise a more firm dominion over this larger area. We then describe five areas in which machine intelligence will provide services or factors of production currently provided by lawyers: discovery, legal search, document generation, brief generation, and prediction of case outcomes. Superstars and specialists in fast changing areas of the law will prosper — and litigators and counselors will continue to profit — but the future of the journeyman lawyer is insecure. Part II discusses how these developments may create unprecedented competitive pressures in many areas of lawyering. This Part further shows that bar regulation will be unable to stop such competition. The legal ethics rules permit, and indeed where necessary for lawyers to provide competent representation, require lawyers to employ machine intelligence. Even though unauthorized practice of law statutes on their face prohibit nonlawyers’ use of machine intelligence to provide legal services to consumers, these laws have failed, and are likely to continue to fail, to limit the delivery of legal services through machine intelligence. As a result, we expect an age of unparalleled innovation in legal services and reject the view of commentators who worry that bar regulations are a significant stumbling block to technological innovation in legal practice. Indeed, in the long run, the role of machine intelligence in providing legal services will speed the erosion of lawyers’ monopoly on delivering legal services and will advantage consumers and society by making legal services more transparent and affordable.

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