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Robotic Advice Alarms Legal Profession

Azimov would not have been surprised to see the practice of law changing radically around the world. According to recent news reports, the once-highly esteemed lawyer profession is now being threatened by robots and supermarkets.

The fields of automation and robotics have made great inroads into a lot of professional disciplines. From car manufacturing to space exploration and from pharmacology to accounting, software programs and robotic solutions are being increasingly employed not only to augment operations but also to completely replace human professionals.

Until now, the legal profession has seemed to have largely escaped the threat of robots due to the decidedly human scope of the discipline. The legal industry still operates on the premise that hiring excellent lawyers with many years of experience is vital to win a case. The reason clients retain prestigious law firms with the right connections is because it increases the odds of a successful outcome. Prediction and intuition are important aspects of the practice of law, but robots may perform better in such aspects by means of computerized analysis.

Lex Machina, a technology firm that started as a Stanford University project, has compiled an encyclopedic database of patent and trademark case law that can interpret complex data. Sophisticated interpretation of the law is how law firms make a living, and it is through this interpretation that attorneys are able to predict likely case outcomes. By stripping away human perception, Lex Machina interprets data using computational modeling that is free from the pitfalls of human error. It would take an army of lawyers charging many billable hours to perform the work that Lex Machina easily accomplishes in a short time.

While robots are not expected to replace attorneys in the courtroom in the near future, computer automation has already replaced several attorneys in law firms in at least one particular area -e-discovery. The tedious process of e-discovery involves looking for relevant case data by combing through massive amounts of records stored in electronic formats. For law firms looking to significantly reduce expenses by trimming staff, e-discovery is exactly what they need.

As if being replaced by robots wasn’t unceremonious enough, lawyers will now have to worry about losing their clients to supermarkets. A new law in the United Kingdom is paving the way for banks and supermarkets to sell legal services to their customers.

The Legal Services Act opens the door to Alternative Business Structures, a type of business run by legal service providers who aren’t necessarily lawyers. Under this new legal arrangement, UK supermarket chains such as Tesco would be able to offer legal services to their customers. Solicitors in the UK have naturally criticized the new law, explaining that the quality of legal services will be decimated. The new law also encourages the creation of mixed practices under one roof; for example, financial and legal advice could be dispensed in the same office.

The Tesco supermarket chain has already expressed interest in offering affordable legal services to British customers interested in saving money. Tesco already offers banking services in their stores, and it expects to sell residential mortgages to shoppers later this year.

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Date:
April 17, 2012 um 10:55 am
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