If there is a single profession I despise more than that of the lawyer, I am hard pressed to think of it at the moment. The law itself is a beautiful thing, bringing sanity and consistency to an unruly world. The constitution of the United States, its raw simplicity and subtle power, is a document that other countries attempt to emulate. However, where the law breaks down is through the process of human intervention. Legal frameworks have been with us since the time of Hannibal, but over this period the legal code has absorbed increasing levels of complexity. Some of it is to right perceived wrongs, but others are to correct basic flaws in human nature.
And at the center of all this is the lawyer. A person than exists primarily due to the past efforts of others in his profession. One can argue that in ancient times, any reasonable person could mount his own defense as the level of legal precedent was quite small. But now with the staggering volume of rulings, precedents, exceptions and other general BS, it is quite impossible for an individual to control their legal destiny. Thus the presence of a lawyer is a requirement if you have to darken the steps of the courthouse.
So what can the future hold for the legal profession? The obvious answer is that the volume of information that one has to deal with is more easily managed with today’s technology. But I submit a far more foreboding prediction for those pursuing a career in the law. The lawyer as a profession is heading for extinction and I say good riddance to Matlock and all his cohorts.
The basic foundation of law is that it is based on reason. And one problem with the current practice of law is that reason has become clouded with subjective information. Press conferences are the first shot in any significant legal proceeding. The spin and propaganda are carefully crafted in an attempt to influence the potential jury pool. This effort is so effective, juries are routinely sequestered after selection. And the selection process itself requires a significant portion of the trial to complete what was once a mundane task. These attempts to game the system have nothing to do with the law. They are playing on emotion and it subverts the very process in play.
So the obvious step is to remove the subjective element from the law. How do we achieve that? Well, it is elementary my dear Watson. IBM’s Watson, that is. This new technology, showcased so elegantly on Jeopardy, has shown the beginning of natural language processing and basic reasoning in a computing system. Is it as good as a human? Yes and no. For recall of facts and simple decision making based on those facts, I’d wager Watson against most any human on the planet. Thus, I believe you could make a case that Watson could be as good as a public defender or an assistant district attorney in digging through precedent and finding the root of an issue. The rest will follow in time.
I would imagine that the process would work something like this. The evidence is collected from both sides and the system decides what is relevant to the case. It can at that point it can decide which witnesses need to be called. Testimony is given through the direction of the system and recorded. The final totality of all factors is summarized and presented to the jury in the form of a narrative. It is from this dispassionate, objective narrative that they jury makes their decision. No emotion, just the facts. Cases could be decided in minutes and hours instead of days.
No more plea deals because of insufficient resources or bad representation because of overworked lawyers. Many cases are tossed out or pleaded down for these reasons. Cases that make it to court will no longer result in bankruptcy or general financial devastation for the client from legal fees. Automation for the routine cases would allow the full effect of justice to be felt and the process to be truly blind to external influence.
Granted, it sounds a little Orwellian for most people, but the jury is still there which satisfies the Constitution. It’s just that the lawyers are taken out of the equation. The appellate court system functions specifically for review of lower court trial errors so you have a backstop in case of system failure.
Are we there yet? No, but I’m not sure that we are that far off.