Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Legal automation and law curriculum
Frank Pasquale has provided an extraordinarily thoughtful, informed perspective on the "machine v. lawyers" debate, a topic my Northwestern colleague, John McGinnis, has discussed at length. And, as well, it is a topic of growing interest to folks looking at the future of the legal profession and of dynamic change therein.
As an interested, but much less informed observer, Frank's caution about the "we are all going to be replaced by robots" narrative seems quite right to me. A "more nuanced" perspective, as he aptly puts it, sees the contributions of automated legal services as more limited; and, likewise, sees the comparative and competitive advantage of real lawyers as not supplantable. Good news for lawyers; and, more importantly, sensible news in light of the evidence.
That all said, even the more nuanced view he describes does point to the key role of legal curricula and law teaching to help our law students understand where automation can intersect with human activity -- that is where the calculus is "machine + lawyers" rather than "machines v. lawyers." And, indeed, the courses Frank and a small cadre of other expert lawyers teach at their respective law schools respond to this need well.
My only small contribution here is this: Law schools would do well to formulate curriculur strategies that explore in this "more nuanced" way the dynamics and dimensions of automation and its impact on legal services. The objective is not to convince our students that the sky is falling. Rather, the objective is to help them understand how best to use the products and processes developed through automation and (especially) the contributions of big data in order to prosper as lawyers and to assist clients.
Interestingly, the impact of such processes are likely to be felt at two ends of the spectrum -- wealthy clients and "bet the company" litigation where sophisticated use of automation assists the disaggregation of legal services in order to provide maximum service and, on the other end, service to middle and low-income clients where machine-assisted work can help these clients more efficiently. If this is right, then law profs -- and perhaps especially clinicians -- can structure courses and simulations to assist law students in understanding these techniques and their utility.