By Jim Gill
Growing up in rural Illinois, the John Deere logo was as ubiquitous as Nike in Portland or Starbucks in Seattle. From old farmers' mesh-backed caps to the giant tractor that my friend, Scott, parked in the student parking lot of the high school—taking up a row of spaces—as a last-day-of-school prank our sophomore year, you couldn't go through a day without seeing evidence of that company's brand.
I couldn't help but think of John Deere when reading a recent article in the New York Times by John Markoff, “The End of Lawyers? Not so fast." In it, Markoff addresses the recent resurgence of automation fears surrounding e-discovery software. But technological innovation, while reshaping the status quo, often brings an expansion to whatever industry it relates to, the same as when John Deere introduced his revolutionary steel plow in 1837. I can imagine the naysayers back then, saying that those steel plows would bring about “the end of farmers," when in fact, Deere's plow expanded agriculture into areas where the soil was difficult to break with conventional wooden or iron plows. The transformation of the American Great Plains from a grassy desert to a vast crop garden was due to technological change.
The same holds true with the automation of the legal profession. A recent study by Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Frank S. Levy, an M.I.T. labor economist, shows that “even the most advanced A.I. technology would at best make only modest inroads into the legal profession." In fact, modern legal software solutions create more efficiency and lower costs, so that lawyers and IT, can focus on the work that they are actually need to do, the work that can't be replaced by technology.
Examples of this are many. E-Discovery software can collapse the EDRM's linear set of steps so there are more options to cull smaller data sets even faster. Early Case Assessment tools enable a comprehensive evaluation of legal liability and potential costs at the outset of a case. In addition to looking at the relevant data, ECA will include comparing matters against similar past matters, decisions about what counsel to retain, and looking at previous court rulings to assess the viability of a matter. Linda Luperchio, Director of IG & E-Discovery The Hanover Insurance Group, adds, “The new Federal Rules demand cooperation, and if you have a platform that [uses ECA] then you can cooperate. At the same time, it also allows you to look at a huge amount of data and decide if it makes sense for the case."
Not only does e-discovery technology that uses ECA empower legal teams to make intelligent decisions before collection, it reduces collection, processing, storage, and most importantly review costs (which account for up to 80% of e-discovery costs), while enabling legal teams to make proportionality arguments earlier in the case. “Judges want you to show them what a case is going to cost," Ms. Luperchio adds. “When you have a report in your hand that says, 'Here are how many documents there are and how much it's going to cost,' it's very powerful." The cost benefit of using these tools is also powerful: after switching to an in-house solution using ECA, Hanover saw a 50% savings on just one case.
In the same vein, the John Deere Corporation isn't just revolutionary when it comes to farm implements, but also in the world of E-Discovery. Lori Ryneer, E-Discovery Paralegal at Deere & Company reminds us that keeping up with changing technology and new data types is a must when it comes to discovery. “If it's subject to litigation, then you are required to find a way to collect. If you don't have the tools to collect certain data types, you can't just ignore it and hope it goes away."
Having the right tools for the tasks at hand is the key to any job, whether you're plowing the Midwestern prairie or placing legal holds for patent-infringement litigation. So don't worry about robots and artificial intelligence replacing lawyers and paralegals just yet. There's still plenty of work to do.
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