Two Questions about the Law, from Technori’s Big Data and the Cloud Pitch Night

It’s not every day you get to hear Dag Kittlaus, the creator of Siri, speak. He gave the keynote at the recent Technori Pitch night, walking us through the story of Siri, posing some thoughts about the future and how Chicago can continue to “think big.”

Google’s driverless cars were a staple, and given the news about them lately, isn’t surprising. What most struck me, though, were the statistics. 800,000 miles driven without an accident, without a fatality. He mentioned there was one fender-bender, but that wasn’t the driverless car’s fault. It got rear-ended. He listed other stats, like the amount of time spent looking for a parking space. If you Google it, 106 days comes up. 106 days. Just to find parking! He went on to hypothosize that driverless cars would eliminate that all together. The car will drop you off at your destination, and either pick up a waiting passenger there, or continue on to another one. There will be no more red lights, only green, and merging into traffic will be a non-issue. The conversation made me think of one of the Star Wars movies, or Back to the Future, Minority Report or Blade Runner. Movies with flying cars moving in an orderly fashion.

He touched  briefly on legal issues, of liability, and was confident those issues would get worked out. I found myself thinking that the area of traffic law will cease to exist. No more auto accidents. No more speeding tickets. My odds of getting hit by a CTA bus again reduced to zero. A whole area of law potentially wiped out.

His presentation moved on to 3D printing, another popular area of late. 3D printers already exist, and the running joke from his previous presentation was printing pizza. His prediction is that it won’t be long before we can print food. Nursing homes in Germany are already experimenting with 3D printed food. While it is hard to comprehend, he explained how everything is just a collection of molecules, and as Germany is finding, you can manipulate molecules with technology to create food. Issues of patents and copyrights were touched briefly, and instead of seeing an area of law vanish, I saw one expanding.

In fact, as technology takes over and automates parts of the practice of law, and removes areas of law, it also expands existing areas and opens up new avenues. Where automobile accidents and liability may vanish, ones related to 3D printing, microbots for fighting disease, fabricated red blood cells, food-borne diseases from 3D malware and hazards yet unknown, will fill the gap.

There’s even something more basic, especially when it comes to driverless cars: how do you dispose of millions of gas-powered-people-driven vehicles, or the diesel-engine semi-trucks that move goods from one side of the country to the other? If no one drives, what happens to the driver’s license, a form of ID used for verifying age for cigarettes and alcohol, and confirming who you are at the airline gate? Will it be replaced with a microchip? Will we have a choice on whether to have a microchip or not?

While there’s much talk of the demise of the legal profession, other industries are pushing boundaries and, inevitably, are pushing up against the law. They’re going to need lawyers to help navigate, and challenge, the law.

The startup pitches of the evening demonstrated there will be much pushing against the law, and that no industry is safe. Additive Analytics aims to help hospitals reduce readmissions, improve drug regimen compliance and compare hospitals. It seeks to address that expensive, often unnoticed issue of re-admission for preventable reasons by putting more control into the hands of patients. Making them feel empowered instead of overwhelmed, with the help of hospitals and the patient data they contain. That raises regulatory and privacy issues, not to mention those who may claim they have a right to take, or not take, medication. A right to live how they see fit, regardless of who pays the costs.

The eye-opener for many, however, was Narrative Science. I’ve known of the company for awhile, but to see its presentation, its demonstration of automating a sports article, made me happy I had dropped sports journalism a long time ago, and gave me pause in regards to the legal profession. While automating document review is here, automating arguments and a good deal of legal documents, is not far off, especially with its Quill Engage platform.

The knee-jerk reaction is to claim lawyers will be out of a job. To me, it’s more that the job of a lawyer will be easier. Less time will be spent on document management and tedious tasks so more time can be spent on developing the best argument possible, telling the most convincing story and being, really being, a zealous advocate for clients.

Cloud-based practice management systems are doing some of this already, allowing for automated time tracking and billing, making it easier to implement alternative billing structures and ease general case management. Being able to use a tool like Quill Engage will make it easier for lawyers to develop convincing stories of their clients legal matters.

I was left with two questions:

  1. Are lawyers paying attention to how consumer technologies, like driverless cars, are potentially removing whole practice areas, yet expanding or creating others?
  2. Can lawyers shift their line of thinking from “being automated out of a job” to “better tools to help me advocate for my clients”?

Featured image: “Concept of choices of a businessman” from Shutterstock.

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