This New York Times articles has been making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook: Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced By Cheaper Software. The focus is on how Watson-like computers can pretty much eliminate the need for flesh and blood document reviewers ergo eliminating the legions of lawyers who (for the most part) did not elect to do document review but couldn’t find other legal jobs.
Quantifying the employment impact of these new technologies is difficult. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, is convinced that “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” He estimated that the shift from manual document discovery to e-discovery would lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500 and that the newest generation of software, which can detect duplicates and find clusters of important documents on a particular topic, could cut the head count by another 50 percent.
On the heels of this article, I get a press release announcing Shpoonkle:
Shpoonkle works by having lawyers and law firms place bids on requests for legal work posted by potential clients. In standard auctions people bid against one another, forcing prices up so that the highest bid wins. But in reverse auctions, prices are driven down by individuals bidding to win at the lowest price. For example, a person needing a legal document, such as a contract, will or letter to a creditor, can fill out an online questionnaire and post it on Shpoonkle.com. Interested lawyers then place bids by specifying the lowest fee they would charge for that service.
Here you have a race to the bottom as lawyers bid against one another to pay the lowest fee to anonymous clients with legal problems.
Now, this site was created by an innovative, entrepreneurial law student and I am not interested in hurting him or his spirit because he may have found a way to pay off his student loans by getting lawyers to bid against one another until they receive their e-bay style reward in their inbox claiming, you’ve got it, ‘You’ve Won a Case!’
So, are you signing up? It’s free. After all, document review may no longer be an option unless you share Corinne Tampas’ thoughts on the rise of computer-driven document review:
Aside from the fact that the attorneys this software seeks to replace do not work for pricey law firms, but rather work for agencies as “contract” attorneys, there is no evidence to support whether this software cost savings will be passed on to the client.
To be clear, in a typical high volume document review, the high priced law firms contract with agencies. These agencies in turn hire the contract attorney at the going rate of $25 – $30 per hour, slightly more if the document reviewer has special skills such as a background in finance or engineering expertise or foreign language skills. Thus, while these attorneys are referred to as contract attorneys, they are really contractors since it is the agency that contracts with the pricey law firm. What kind of cost that is passed on to the client is anyone’s guess since attorney’s fees (the pricey law firm’s fees) are often protected by attorney-client privilege.
So, back to the buzz. That’s all that it is, buzz.
So, what do you think? Is the NYT article about Watson taking over the legal industry just ‘buzz’? Will lawyers really bid for cases like matchboxes on E-bay and clients pay $.79 for a will?