Lawyerbots Again

Yappa Ding Ding wrote a lively post about automating intellectual jobs in response to my gripes about lawyerbots. Yappa is more optimistic than I was being about the impact of this automation. As she says:

Wouldn’t it be cool if we all had our own lawyerbot to protect our
interests and automatically communicate with other lawyerbots. Just put
my libel case winnings in my bank account, please!

…Similarly, we can and probably will automate vast chunks of what is
done by lawyers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, computer
scientists, and so on. This could lead to a reduction in prices, just
as manufactured goods are much cheaper than they used to be. That could
be important. For example, now, if you are charged with a crime and
have enough money that you are ineligible for government-paid legal
assistance, you will likely go broke defending yourself. Ditto if you
get involved in a contested divorce settlement. Even handling a real
estate transaction costs hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal
fees, when most of the work is rote. It would be a social revolution if
the cost of getting legal advice became more reasonable.

So was I being unnecessarily grumpy or just necessarily grumpy?

Well, probably yes a bit of both. The picture that Yappa paints is definitely cool. Right now justice is, as someone once said, open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel, so making legal help cheaper is going to help a lot of people. For example, JS showed me this thing called Eulalyzer which "reads" those pesky end-user licence agreements and, well, let’s let it speak for itself…

EULAlyzer can analyze license agreements in seconds, and provide a
detailed listing of potentially interesting words and phrases. Discover
if the software you’re about to install displays pop-up ads, transmits
personally identifiable information, uses unique identifiers to track
you, or much much more.

This is a Good Thing, and I’m sure there are lots of other ways that software could lower efforts and costs, especially routine documentation checks, like real estate transactions and so on. Why pay lawyer rates for a person to read through these routine documents when software could go through them and flag any unusual text. Great.

But the down side remains. There are two parts to most legal exchanges – one side prepares a document and delivers it; the other side reads it and responds. While low cost makes it easier to do the reading and responding, it makes the preparation easier as well. And more than anything, it makes the delivery easy – and this is where the problem really lies: there is a prospect of spamlike legal threats, warnings, and so on because they can take advantage of the cheap production of documents and then multiply that cheapness (if that’s the right phrase)  to  scatter them widely.

What we really want, of course, is the one without the other. E-mail without the spam; downloads without viruses, networks without trojans. Not a lot of chance of that, but perhaps we can minimize the downside of some of the new developments if decide that spam legal threats are invalid.

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