Every year I try to make it a point to attend the Consumer Electronics show in Law Vegas. This week-long show is a gadget lover’s dream. Thousands of exhibits, lots of demos, plenty of substantive sessions and keynotes by such people as Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, (Ajit Pai was supposed to speak but for some strange reason, he bowed out after the net neutrality vote). I’m lucky enough to have a media pass, so I get lots of inside perks and access.
Knowing where consumer electronics is headed also tells us where businesses and maybe someday, the practice of law is headed
Why do I, a practicing lawyer, attend? First, I’m a tech enthusiast or, should I say, a gadget king. But more than that, I think knowing where consumer electronics is headed also tells us where businesses and maybe someday, the practice of law is headed as consumer electronics filter over into commercial use. And one of the things I have concluded this year after just a couple of days here is that where the practice of law and lawyers may be headed is a little scary.
Where the practice of law and lawyers may be headed is a little scary
Bear with me as I talk about this year’s show for a bit. There are definitely all sorts of new gadgets-hardware-being displayed. Everything from the obvious—autonomous cars—to the absurd—I mean who really needs a device that will fold your laundry for you.
But the bigger story may be in the processes and software that’s being highlighted this year. First, breakthrough speed: lots of discussion about a 5G network capable of downloading, for example a 2 hour movie in 3, yes 3, seconds. Capable of processing massive amounts of data in seconds.
As Steve Koenig, the Sr. Director of Research for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) put it in his kickoff presentation on Sunday, 5k truly “heralds the coming data age”.
5k truly “heralds the coming data age”
Second, connectivity. IoT devices talking to one another to work together to accomplish tasks. Your refrigerator talks to your oven. Your dryer talks to your washer. But more importantly, your refrigerator’s manufacturer talks to your refrigerator and knows before you do that that something needs to be fixed and keeps the fridge from shutting down. Proactive service. And think of this: machines may soon actually transact business with one another.
And let’s not forget about the plethora of wearable devices we all wear, devices that are getting more sophisticated, creating data and talking to other machines. Devices that can tell where we are, how we are feeling. Wearables that can monitor our health conditions. That can provide data, for example, of our condition post discharge from the hospital.
Clearly, we are headed toward having full service digital assistants with human characterizes, voices and interactions
And there’s another connectivity component as well: human to computer and systems. Alexa, Google Home. The sales of these devices have ballooned. And what they can do and how they interact is pretty amazing. More and more businesses are entering into partnership with Amazon and Google to work with these devices; Ford cars, for example, already incorporate Amazon’s Alexa in some of its models. Clearly, we are headed toward having full service digital assistants with human characterizes, voices and interactions. Lesley Rohrbaugh, Sr. Research of CTA observed “Voice will be the 4th sales channel”, meaning voice interaction with machines for all of us-including lawyers- will soon be mainstream.
And small cute robots with physical and emotional interactions. Sure, there are those in the legal field who say can’t use these assistants and robots. Not secure. Reminds of the days lawyers said can’t use email, not secure. That is until clients said yes you can and yes you will.
Third, AI. AI that can now quickly and more accurately analyze and process all the data created by all the connected devices. AI that uses machine learning to predict and know what has and will happen. Where we are going and what we might do when we get there. Predictive analytics that allow us to prevent diseases from reaching a crisis point. Which can identify indicators of what might happen in specific circumstances such as product failure.
We may be truly be entering the “era of prevention”
Or predicting how a certain drug may impact a particular individual based on that person’s personal make up. We may be truly be entering the “era of prevention” as Steve Koenig, the CTA Sr. Director of Research put it in his kickoff presentation on Sunday.
And soon says Koenig, AI will be able to tell us why it is recommending or selecting something, a key step in removing and correcting bias.
So what does this mean for lawyers? Particularly for litigators, this could mean significant declining business.
So what does this mean for lawyers? Particularly for litigators, this could mean significant declining business. Why? Litigation depends on disputes. He said, she said. On failures of all sorts: products, workplace machines, automobiles, humans. As lawyers, we take an almost perverse pleasure in human error that allows things to happen that shouldn’t.
But as Koenig said we are truly entering the era of prevention. Our connected devices, 5k and AI will prevent countless accidents-both in and outside of the workplace- from happening. Fewer accidents, less litigation. In an era where devices can signal when they need to be fixed. Fewer product failures. Fewer failures, fewer product liability claims. Better and more informed health care. Less health related and medical malpractice litigation. Better construction information and analysis. Fewer construction defect claims.
The ability to collect and analyze all this data leads to all sorts of ways to encourage preventive behavior that effects claims. What your car tells your insurance company about your driving, for example, may impact your premium. You in turn might modify your driving habits making it less likely to have an accident. And less likely to be involved in litigation.
No need for a jury to decide who’s telling the truth
And along with prevention comes better evidence. Omnipresent cameras and sensors will reduce factual disputes. Was the light green or red? The video and sensor when connected with your car’s information system can answer the question. No need for a jury to decide who’s telling the truth. One need only think about how video reply has improved sports officiating to see how disputes can be reduced if not eliminated.
Predictive analytics will be used to identify conditions that may be ripe for an injury accident. Analytics can also identify what claims might likely result in litigation down the road, allowing early intervention.
And not just pure factual disputes will be impacted. Imagine wearables connecting with other devices at workplaces or otherwise creating a program that says 90% of the time when you drive this route you go specific place and do a certain thing. How likely is on a certain date you deviated from that? Pretty powerful evidence.
Nor will personal injury litigators be impacted; business litigators will as well. Better language in contracts aided by AI for proof reading and making language clear in agreements. Meetings better documented. Performance under contracts can be assessed by AI analytics based on actual events caught by sensors. AI can aid better decision making in business in general reducing indirectly the need for litigation.
The end of lawyers may actually happen not with but with a whimper
While many predict there will always be a need for courtroom lawyers and maybe litigators, I’m not so sure. The end of lawyers, the subject of all sorts of discussion by such pundits as Richard Susskind, may actually happen not with a bang as computers and automation take over more and more of the work we do….but with a whimper as litigation declines and frankly there is less need for us. And yes, there will always be disputes that have to be resolved and what form these may take in the future is not clear.
But certainly, the number of these and what clients will pay to have them resolved will be reduced. We can’t count on litigation as we know it to sustain a practice the way it once did. Lawyers in the future will need to focus on other needs that they can fulfill.
Photo Credit: Alex Knight via Unaplash