CBS broadcast highlights winners and losers from technological advances

eDiscovery software provider iCONECT featured in a US television broadcast about the effect of technology advances on business and employment. As Richard Susskind publishes his new book on legal business and well-known shops disappear from the High Street, we have to accept that world is changing. There are opportunities for some.

A CBS broadcast called 60 Minutes recently included a segment on technological advances and their impact on jobs. As its title Are robots hurting job growth? implies, the broadcast was largely about the effect on employment as machines replace humans at work. The program covered some repetitive physical tasks of the kind which largely involve moving things from one place to another, but it covered also the rise of software applications in the financial, medical and legal markets, and used clips of iCONECT users to illustrate how technology has replaced the manual review of paper.

We see machines whizzing round a warehouse and delivering stock to be packed, little trucks touring hospital corridors with meals, medicines and laundry, and machines able to do repetitive tasks in factories. Positive and negative themes compete for attention: the warehouse robots each replace 1.5 employees; on the other hand, equipment like this allows the repatriation of manufacturing from China – Philips has brought the production of electric razors back to the Netherlands, for example.

On the business and professional side, we  are shown computers dispensing cash, printing airline boarding passes, and conducting stock market transactions, while IBM’s “Watson” wins the television game show “Jeopardy”. It is easy to see how modern analytical  eDiscovery tools like iCONECT’s XERA fit into this context, with a quick glimpse of a pile of cardboard filing boxes to remind us of the recent past.

I have been updating my standard slide sets. The final slide, now 18 months old, concludes a section on the business of being a lawyer; it refers to the New York Times article called Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software, to the quotation from Richard Susskind’s End of Lawyers? about “different and new methods of working” and to IBM’s “Watson. The preceding slide refers to business models which compete with those of lawyers, and to disruptive technologies like predictive coding. My Twitter feed this week has been full of comment about how the big consulting firms have been quietly taking over yet more of the work which traditionally belonged to big law firms.

The last few days have seen the death of two of Britain’s well known High Street names, Jessop’s and HMV. Most of the comment has been mournful but not, one gathers, because people will miss going to these shops – they stopped doing so a long time ago as the Internet opened up new, cheaper and better sources of cameras and music, a parallel to what Susskind says about traditional legal work. A couple of tweets this morning looked at the defunct shops more positively – suggesting that the end of old business models clears away dead wood, perhaps allowing the rise of new ways of doing business and  fresh growth. We saw the same in the UK after the hurricane of 1987 which destroyed ancient forests woods but allowed new growth to spring through.

There will be beneficiaries in the coming shake-up in the legal market – read Richard Susskind’s new book Tomorrow’s Lawyers (reviewed here by Joanna Goodman) to see the changes which are coming. There will be winners as well as losers; the potentially negative implication is that the winnings will accumulate in the hands of the few – those with capital to invest or technology skills to sell, as opposed to those whose living comes from manual work. For these purposes, a junior lawyer turning pages equates to a factory worker whose repetitive task has been taken over by a machine.

You may care to look back at two articles which I wrote in March 2011 when the NYT article came out. One is called King Ludd and the Lawyers – eDiscovery and the Luddite Fallacy and one published a few days later, called Lawyers replaced by computers for eDiscovery search – a retrospective. Their theme was optimistic, drawing attention to the opportunities presented by these deep but fast-moving changes, at least for those willing and able to ride them. Some of us may mourn the traditional landscape – the legal world we grew up in, the factory as employer, the familiar shopfronts – but they are doomed no less certainly than the forests which stood in the way of the hurricane. New opportunities will follow.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Litigation Support and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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