When one thinks of the practice of law, I imagine one thinks “qualitative”, relegating the “quantitative” to the accountants and actuaries. But the more data we can collect and mine, the more likely even the most judgment-based tasks can be influenced by trends. That is the premise behind the label “quantitative legal prediction” – mining “big data” for trends in legal decisions and court filings, statutory evolution and legal billing and task performance in order to predict outcomes. The ABA Journal reports on an article at Law Technology News touching on the concept and how it is being used in a few scenarios. How could this work? Imagine crawling the opinions and decisions in Pacer to find the arguments that supported the most winning results? While the key to the effectiveness of the tech is getting the information into mine-able form, there are already services and firms making inroads. There are programs for e-discovery using algorithms to identify documents most likely to be relevant to a given discovery request. Ty-Metrix, a legal billing software, has collected massive amounts of billing data and can now mine it for law firm rates and the factors that affect those rates. Then there is Lex Machina, an organization that has spent 10 years trying to build and organize an effective database for intellectual property litigation.
There are other examples as well in the LTN article. And the article and its examples herald for me an era in law practice that I have been eagerly anticipating – that moment when we can dip into all the available information on a given subject, tap the data and return predictive answers back using an interface like Wolfram Alpha. I don’t believe that this ability means the death of human judgment. Quite the opposite – armed with better data, more complete information, our judgment will be sharpened and improved. I welcome our Big Data Driven overlords and their semantic minions. It will be interesting to see what the next few years brings, especially if efforts to demolish the PACER pay wall come to fruition.