“In the last 10 minutes, the world amassed five billion gigabytes of data.” (A Software Insider’s Point of View, 4/22/13) Give or take a gigabyte, that’s a mound of data to add to the mountain we had 10 minutes ago—which is growing at an accelerating rate: “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years.” (IBM on Big Data)
Big data is a world of “high volume, high velocity, high variety … that requires new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery, and process optimization.” Doug Laney, The Importance of ‘Big Data’ (Gartner, 2012)
And some of this stuff is data around and about the law – statutes, regulations, court and agency decisions and dockets, documents subject to discovery in litigation, even lawyers’ bills.
In a world of big data, what’s ahead for lawyers and legal practice?
Some pundits argue that big data systems will ultimately replace human experts, claiming that, “specific area expertise matters less in a world where probability and correlation are paramount”. “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think“, Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013) .
Others disagree, arguing that “data will forever remain untapped, inert, and worthless without the expertise that is required to make sense of it and tie it to existing knowledge”. (Stephen Few, 13 May 2013).
Neota Logic’s take on this debate? Expertise in law, as in other domains, will remain valuable in the age of big data. However, lawyers will need to understand and use intelligent computational systems to apply their expertise in a way that meets client needs and expectations. The volume and velocity of data will simply overwhelm human experts without help from intelligent computational systems.
Recent history is instructive.
The legal world first encountered big data when court decisions and other source materials moved from the library to computer screens. How do laboring lawyers find and make sense of things in the deep, dark universe of legal research? LexisNexis, Westlaw, Wolters-Kluwer, Bloomberg – and lately new entrants and innovators like Fastcase and Judicata – attacked this question with increasingly smart software built on research in machine learning, visualization and other algorithmic techniques.
Good research still demands smart people, but they can move faster and farther with smart tools.
Electronic discovery gave lawyers their second taste of the big data elixir when e-data became an important issue (and arguably the single most important cost-bending issue) in corporate litigation. It feeds a major and growing industry, despite the efforts of judges, the Sedona Conference, innovative vendors and others to confine the monster.
When applied to the masses of electronic data, traditional manual methods of document review, analysis and production were simply too slow, error-prone and expensive. Now, the most modern machine learning remedies are deployed against the e-discovery epidemic by innovators like Equivio and Recommind. Faster, better, cheaper is the mantra – and the evidence proves its truth. Yet the importance of human expertise in e-discovery is in fact greater than ever – because the predictive coding algorithms need teachers, and only humans can do the teaching.
We expect that same pattern to play out in other aspects of the law. The ABA Journal sees that the “future of law includes big data, bigger competition and global jurisdictions.” Tymetrix and others are applying analytics to big sets of law firm billing data. Inside firms, analytics applied to big sets of time records may help firms to understand and classify the work they do – to improve knowledge re-use as well as pricing.
Dan Katz has challenged the profession to reach for predictive analytics as to case outcomes. Lex Machina is doing exactly that for patent cases. Georgetown University’s Law Library celebrated its 125th anniversary with a symposium on big data. And lawyers are beginning to build practices around legal and regulatory issues affected by big data. (The Big Data Challenge and Opportunity for Law Firms)
For example, consider the laws and regulations governing data privacy and security in countries around the world. “Multinational organizations often find global data privacy laws exceedingly challenging.” (Forrester Research Blog) These problems are exacerbated in the era of big data.
Cross-border transfers of huge amounts of data—including transfers of data among subsidiaries within multinational companies—often need to be evaluated for compliance under multiple data protection laws. The number, speed and frequency of such transfers in today’s world make it difficult or impossible for human experts to keep pace.
Intelligent systems can provide a solution. Such systems can embed and apply legal expertise to identify and categorize legal and compliance risks across datasets of any size, and do so quickly and cost-effectively. Such systems do not make human expertise obsolete. On the contrary, they make human experts more effective, by enabling their expertise to be applied more consistently and efficiently across huge amounts of data.
Consider the challenges faced by large financial institutions that must comply with increasingly strict laws and regulations governing their operations in countries around the world, such as the Third Basel Accord. Multinational banks may have millions of positions that need to be evaluated on a daily basis for legal risk as well as business risk. Here, again, daily risk evaluation by human experts on a position-by-position basis is not practical or cost-effective.
To meet this challenge, intelligent systems can instead embed human expertise to evaluate legal and business risk across thousands or millions of positions every day. Here again, human expertise is not rendered obsolete, but instead is made more effective by being embedded in intelligent systems.
We therefore disagree with the big data evangelists who forecast the demise of expertise “in a world where probability and correlation are paramount.” Rather, human expertise will likely become more important and more highly valued in the era of big data, as the speed and complexity of life and business continue to increase while laws, regulations and oversight become stricter.
However, to meet the challenges that lie ahead, human expertise will need to be embedded in and augmented by intelligent systems. As it happens, Neota Logic is uniquely capable of building intelligent systems in the law, as we have done for multi-jurisdiction data privacy and financial regulation.
Welcome to the Big D world.