Evyatar Ben Artzi is the co-founder and CEO of Darrowpioneer in the data-for-justice revolution.
Everything in the law is about precedent: has this happened before? What can I deduce from previous cases? Can I convince a judge to make a certain ruling by proving that similar decisions have been made in the past? We legal professionals are guided by a set of established rules and principles, many of which have been around for decades, if not longer.
Understandably, many have argued that this culture of looking back contradicts innovation in the legal sector. Much has been written to support this view. But I want to counter-argue and suggest that it’s actually the precedent itself that has the potential to move the legal world forward, at least if we look at it the right way: as data.
Data democratization as an opportunity
With precedents come data: millions of decisions, judgments and judgments and mountains of violations, evidence, facts and claims. What if we could use that data to transform the legal profession and the legal system as we know it? What if lawyers could spend their time not making cunning predictions about their case, but using data to make better, more informed decisions about litigation? As the founder of a platform that scans lawsuit data, I’m interested in how this can potentially impact the industry.
In the end, data is a commodity like gold: without proper handling, it’s completely worthless, but under certain circumstances, it’s priceless. For legal data to be truly effective, it must be properly collected, stored, cataloged and organized. Most importantly, it should be made accessible to members of the judicial community.
Data democratization is the process of making data accessible to everyone, regardless of their technological know-how, so that they can make data-driven decisions. Essentially, democratization is about removing the gatekeepers and bottlenecks that take away ordinary people’s ability to understand and use data comfortably, and then create tools and systems that make them practically useful. The goal is to enable non-specialists and average end users to collect and analyze data.
In The lawyers of tomorrowRichard Susskind implores attorneys to step back and look at the wider industry, writing that many senior legal practitioners, when thinking about the future of their business, rarely ask what value or benefits clients really look for when they instruct their lawyers. Many legal practitioners rely on human-generated predictions and make decisions based on instinct or experience. Why would this be the case in a world with unprecedented access to information?
Like it or not, people have real cognitive limitations and biases. Even the most experienced lawyers who can draw on decades of practice are limited in the scope of the data available. As Daniel Martin Katz points out: “When answering the question ‘Do I have a case?’ one’s particular understanding of probability may be driven by personal observations that are anecdotal, censored, or otherwise not indicative of the true distribution of outcomes. This is especially problematic for rare events. The best way to overcome these and other related issues is to observe a large-scale and truly representative selection of the relevant event data.”
A more data-driven practice
While the legal industry has been slow to embrace change, the data revolution is already beginning to have a major impact on the profession. Some of the most common uses I’ve noticed are using predictive data science to inform settlement negotiations and combining machine learning algorithms that study past cases to find new customers and businesses more efficiently.
As legal data democratization accelerates, we are also beginning to see the emergence of at least two new professions: legal data engineers and legal data development specialists. The former builds the machines and creates the legal data architecture so that it is properly managed and continues to meet the needs of the industry. They create and use software to analyze case law and legislation on a large scale, collect relevant evidence from real-world data, and use data about court outcomes to accurately predict their company’s chances of winning cases.
On the other hand, legal data development specialists are rapidly becoming the next generation of “rainmakers” for their businesses. They replace the relationship-based model of the past with inbound and outbound marketing strategies and prove their company’s competencies by analyzing and comparing case results. They also use data to identify new issues for their customers that can be resolved through litigation. Relationships are still important; However, with clients becoming increasingly data-driven when acquiring legal services, litigants must keep pace.
This does not mean that every lawyer has to become a data analyst. Being ‘data-driven’ is just a fact-based way of perceiving the world. Once lawyers have access to the right data tools, they can make better decisions for their clients, speeding up their practice and promoting real justice. Prosecutors already have one source of truth: the law and its application in precedent. But by looking at precedents as legal data, attorneys may be able to determine, more conclusively, whether their own underlying assumptions about cases are correct.
Law firms that want to incorporate data into their practice should first stop and think about what they actually want. The only reason to include data in your practice should be a clear business need. Don’t do it because it looks good or because everyone else is doing it. Think in terms of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your business.
Once you’ve identified the biggest threats to your business, do some research to find out if data applications can help solve your problem. Start thinking about the right keywords. After you have a clear map of existing products, you can evaluate them yourself. Talk to experts you know, as well as colleagues who may have experience with your problem. Now it’s time to get some price quotes. Make sure you explain your problem exactly to the account manager. The more unclear you are about your goals, the less likely the product will meet your needs.
Of course, there will always be a need for highly trained litigators who use their legal knowledge, expertise, advocacy and empathy to litigate cases. Still, I think the most competitive companies of the future will be those that use data and find better tools to meet the needs of their customers.