Danny Tyree: Are lawyers becoming an endangered species?
“The first thing we do, let’s reboot all the lawyers.”
No, that’s not really how the line from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 2” goes; but it came to mind when I read a Wall Street Journal special section on artificial intelligence and encountered the article “Would You Trust A Lawyer Bot?”
According to the Journal, numerous startup tech companies are churning out apps and digital services that horn in on routine procedures typically performed by flesh-and-blood, bar-exam-passing lawyers. These tasks include generating lease agreements and nondisclosure agreements, canceling unwanted subscriptions, getting compensation from airlines and settling which rider shouted “Shotgun!” first. (On the last one, the algorithm usually places disproportionate weight on “Which one has beer money?”)
The Latin legal phrase “res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself)” has never been more apt.
(Watch out for the day when the artificial intelligence decides, “Hey, we keep using all these phrases from a DEAD LANGUAGE. Somebody must have KILLED it! Do I hear a negligence suit coming on? KA-CHING!”)
Isn’t the 21st century wild? We’re suddenly embracing companies that help “the little guy” file personal-injury lawsuits using software that has no understanding of “little guys,” “persons” or “injuries.” (“That’s a lie! I know all about injuries! Candy Crush and Angry Birds keep hogging all the random-access memory on the phone!”)
Remember back in school when you made fun of the bookworms who just regurgitated facts? Now we bow down to computer programs that … regurgitate facts. (“Yeah, it regurgitates facts, but it regurgitates them so CHEAPLY. And doesn’t narc about wedgies.”)
If the apps are going to be as eager-to-please as Siri and Alexa, you’ll have to tell all your friends to take the precaution of turning them off around you. (“I waited for you at the wrong restaurant. So, SUE me. Wow! That subpoena was fast!”)
I, for one, will miss the human touch of picking up on nuances and context. Go to an app with a complaint of “My boss gave me the SHAFT,” and you’re likely to hear the mellifluous tones of Isaac Hayes singing, “Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Can ya dig it?”
There’s still something to be said for the benefits of living, breathing lawyers. The attorney who prepared my mother’s will was aided by the fact that he has known the family for years. In this era of the “internet of things,” I’m not sure I want my VIRTUAL lawyer knowing so much about me. (“My friend the water heater tells me you’ve been taking awfully long showers. And, oh, the stories your electric scales could – and do – tell…”)
Is society ready for automated “ambulance chasers” that can declare, “If I can just get wi-fi to connect, I’ll STOP that ambulance ahead, dead in its tracks!”?
Can you imagine the impact on history if we’d employed these apps earlier? (“Before I deliver my summation on the evils of school segregation, let’s enjoy a few pop-up ads!”)
Yes, automated legal services are a boon for people who have been genuinely wronged but can’t afford to seek redress through the traditional legal system. But do we really want every Tom, Dick and Harry emboldened to sue? (“I am offended that the word ‘frivolous’ begins with an ‘f’ instead of a ‘ph’! Let’s take Merriam-Webster to the cleaners!”)
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”