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Choice still central to lawyers' work

12 October 2017

While artificial intelligence is rapidly moving into the work lawyers do, it's important to remember the jobs that natural intelligence still needs to do in legal work. Choosing is one of these jobs and it plays a central role in legal work, United States lawyer Mark Lauritsen says.

In his article "The centrality of choice in legal work" in the Suffolk University Law Review, Mr Lauritsen says choice pervades the lives of lawyers.

"They face professional decisions in serving clients and practical decisions in running their businesses. The choices may deal with case strategy, office technology, staffing, or marketing. They can involve individual or group decision-makers. People are constantly buying or selling something. For some, choices are painful chores, and to others they are welcome opportunities. Either way, it is challenging to be good at making choices."

Recent technology initiatives have supplied power tools for a variety of tasks widely found in legal work, including communication, gathering information, managing events and deadlines, and preparing documents, he says.

"One legal task that has thus far received little explicit technological attention is decision making. Clients and their advocates face myriad choices in nearly every legal matter, and they continuously confront vexing decisions about technologies, policies, and other organisational issues. Even though we are surrounded by technology, people make relatively little use of it for decision making."

Good tools lacking

While there is a wealth of data and opinions regarding the options for many decisions, unfortunately we lack good tools to help us sort, filter and balance these considerations, Mr Lauritsen says.

"As a result, people often evaluate their options in an ad hoc fashion, and neglect important information. This can lead to decision making based on outdated or incorrect information, as well as a misunderstanding of the competing views and perspectives of fellow decision-makers, advisers and would-be solution providers. Gathering information about options is easy; the challenge is what to do with that information.

"Technologies now prominent in the legal workplace do not directly address this challenge. Databases are great for gathering, storing, searching, finding, and retrieving information. They are not limited to utilising numbers and text, but can also include rich media such as images, sounds and video. Databases can yield powerful statistics and reports."

Document assembly applications are also great, for creating customised documents and forms based on answers to artificially intelligent questionnaires and checklists. They can supply individualised guidance along the way. Expert systems are great for rule-based reasoning and can also provide useful explanations of their questions and inferences.

However, these systems lack the ability to help people make choices effectively, Mr Lauritsen says. This is because choices involve competing values and perspectives. They are not algorithmic, and therefore, one cannot look up or computer the answer.

"Choiceboxes"

Looking for a solution, Mr Lauritsen says a system using "choiceboxes" could be the answer. Such a system would have three main requirements: intelligent tools for describing and exploring the choices being faced; rich content that can be expressed in and drawn from those choices; and it would depend on the vibrant communities of people who use it, whether alone or together.

"The system would support two complementary modes of collaboration. The first is the collaboration directly withni 'boxes' via collaboratively annotatable choices, either asynchronously or in real time. The second collaboration occurs indirectly through emergent 'choice spaces' and knowledge bases. The latter form of collaboration can enlist multiple levels of community, from close friends, family and advisers to broader contacts and social networks, as well as the full community of users."

Last updated on the 12th October 2017