Hold that cab: ‘Uberisation’ of the legal profession may be a long way down the road

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Man beats machine


Earlier in the week the Financial Times’ (£) ‘Big Read’ ran a familiar scare story predicting the legal profession was ripe for ‘Uberisation’. If the nation’s cabbies could be so readily outmanoueuvred, surely it was only a matter of time before the lawyers were killed off.

The usual suspects were rolled out — the Susskinds et al. to say the usual things: Lawyers are toast making for a better big read than lawyers continue to prosper as have done since Magna Carta. It is doubtful that the top QCs and magic circle partners raised an eyebrow of concern — how can we be undone by desiccated calculating machines when we are ourselves desiccated calculating machines?

Good question. But might it be possible that even though man could beat machine on interpreting the law, machine might beat man in predicting how judges might decide the law. And if you could predict your chances of winning a case then you would be at a significant advantage in calculating how much to spend in pursuing that case.

In a footnote to the piece reference was made to an experiment over a decade ago in which a machine beat a panel of experts in predicting US Supreme Court decisions racking up a score of nearly 70%. The implication being that Moore’s Law being what it is if computers were that good then they must be exceptional now. Oddly, though, computers have hardly improved at all and only won because the experts — a random bunch of academics — were not as expert as had been presumed, scoring under 60%.

Satisfyingly, when the state of the art legal predictor {Marshall}+ algorithm entered into an online Supreme Court fantasy league last year it was bested by the wisdom of the human crowd. The group was better than the computer.

And really satisfyingly the best predictor within the group, the only three time winner of the competition, the only person to score over 80% regularly is a thirty something bloke who lives in Queens and has no legal training. He plays under the name Melech — ‘king’ in Hebrew — and his real name is Jacob Berlove. Since he picked up a constitutional law text book when he was at high school and read it cover to cover Berlove has taken an interest in the Supreme Court. He says:

As someone long interested in Supreme Court cases, it was very frustrating to be unable to do anything substantial in relation to this interest, given that I will never serve on the Supreme Court. I had long felt that I might have a pretty good understanding and feel for the Justices’ thought processes and decided to set out to test just how much I did.

He has certainly passed that test. Berlove puts his success down to trying to get into the minds of the justices and getting down to the essence of what a case is about. He also leaves his own beliefs to one side and remains dispassionate:

It doesn’t matter what I think about it; it matters what those nine people think about it.

Simple, really. But, apparently, too complex for the machine.



A lot of what lawyers do can be automated and the profession is currently going through that process. There’s a crucial 5% which cannot however, and lawyers will continue to be used for that 5%.

Probably there will be far fewer solicitors and barristers in the future, but the new tech will create new types of legal jobs to fill the gaps I’m sure.



Considering Professor Susskind started predicting the end of lawyers in 1987, in Expert Systems in Law, the fact that 29 years later we are still here doesn’t seem to have dissuaded him. His follow up books where he also predicted the same are: The Future of Law (1996), Transforming the Law (2000), The Susskind Interviews: Legal Experts in Changing Times (2005), The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (2008) and Tomorrow’s Lawyers (2013). So in essence between 1987 and today every few years he has predicted how technology will decimate the legal profession and yes technology has changed the legal profession but his fundamental claim it will change the legal profession beyond all recognition and make standard legal work redundant and done by machines has been proven false again and again. I would also point out that even if computers could do the work which at the moment they can’t you have to question if people would trust a computer as a lawyer, in the same way that planes can completely fly themselves but take off and landing is still done by human pilot’s because people don’t trust a machine with their lives.



Susskind’s one boast is that he predicted the use of email in legal work.

Literally, there is nothing else and it’s all he bangs on about.



I’d say it’s about 5 weeks before Legal Cheek writers are replaced by an algorithm.

Just re-arrange the words: ‘Top’ ‘Bag’ ‘Charlotte Proudman’ and ‘Rookie’ on a daily basis and you have it.



Don’t forget “sexism”, “wannabe”, “diversity” and references to “Legal Cheek’s Most List”.


Scep Tick

What’s worrying is that it’s not about predicting the law, but what the Supreme Court will say. So if some random bloke from New York who has not one whit of law is better at predicting the Supreme Court than lawyers, that suggests the Supreme Court judges are not very good at law and only got appointed because of their political beliefs.


Claim Claim Claim

Working in RTA Mainstream claims I assure you over half of what we do could be automated.



Depends what bit you are doing, I knew people doing the paperwork for RTA cases with no legal background at all.


Claim Claim Claim

It’s just very formulaic. All correspondence to all parties and possibilities are already on a template.



As labour-intensive aspects of the work become automised, it actually creates more work for lawyers, because clients who already retain lawyers can afford to pay for more high quality legal work, and it becomes affordable for clients who would otherwise find it unaffordable.

When spreadsheets were invented, it dramatically increased the number of accountants, because it meant clients could afford to pay for more top-notch financial advice, instead of their accounting budget going towards paying clerks to run through permutations of complex ledgers by hand.


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