Law Professor Co-Edits Book Examining Intersection of Law and Technology



By Tad Vezner
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In an increasingly technological and virtual world, how will the law be practiced? Who will have access? Which processes will become automated, and which will require more than a simple e-signature?

“The law in reality is often mediated through an information system somehow,” says Illinois Tech Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor and Law Lab Director Daniel Katz. “A modern lawyer needs to know more about all these things than they typically do—partially because the world is becoming intertwined with all these ideas.”

Explaining these changes, and how best to navigate them—allowing ease and access for as many practitioners and potential clients as possible—is the subject of a new book slated for release February 22 by Cambridge University Press.

Legal Informatics, edited by Katz along with Ron Dolin, a senior research fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, and Michael J. Bommarito, research director for Chicago-Kent’s Law Lab, includes essays from dozens of top experts in both industry and academia—from renowned law schools and firms to Google’s legal department.

“This is not just a book. It is a movement,” said David Wilkins, the Lester Kissel Professor of Law and director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, in his review.

Simply put, “legal informatics” is the science of how to use data information and knowledge to improve law and the delivery of legal services. Chapters cover the history and principles of legal informatics and technical concepts. But the second half is all case studies and real-world examples, Katz notes.

The Law Lab, where both Katz and Bommarito work, is a teaching and research center focused on the integration of law and technology.

“My interest in some of these topics goes back to law school,” says Katz, who has now been working in the field of legal technology for more than a decade. “There is not a strong emphasis on quantification in the study and implementation of law.”

“Law is traditionally a field you go into if you don’t want to do math or be exposed to blood,” he adds. “We use words. Words rather than numbers. We do not do enough quantification of things that are quantifiable.”

But Katz notes the book prioritizes positive solutions and improvements. “There’s no shortage of people who complain about something wrong with technology,” he says.

Contributors to the book offer ideas on how to perfect the design of legal information systems—in particular, making them as intuitive as possible. In recent years, Katz notes, there has been an exponential explosion of legal technology companies endeavoring to do just this.

“The focus is on human-computer interaction. What’s the proper combination, and how do I leverage the best of both worlds?” Katz posits.

The importance is obvious when you examine its current applications in law: kiosks at court houses. Virtual court hearings. Online dispute resolution, whether with the government or on eBay.

In essence, the best way to go about it? “Study actual users and track their behavior, rather than just deploy and see what happens,” Katz says.

The book also explores cutting-edge fields like using data to predict the outcomes of cases, or how machine learning and language processing—the statistical representation of language—can assist with time-consuming legal tasks such as document review and e-discovery. For example, a well-designed system could potentially scan and process thousands of documents in a fraction of the time it would take your typical attorney.

In his review, Wilkins noted how Katz, Dolin, and Bommarito “not only provide a comprehensive primer on why the market for legal services is being disrupted, and how this disruption will take place, but also lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline—legal informatics—that can supply the intellectual and practical scaffolding for the new legal world these changes will bring into being.”

“It is required reading for anyone seeking to participate in this transformation, or who will be affected by it—which, as this seminal volume makes clear, is all of us.”

Added Richard Susskind, president of the Society for Computers and Law, “This volume is a treasure trove for anyone interested in how technology can enable and enhance the delivery of legal services…The field of legal informatics, at least 60 years of age, at last has its own definitive text.”

Photo: Professor of Law Daniel Katz