As a litigation partner in a AmLaw 200 law firm, I have mixed emotions about the latest e-discovery rage—predictive coding. On the one hand, it has the potential to use technology to overcome and make manageable another product of technology– exponentially expanding quantities of e-discovery. On the other hand, at this stage in the game, predictive coding has not won wide spread acceptance from the courts and it is unclear that it is as accurate as human review—although I am certain that in the near future the machine reviewer will outperform human reviewers, both in accuracy and efficiency.
In a nutshell, predictive coding involves the review of a representative sample of electronic documents by senior experienced attorneys fully versed in the nuances of the issues in the litigation at hand. Documents identified by the senior reviewers as relevant/responsive to the issues in the case are processed by the computer, which looks for patterns applicable to relevant/responsive documents. Several runs are made against the document universe and the subset of responsive documents is refined by the senior lawyers and reprocessed by the computer until the computer is identifying relevant versus non relevant documents with a high degree of accuracy. In the end, the expectation is that a “trained”computer using predictive coding technology will allow large quantities of documents to be “reviewed” more accurately in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost of a traditional human review.
It’s coming–the reality is that document review is an area of the legal industry that can be readily automated and thus, it is inevitable that it will be automated— the only question is when. Law firms that are currently deriving significant streams of income from human document review need to prepare themselves for the technology transformation that is on its way. The ensuing reduction in the need for document review attorneys will not only hit law firm bottom lines, but also no doubt mean further reduction in available attorney jobs. However, if my personal experience is any indication, less time spent in the drudgery of massive document reviews is likely to result in a happier professional life for those young attorneys who are fortunate enough to secure a position in the new normal.