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Predictive coding: friend or foe?

Those who eagerly watch for signs the twenty-first century might turn out to be all they’d hoped would have been gratified by recent images of the proposed Mars landing living quarters. Consisting of what looks like ten giant inverted teacups and a plastic tunnel, they represent the kind of space-age future that fuelled childhood dreams of the future (though surely I am not alone in thinking it also looks like the opening premise of a gruesome horror movie).

Here on planet Earth, the future comes to meet us at a statelier place, but still bringing a few surprises. Over in Australia, a legal tech conference will be pondering the use and significance of predictive coding, which rather begs the questions: what on earth is predictive coding? And do I need some?

Essentially predictive coding (PC) is merely a means of electronic document review, designed to help lawyers analyse masses of data. PC software, which draws on statistical learning theory, is effectively ‘trained’ by the reviewer’s coding decisions to then operate independently, identifying documents as relevant or not relevant.

Do you need it? The debate is both complex and heartfelt. As ‘big data’ grows at a pace reminiscent of the frantically reproducing brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and as lawyers are under ever-growing pressure to cut time and costs, PC is a most seductive proposition. Are there concerns that the machines are taking over?  The Lawyer thinks these are largely misplaced: PC, they say, “is about injecting augmented intelligence into the legal process and humans and machines working together.”

Over at cïcayda, the emphasis is firmly on the crucial – and irreplaceable – importance of the lawyer’s expertise: PC is a “diversion … for the true litigator…born out of the need to reduce data, rather than know what is in a large data set. “ A far better system is “One that empowers the subject matter experts, the true litigators, and even the review team to use their intelligence, experience, and unique skills to find what they need.”

At Legastat, our commitment to bringing our clients the very latest in legal tech is underpinned by a belief that no IT innovation can replace – or even match – the intuition, expertise and rigour of a trained lawyer’s eye. Legal tech is not, and can never be, a substitute for the lawyer: it works best as a powerful but disciplined companion. 

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