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/// Fifty Years of Legal Tech

Posted by Frank Taylor on July 13, 2017

The World Peace Through Law Conference of 1967 featured “the first international demonstration of the rapidly developing technology of computers and automatic data processing equipment and their use as aids to the legal profession.”[1]  The fiftieth anniversary of the event provides an occasion to reflect on the progress of legal technology or “legal tech.”

The big news in legal tech then was the capacity of computers for the storage and retrieval of information.[2]  One of the advocates for computers was lawyer Charles Rhyne, the president of the World Peace Through Law Center.[3]  Before the conference, Rhyne framed these challenges for legal tech:

• “The computer will revolutionize the whole field of law by making more law available to more lawyers and more government officials in more nations and in more international organizations.”[4]

• “Just as lawyers must now be familiar with the traditional way of researching textbooks, law reviews, digests, codes and court decisions, so too must they learn to use the computer.”[5]

• “We of the law must modernize and bring up to date our way of performing our functions, so as to take full advantage of electronic data processing of law materials.”[6]

That computers have revolutionized law is evident from the work of the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, also known as “CodeX.”  The agenda for the 2017 CodeX FutureLaw conference featured topics such as predictive analytics and chatbots, and the Legal Tech List included 715 companies at the beginning of July 2017.[7]

But in spite of the advances in legal tech, access to justice and adoption of technology remain among the challenges:

• The Executive Director of CodeX, Roland Vogl, noted in September 2016 that “[t]here are areas of legal work where highly sophisticated technologies are in use already, and there are areas where legal services are delivered in the same way they were delivered 50 years ago.”[8]

• Lawyer and entrepreneur Mary Juetten lamented after FutureLaw 2017 that “we appear fixated on the big law issues. … Implementing change at only an elite level will not solve the problem for the hundreds of millions of Americans and billions worldwide who cannot access justice.”[9]

• Following the release of a 2017 report on the “justice gap,” the president of the Legal Services Corporation, James Sandman, reminded us that “[t]echnology is critical in connecting people to the courts and to self-help resources. … Technology can bridge distances. It can also deliver how-to video instruction, document assembly apps for court forms, checklists and chat advice.”[10]

• The announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 called attention to the need for access to justice around our world.[11]

Rhyne recognized that “[t]he miraculous social, economic and scientific advances of our day require that law keep pace.”[12]  The semicentennial of the 1967 World Peace Through Law Conference[13] provides an occasion for critical reflection on the history of legal tech, thoughtful contemplation of its challenges, and constructive debate of its future.

Notes

[1] Harry H. Frank, “Report from Geneva: World Peace Through Law Conference,” American Bar Association Journal 54, no. 1 (January 1968), 58.

[2] Charles S. Rhyne, “The Computer Will Speed a Law-Full World,” American Bar Association Journal 53, no. 5 (May 1967), 420.

[3] Frank, “Report from Geneva,” 59.

The World Peace Through Law Center was established in 1963 and has been renamed the World Jurist Association. “About the WJA,” World Jurist Association, accessed July 5, 2017, http://worldjurist.org/about/.

[4] Rhyne, “The Computer Will Speed a Law-Full World,” 420.

[5] Rhyne, “The Computer Will Speed a Law-Full World,” 423.

[6] Rhyne, “The Computer Will Speed a Law-Full World,” 424.

[7] “Legal Tech List,” Codex: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, accessed July 5, 2017, http://techindex.law.stanford.edu.

[8] Roland Vogl, “The Coming of Age of Legal Technology,” Stanford Law School, September 26, 2016, accessed July 5, 2017, https://law.stanford.edu/2016/09/26/184188/.

[9] Mary Juetten, “Future Law: Reflecting on Access to Justice,” Forbes, June 21, 2017, accessed July 5, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/maryjuetten/2017/06/21/future-law-reflecting-on-access-to-justice/#4b261bdc601b.

[10] “The Justice Gap for the Poor: Q&A with Legal Services Corp. President James Sandman,” by Monica Bay, Legal Executive Institute, June 26, 2017, accessed July 5, 2017, http://legalexecutiveinstitute.com/justice-ecosystem-justice-gap-legal-services-corp-sandman/.

[11] “Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”  “Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies,” United Nations, accessed July 5, 2017, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice/.

[12] Rhyne, “The Computer Will Speed a Law-Full World,” 424.

[13] The dates of the event were July 9-14, 1967, and the site was Geneva, Switzerland.  Frank, “Report from Geneva,” 57.




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