Imagine an employee filing a defamation lawsuit against her employer.
Within hours, both sides collect emails, voice mails, Twitter messages, location monitoring and surveillance data from the company’s cameras, which pick up on facial expressions, discussions and physical behavior. A computer analyzes the evidence and concludes that, with 99.8 percent certainty, defamation occurred in an argument that took place from 1:34 to 1:56 p.m. Nov. 6 in the foyer of a restaurant nearby. Twitter comments from other employees support that defamation occurred. A virtual judge assigns the appropriate legal penalties to the employer.
This fantasy involves no real-life lawyers and judges, a likely unrealistic situation given the complexities of the law and evidence collection. But technology is slowly moving the legal practice in that direction. Some of the fantasy is already here.
Those electronic texts, tweets and location data can be used as evidence, according to the revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Given that there is a vast amount of electronic data that can be collected, litigation will be changed forever. The data can make litigation more complex because of the variety and amount of data that can be collected.
The data also can make litigation simpler. Data from a month’s worth of meetings in Room A can be summarized. Within seconds, a computer can find the words that initiated and sustained the defamation. Location data confirm which people were in the room at the same time. Is the evidence complete, accurate and appropriate? Was privacy violated?
If technology enhances the speed of data collection, one problem is to determine the appropriate legal fee. Data collection that took weeks in the past may be done in minutes in some cases. The traditional bill-by-the-hour is slowly being replaced by flat fees or payments for particular output.
Another issue is that the face-to-face contact between lawyer and client is significantly reduced. Virtual law offices allow lawyers to be in the Idaho mountains or at home with the kids, enhancing their work-life balance. Why meet if texts, emails, Twitter and the phone are readily available?
But wouldn’t it be good to see clients to sense what they really want? Just asking.
Gundars Kaupins is professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears in the Nov.18-Dec. 15, 2015, edition of the Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.