Decision Time

Ten years ago Marc Lauritsen spoke at one of our conferences on the future of law. He projected ahead to 2015, and threw in a prediction as to who would be the US President. While the name was unknown to the Australian audience, the absurdity of his suggestion was highlighted by a supporting photo. Yes, the world was changing, but not THAT much, that soon.

Anything that Marc says has my instant attention. His development of choice boxing is a concept that definitely warrants serious exploration. This is a pioneering decision-support tool that results from 30 years of insight. Marc was mentioned in Slaw Tips regarding the importance of how you make a decision.

He also introduced me to Melbourne-based Tim van Gelder who was the hit of the Cardozo School of Law Conference in January 2007 on visual representation of evidence. Marc knew I am always on the lookout for visionary law related speakers for our annual conference.

Tim had started studying law, but was too smart to finish. His family included lawyers, so he knew what awaited him. Like Peter Hart, Tim was too far ahead of his time. He developed two world-leading decision support tools: Rationale, and bCisive.

A colleague who saw Tim present his work at one of our conferences described it as “dynamite”, an apt term for a military lawyer who advised on the legality of issuing commands like “fire!”.

An important component of Tim’s message was the value of a map as opposed to written directions, the utility of which, diminished with the amount of text. While technically more precise/correct, their accessibility for busy people, and consequently their benefit diminishes dramatically as the volume of text increases.

The same could be said of law and legal documents. Maybe we need maps for law. A legal GPS could tell us where we are on the legal map.

A map for a contract might benefit greatly from visualisation, according to Stefania Passera. She is writing-up her research findings on the effectiveness of visualization in contracts. Maps to a case could also benefit and might look like this, according to Chris Enright, who I have discussed here.


Recent research indicates that the human brain deals with each approaching object by working out how to avoid a collision. That is why navigating crowds in an unfamiliar environment is exhausting.

Self-driving cars are a reality that would be most welcome by the aged, those with a disability or time handicap like myself. Collision avoidance in self-driving cars is an essential feature. It would be a desirable component of any self-driving legal system.

This risks takes us into the domain of arguing whether a lawyer or a computer is better. Admittedly self-driving cars are safer than people driven cars, and computers do a better job, more quickly and cheaply than people in a review of documents for discovery purposes. However, a lawyer with a computer, particularly if using AI, will be much more effective than the same lawyer without IT-support.

Margot Stubbs is one such lawyer, not that she actually “needed” a computer to be a good lawyer. A mutual colleague said “she was the smartest lawyer he knows”. She clerked for an Australian High Court Judge on leaving law school and did postgraduate research at Yale on epistemology and law. She worked as an academic, then at the Bar, and more recently in the trenches as a Magistrate. She had been using iThoughts to support her decision-making on the bench.

Her academic interest in legal problem solving merged with the practical challenges of maintaining quality and consistency in the legal decision making process in the face of the significant expansions in the complexity and volume of law over the last 40 years. This was the genesis of her development of a software program, Neural Net Decision Systems, which allows the replication of a high level legal experts decision system which is made available to contextualise the decision process of a less experienced legal user.

Her use of the app for a year on the bench has taken it a long way to being productised. Those who have seen it are impressed, while staff from a major publisher thought it would transform their world. Unfortunately, I don’t have shares in her product, but I would certainly like them.

Other smart lawyers who saw the potential to transform the Law with decision support tools have had timing problems. As Peter Hart said 25 years ago about document assembly/expert systems: “Like Heaven, they were something lawyers desired, but not just yet”. He also said it would take 20 or so years, and if cars can drive us, those pearly gates must be looming fast. Alleluia.


  1. I am fortunate to have been allowed access to Margot Stubbs’ prototype software and as a practising lawyer, can say that it is something I will now always want to use to keep me completely on top of my workload and competitors. I see its uses in all fields of law, from writing briefs, giving advices, sorting court documentation and expected outcomes; to fields outside law such as medicine, major crash investigations, even simple things such as tackling a large building project. I, too, am waiting for the float.