Eternal Sunshine of the Legal Mind

Many years ago, when I was still early in my career as a nuclear medicine technologist, I had a co-worker named “Jackie” (not her real name), who I still think of to this day.

“Jackie” was an incredible person. She was a breast cancer survivor. She had a quirky, yet fascinating personality. And she happened to be cross-trained in both nuclear medicine and other modalities. I did everything I could to learn from Jackie, and she was always kind, patient, and understanding – basically all of the qualities we wish we encountered when we were articling, but never would because working in the law is definitely not like the health care sector.

I distinctly recall “Jackie” saying one day that she wished she could put everything she knew on a computer chip, and just plug it in to my brain. It seemed a waste, she said, to accumulate a lifetime of knowledge and not be able to pass it on.

That possibility may still emerge.

Simon Parkin details on the BBC a new web service in development,, which preserves a person’s memory after their death, collects almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and processes this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms.

Then it generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away.

In a far more rudimentary fashion, many of us already do this through social media. My late colleague, Thomas Wisdom, who helped found Law is Cool, is regularly visited by me on his Facebook page, maintained to this day by his family members.

This site uses social media inputs, but requires decades of regular interaction by the user to improve accuracy. It essentially creates a search engine or timeline about you, including materials you never published or made public.

Parkin considers the demise which would occur with the company’s insolvency, or a technological blackout. If we’re striving for immortality, the expiration date should be eternity.

He also contemplates going beyond the selective inputs of people’s personalities that they prefer, and instead utilize brain mapping to encapsulate the entire mind. Although there have been significant developments with the exploration and charting of these new worlds, the process extracting and recording the information still proves largely elusive.

And of course, there’s the perpetual question of ownership of these mind maps. For most of us mundane mortals, our maps would only be cherished by our close family members and friends.

But what of those great leaders, thinkers, philosophers, scientists? Are their lives, and their minds, not the legacies of all of humanity? Why should the selfishness of their kin thwart the developments of human civilization based on antiquated notions of familial intimacy?

If you thought estates law is messy now, it’s only going to get more complicated.

The technology itself may transform how we perceive these issues, as well has how we intend to use them. Google has been heavily interested in searches beyond the Internet and into the mind, leading with its Google Brain artificial intelligence project.

Its quite foreshadowing then that executive chairman at Google, Eric Schmidt, recently spoke in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, and predicted the future of the Internet,

…the Internet will disappear…

There will be so many IP addresses, … so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with that you won’t even sense it, it will be part of your presence all the time.

Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room…

A highly personalized, highly interactive and very, very interesting world emerges.

Of course what Schmidt meant was not that the Internet would disappear, but that it would mature to a point where it would be unrecognizable to us today. We will soon have feelings on the Internet. Not emotions, but actual, tactile, physical touch sensations, to further assist in the visualization of the physical world.

The advantage to the bar though would be incredible. The perpetual challenge over mentorship would be put to rest. We could all learn from the classic advocates, centuries after their demise. Legal education would finally be interactive – the way it could and always should have been.

Our notions of privacy would obviously be obsolete. But our notions of client confidentiality would be challenged as well.

The late Eddie Greenspan was famous for many things, including his television show detailing high-profile cases he had worked on. More recently, he engaged in public rebuttals of his former clients in national newspapers. Both raise questions of violations of such confidentiality. No mind map of Greenspan, or statements while living, appear to properly address this.

Concerns of confidentiality and unauthorized disclosures are tame when compared to the intrusive nature of mind mapping. Either lawyers would have to be exempt from such immortality (unlikely). Or, the technology would have to be designed in such a way as to carefully excise confidential information – a Chinese wall in the brain.

A third alternative would be to limit access of such maps to authorized individuals. Determining who would be entrusted with professional secrets would still pose a challenge without proper pre-authorization.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of future where lawyers would probably not be needed. Anyone in the public could download the experienced lawyer instead of turning to the inexperienced alive one (cue Henry the Sixth).

Where that future would still exist is exactly where Susskind predicts in Chapter 11 of Tomorrow’s Lawyers:

  • legal knowledge engineer
  • legal technologist
  • legal hybrid
  • legal process analyst
  • legal project manager
  • online dispute resolution (ODR) practitioner
  • legal management consultant
  • legal risk manager

As Sam Glover states,

If those sound more like supporting roles than what you went to law school for, then you are on the right track. None of them require a law degree, and all of them require skills not currently taught in law schools. Those are tomorrow’s lawyers, according to Susskind, with the exception of the few (“expert trusted advisors” and “enhanced practitioners”) who manage to find a traditional role to play.

In the meantime, I’m going to track down “Jackie” and tell her to hold on for a few more years. We may get her download yet.

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