Connecting the Dots Just Got Easier

It’s tempting (and fun!) to dismiss futurists and trend spotters as people who see connections and consequences where none exist. It is equally tempting (and fun!) to assume the role of the clairvoyant because, in the words of Future Babble author Dan Garder, the soothsayer can never lose: “Heads I win, tails you forget we had a bet.” Sometimes, however, it can be quite easy for everyone to see the future.

Last week, many of us were reading and sharing the latest “future of law” warning. The fine folks over at The Economist offered a sobering look at just how small “Big Law” is on the global scale. The headline, “Attack of the bean-counters,” was only slightly less subtle than the sub-title: “Lawyers beware: the accountants are coming after your business”. The article describes the not-so-stealthy encroachment of global accounting giants into broader swaths of legal work, as being focused and disciplined:

Rather than building full-service firms, they are concentrating on areas of law that complement their existing services: immigration, which sits nicely with expatriate tax work; labour, which goes with human-resources consulting; compliance; commercial contracts; and due diligence.

That’s one dot. Here’s a second one.

IBM Watson is studying tax law at the University of Toronto. Specifically, according to the site Blue J Legal:

Blue J. Legal is learning tax law under the tutelage of professors at the law school at the University of Toronto. Blue J. is starting with important distinctions in the law, just as human law students do. The AI is beginning with the deep study of several fundamental and consequential issues: (1) the distinction between workers who are employees and those who are independent contractors; (2) the distinction between transactions yielding capital gains and income; and, (3) the distinction between capital expenditures and current expenses. This building block approach means that Blue J. will have complete mastery of the basics before moving on to more advanced topics. As Blue J. takes on new areas of tax law, new abilities will come online.

Blue J is a development intended to put the power of cognitive computing into the hands of professionals in law and accounting to help them make better decisions.

Do these dots connect?

If current measures of efficiency and technology adoption are any indication, I’m guessing most lawyers will still be debating the question long after the accountants have figured out a range of ways to commercialize the benefits.



  1. I’ve been saying for years that lawyers tend to say “that’s not legal advice, so we can’t/won’t do that”, while accountants say “looks like consulting – we can do that.”

    Watson and computer intelligence in general is going to whack lawyers on the side of our heads. Too many lawyers wrongly insist that their knowledge/advice can’t be reduced to an algorithm.

  2. Let the computers run their algorithms. I am confident they can get the law right. Legal Research and Writing follows algorithmic logic anyways—and Watson can hold a lot more variables in mind than I can. So by all means, let Watson and Blue J. sift the ever-shifting sands.

    Then I and any like-minded colleagues can focus on the thing the computers cannot do—mastering the material and standing up in court to talk about it. I am not afraid of a computer-generated brief.