Decision Support Systems – Still a thing of the future or are they here now?

In his 1994 article entitled “Legal Expert Systems: A Humanistic Critique of Mechanical Legal Inference”, Andrew Greinke suggests three areas where he felt that decision support systems (DSS) would be useful in the legal profession.  These areas were: 1) for legal information retrieval, 2) for calculations and planning, and 3) for litigation support and jurimetrics.  This article was written over 10 years ago.  Has anything come of these three areas since the time of the article’s writing?  Initially, it seemed to me that all three areas would be of some use in the profession, with some having a greater impact than others, meaning that all three would be out there.  The answer?  I was kind of right.

Legal information retrieval has probably had the biggest impact so far and is definetly here, and here to stay.  One need not look very far to see that this is the case.  For better or for worse, law law libraries continue to shrink and the big publishing companies (you know who you are) are beginning to make their bucks by hooking law students into their retrieval systems right from the student’s first day of law school.  The fact that the publishing companies are at the helm, may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.  Since the publishers are out there to make a buck and these monoliths realise that if the product sucks, people will switch, this should ensure continual improvement of the product.  The downside is that once a product has been accepted, the incentive to make incremental changes, rather than paradigm shifts, is encouraged.  There is way more money at the top of the bell curve than with the early adopters.  If you change the product too dramatically, even if it is for the better, you risk leaving your users, and cash flow, behind.

Grienke’s next category was calculation and planning.  To my surprise, I wasn’t able to find any readily available products.  As I hadn’t heard of any products through word-of-mouth, I did a quick “google” search.  After 5 different word combos and a bunch of drilling down, I still hadn’t found anything.  While there were a lot of products for small business and individuals, I couldn’t find any that were being targeted at lawyers.  Perhaps some tax and financial planning software incorporates some of what Grienke imagined; however, if I had any sort of money at all, I don’t think I would be entrusting my fortune to the likes of “Quicktax.”

Grienke’s last category was litigation support tools.  A quick search of this topic will get you all sort of hits.  Being a lowly law student, I am limited in my ability to test any of the programs I found.  However, you just have to believe that if there are more than a dozen companies out there doing it, someone has, or will, come up with something that isn’t complete crap.  Furthermore, there may be overlap with Grienke’s second category if some of the products utilize probability algorithms to help determine outcomes.

So…what’s the conclusion? While all three categories that Grienke noted in 1994 are present in some fashion today, not all of them have apparently lived up to the hype.  At the end of the day, while technology may be useful, it is only as useful as it is used.

Keeping it real…



1 comment so far

  1. lochness33 on

    That’s a useful summary of current developments of the three areas raised by Andrew Greinke. Speaking from personal experience, a good example that falls into the 2nd category of calculation and planning is ‘e-tax’, a program you can download off the Australian Taxation Office which allows you to lodge your tax return online(although it is more for individaul use and not so much the legal profession). It’s an electronic version of the paper form of the tax pack,and it makes the job so much faster and easier!

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