A Legal Engineer's skill set spans multiple disciplines to meet the needs of today's complex legal operations.
Some specialize in one technical area or even a single software coding language, while others guide organization-wide innovation efforts.
eDiscovery & Document Processing
Electronic discovery (eDiscovery) is one of the oldest applications of technology to law practice. Discovery is a process where opposing parties in a lawsuit explore and obtain evidence by requesting documents from each other.
Parties are not required to release documents that involve most attorney communications and those not relevant to the discovery request. Since discovery includes emails, there could be millions of documents requiring review before release. Traditionally, this review process involved rental trucks, armies of junior lawyers and stacks of boxes filled with paper. In eDiscovery, powerful computers process hundreds or thousands of documents per second, marking them as "release", "withhold" or "human review needed", increasing the speed, accuracy and efficiency of the discovery process.
Expert Knowledge Tools
Expert Knowledge Tools (EKTs) are organized and accessible collections of know-how. The oldest and most popular EKT is TurboTax, a program that takes users through a set of questions, applies tax laws to the answers, and generates completed tax forms.
Legal EKTs might vet conflicts of interest, or provide the initial case intake for a law firm. The pictured EKT helps courtroom judges identify criminal defendants that are also victims of human trafficking.
Automated Document Drafting & Analysis
Contracts and Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are the two most often cited reasons why computers should draft basic documents. Ever gotten a training certificate with your name and the date of issue on it? No one typed in your information. Instead, an algorithm pulled text from form fields already completed, filled in the certificate template and electronically "printed" the document. Likely, the automated system also sent you an email with the document as an attachment.
In a related function, document analysis compares documents against each other to find differences, then applies Natural Language Processing (NLP) to discern what those differences actually mean. Often, contract clauses are rewritten to fit the form and style of the individual crafting the document, with no substantial change to meaning. In other cases, a single word switched from "should" to "shall" can mean millions of dollars.
Information Access and Storage
Information access and management is critical to 21st century legal operations. Client data security, organizational knowledge retention and file access systems are the backbone of a well-run firm.
The rules regarding discovery (see eDiscovery, above) require careful attention to how data and information are stored. Corporations and firms must balance the line between keeping too much information (costing storage fees and search time) versus disposing of data too soon and falling foul anything is requested during a discovery process.
Data Science and Legal Analytics
Perhaps the newest and fastest-growing field of Legal Engineering, data science, analytics and visualization help law professionals understand the landscape or "30,000 foot view" of a dataset. Often combining the other technical areas above, data science can answer complex questions like "Of the two million documents reviewed, how many mention drug "X" and drug "Y" in the same sentence, when side effect "Q" is mentioned within 3 sentences before or after?" or "When civil court judge "A" hears a case regarding environmental subject "D", what precedent case should be cited to maximize the odds of judgement being found in favor of a plaintiff?"
Human-Centered Design & User Experience (UX)
How many mouse clicks does it take to access a document? What colors capture the most attention and cause best memory retention? How can you change the eviction court process to make it more understandable to those facing eviction?
Born in heavy industry, where complex machines needed to have human operators, UX focuses on the physiological and mental processes expected when people interact with tools, machines and systems of all kinds. Ever get confused setting the time on a cheap alarm clock or using a TV remote control? Bad (or no) UX design. Immediately understand what all buttons do on a new app, or on the dashboard of someone else's car? That's good UX.
Process Mapping and Improvement
Process mapping has been essential to manufacturers for decades, where each step of an operation is detailed, described and graphically connected for ease of reference.
Many legal engineers have improved efficiency in legal operations simply by asking the questions needed to map a process. "I see you take five steps to complete a task that would normally take two. Is there a reason why you do it this way?"
"Because we've always done it that way, and it's worked so far."