UHLC 'Jurist in Residence,' Texas Supreme Court Justice Brown, evaluates pros/cons of technological advancements in law

Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey V. Brown '95 evaluated the impact of machines on the practice of law as part of a lecture series at the University of Houston Law Center.

Oct. 27, 2016 - Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey V. Brown weighed the benefits and drawbacks that emerging state of the art resources have on the legal profession as part of a lecture series Monday at the University of Houston Law Center.

Brown's talk, titled "Living Greatly in the Law: Traditional Ideals for the Electronic Age" was the first of three sessions of the Judge Ruby Kless Sondock Lectureship in Legal Ethics Jurist-in-Residence Program for the 2016-2017 school year. 

"Attorneys don't sell anything tangible," Brown said. "We serve our clients by using our minds on their behalf. That's what's kept us immune from the ill effects of the industrial revolution. Machines driven by steam and diesel fuel couldn't replace the human mind."

However, Brown said with the dawn of artificial intelligence, the industrial revolution has finally reached the legal profession. Services that lawyers bill for can now be replicated electronically, and some people have lost their jobs.

Judge Ruby Kless Sondock, left, Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey V. Brown, and Dean Leonard M. Baynes in the Hendricks Heritage Room at the University of Houston Law Center.

"If you Google the phrase, 'technology replacing lawyers,' you get an uncomfortably large number of results," Brown said. "It started innocently enough with the demise of paper.

"Discovering information, finding precedence, drafting documents and briefs and predicting the outcomes of lawsuits are tasks that encompass the bulk of legal practice. For that reason the rise of machine intelligence can't help but disrupt and transform the legal profession."

Brown expressed concern that the rise of legal technology will exacerbate the decline of the jury trial. Legal analytics have the potential to reduce the number of cases by providing better estimates of a cases' value, which would result in cases settling earlier and lawyers having less to do. He also cautioned that human error makes attorneys vulnerable since computers do not face the same daily, emotional struggles attorneys face.

"Legal technology will always be imperfect, providing likelihoods rather than certainties," he said. "Yet it doesn't need to be perfect. It can displace lawyers simply by making better predictions than we do. Lawyers are very vulnerable on this front. Computers have far greater power to evaluate data and they are not burdened with psychological imperfections that human lawyers must struggle to overcome.

"Discovering information, finding precedence, drafting documents and briefs and predicting the outcomes of lawsuits are tasks that encompass the bulk of legal practice. "For that reason the rise of machine intelligence can't help but disrupt and transform the legal profession."

While technology will continue to evolve the practice of law, Brown noted that advances can bring better outcomes to clients more quickly and less expensively, and can make legal representation more accessible to a wider swath of society. He encouraged law schools to embrace technological students and prepare students by providing practical knowledge.

 "The question is not how to stop these changes – we can't," Brown said. "The question is, 'How do we respond to them?' Making sure that our law schools turn out technologically savvy legal professionals is certainly imperative, and a lot of old dogs are going to have to learn new tricks.

"Much of this new technology won't replace lawyers as much as it will provide us with new and more sophisticated tools to do the job we've been doing all along, provided that we embrace it and learn how to use it."

Brown, a 1995 graduate of the Law Center, was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry in September 2013. He previously served as a justice on Houston's 14th Court of Appeals and as judge of the 55th District Court. Prior to becoming a judge, he practiced at Baker Botts LLP in Houston and earlier served as briefing attorney to Justices Jack Hightower and Greg Abbott on the Texas Supreme Court.

"The Sondock Jurist in Residence Program is a great way to extend the brand of the Law Center, to encourage a relationship between the bench, the bar, and academia," Dean Leonard M. Baynes said in his welcoming remarks. "Also more importantly, to encourage so many of our graduates to become law clerks and judges like Justice Brown. He's a role model and all things are possible for our students. The Law Center is very proud of Justice Brown and all his accomplishments."

A reception followed the lecture in the Hendricks Heritage Room. Attendees received one hour of continuing legal education ethics credit.

The Jurist In Residence program is named in honor of Sondock, a trailblazer in the law who graduated as valedictorian and one of only five women in the UH law school class of 1962. After practicing law for many years, Sondock was appointed to the 234th District Court in 1977, making her the first female state district judge in Harris County. She was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 1982, making her the first woman to serve in a regular session of the court. Earlier this year, she was proclaimed a "Texas Legal Legend" by the litigation section of the State Bar of Texas.

Future program speakers include Federal District Court Judge Gray Miller on Jan. 30, 2017, and Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 3, 2017.

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