Yesterday a friend ended an e-mail exchange writing “I have an app for that”. 

I hear that a lot these days but not so much in the legal market. Two recent Wall Street Journal articles got me thinking about technology and apps in the legal market.

The sub-title of Automatons Get Creative Powerful (18 Aug 2012) says it all: “new computer programs are doing tasks once reserved for composers, writers and policy-makers”. It opens noting that “Creative types tend to think of themselves as doing work that is beyond the reach of automation.” Yet the “more we understand about creativity, the more we are able to distill it into the language of algorithms”.

This article does not discuss law but consider two of its examples. First, an algorithm “across more than 1,700 political and military predictions [has] been correct twice as often as those of the CIA’s own analysts.” And “algorithms can already grade essays as well as the best human graders.” Both are about text – the life blood of lawyers. Can we be that far away from legal algorithms? (And no, this post is not about e-discovery predictive coding.)

Today A Peace Corps for Civic-Minded Geeks explains that a non-profit is placing “tech stars” in local government to help them use technology to solve problems. They “have designed more than 35 apps, for everything from urban blight to school buses.” The apps seem to fall into two categories: (1) crowd-sourcing to collect information that cities use to optimize service delivery and (2) putting data and analysis in the hands of workers when and where they need it.

These principles apply just as much in legal. Powerful algorithms to find data patterns and draw conclusions, crowd-sourcing data to identify problems and opportunities, and “just in time” content and analysis. All would be useful in legal, especially when delivered in easy-to-use apps.

So, as I prepare to depart for the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) 2012 Annual Conference (there’s an app for that), I will keeping an eye out for interesting apps.

It won’t be long before lawyers regularly hear “I have an app for that”. And not long after, “I can make an app for that”. It can’t be too soon.