Why Enron’s Downfall May Be Hurting the Legal Job Market (Hint: It Involves Technology)

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The federal government’s collection of more than 5 million e-mail messages obtained during its Enron-related prosecutions proved to be a treasure trove for researchers developing better e-discovery software.

A computer scientist paid $10,000 for a copy of the e-mails and made it available for free to researchers, the New York Times reports. Their studies of the database have led to new insights on how social networks function, and how that can be uncovered in e-mail communications.

E-discovery software made by Cataphora, for example, analyzes documents to learn “who did what when, and who talks to whom,” the Times says. The software, used by securities class-action law firm Milberg, analyzes chains of events and infers what discussions may have taken place through e-mails, instant messages and telephone conversations.

It can detect who is influential in an organization, when a sensitive document is being closely edited by a number of people, and when a situation appears to be stressful. It also detects changes in a writer’s e-mail style, according to Cataphora’s chief technology officer, Steve Roberts.

“You tend to split a lot fewer infinitives when you think the FBI might be reading your mail,” Roberts told the Times.

The newspaper also spoke to Mike Lynch, the founder of the Autonomy e-discovery company, whose views will likely disappoint lawyers searching for jobs. He believes the shift from the old style of discovery, where hundreds of lawyers were amassed to pore over documents, will lead to the elimination of a lot of legal jobs.

He estimates that with e-discovery, one lawyer can do the work of 500 people. And the newest generation of software, he told the Times, will cut the head count by another 50 percent, the story says. “Legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future,” he said.

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