by Dr. Lance B. Eliot
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Key briefing points about this article:
- A recent study estimated how many laws there are today and growth rates over time
- The research results offer vital food-for-thought about the future of the law
- Thinking outside-the-box, ponder the number of lawyers in a past, present, and future sense
- An additional twist for the future will be the advent of AI-enabled legal reasoning systems
- Advances in AI and the law might impact the number of laws and the number of lawyers
There is a legendary adage in statistics that correlation does not denote causation.
This is an insidiously simple notion that oftentimes is entirely overlooked. When we hear that one factor is correlated with another factor, it is easily misinterpreted to assume that there must be a cause and effect involved. A favorite such example involves a study that examined the statistical relationship between countries that tended to consume a lot of chocolate in comparison to the number of Nobel Prizes won by each respective country.
Lo and behold, there was a statistical correlation between those two factors. Does that mean that we can reasonably assume that eating more chocolate produces more Nobel Prizes? Doesn’t seem to pass the smell test, despite the delicious aroma of chocolate, though one idly supposes that perhaps eating a lot of chocolate might provide some form of mental inspiration and stimulus.
In any case, shifting gears, consider the field of law. Do you know how many laws there are on the books today? How much growth has there been in the number of laws over the last twenty-five years? Is there any relationship between the number of laws and the number of lawyers? These are all intriguing and potentially important questions underlying the nature of our legal process and the national extent of our judicial efforts.
To shed some light on those questions, we’ll start by taking a look at a fascinating recent study that examined the number of laws and the growth rate in the laws, doing so by using a twenty-five-year long period to try and discern any substantive patterns. After getting a sense of the landscape of the law, it might be speculative but nonetheless interesting to ponder the related matter of the number of lawyers during that same timeframe.
Beyond the topic of human lawyers, we can also consider what the future might hold if the advent of AI in the law reaches fruition and augments demonstrably the capabilities of human attorneys via the use of AI-powered autonomous legal reasoning.
The Growth In The Number Of Laws
You might know that in real estate, the infamous line is that there are three keywords to always keep in mind, namely, location, location, location. Perhaps in the field of law, one might assert that the three most notable keywords are laws, laws, laws.
Because there is something intuitively to be said that seemingly the more laws of the land that shall exist is tantamount to stoking the number of attorneys that the world so requires. If you want to find a means to increase the number of lawyers needed in a society, presumably all you need to do is enact more laws, or so it is presumed.
Some stridently assert that there is a magical ratio for indicating how many lawyers are needed per each of the on-the-books numbers of laws that we have. If there is such a pristine quotient, this implies that by adding more laws, you will inevitably have to add more lawyers (well, unless you can make each lawyer additively productive, which we’ll get to in a moment).
The reverse relationship is sometimes also claimed, such that if you were to increase the number of lawyers then the number of laws is going to be consequently increased too. The logic being that as the body of lawyers contends with a prevailing set of laws, they are undoubtedly and indubitably going to find loopholes and omissions that will get plugged up by, you guessed it, the eventual and inexorable passing of more laws. Not everyone necessarily agrees with this version of a proclaimed causation.
There is though the old joke told amongst attorneys that if there is only one lawyer in a particular town, the lawyer will starve, while if there are two attorneys in that town, they will both get rich. As a rather tongue-in-cheek saying, it does not directly argue that the number of laws will be increased when the number of lawyers increases, but some might interpret a subliminal meaning that evokes such a meaning.
Speaking of humor, it is believed that Mark Twain once stated that if you laid all the laws end to end, there would be no end to them. This is obviously a witty quip, though we know it abundantly to be untrue since there is indeed a finite number of laws that are on the books. That being said, albeit admittedly a finite number, it is nothing to sneeze at in terms of nonetheless being a whole lot of laws.
You might wonder how many laws there actually are.
Counting the number of laws is somewhat problematic. There is a nebulous sense of what constitutes a singular law per se and therefore you cannot necessarily count the number of laws as though you were counting the number of sheep or horses on a farm. The notion of crisply agreeing to what is a law and what is only a snippet of something less than law is rather ill-defined and can lead to confusion when attempting to count how many laws we have. A law might be composed of numerous legal rules, each of which stands on their own legs, and therefore you might construe those as being “laws” too.
We know at least that it is not some countless number. In other words, if we did come to a collective acknowledgment of what we mean when referring to a law, we could then proceed to count them. The effort to do the counting might be onerous and exhausting, but one way or another we could manage to count them up.
Once we counted up the number of laws, you might be wondering what would be accomplished with the count anyway?
If we have a zillion laws, does it mean that we have too many, or too few, or just the right number? Perhaps there ought to less than a zillion, one might so insist, and therefore reduce the number of laws that we are faced with. On the other hand, maybe a zillion is insufficient. It could be that we need more than a zillion, perhaps a lot more, to ensure that there aren’t any ambiguities or gaps that exist due to having only a zillion laws.
It is quite a conundrum.
Recent Insightful Study On Counting Laws
A recent study by Professor Daniel Martin Katz at the Chicago Kent College of Law and serving too as a fellow colleague at the Stanford University CodeX Center for Legal Informatics of the Stanford Law School provides quite interesting insights into the counting problem and proffers a demonstrative exemplar showcasing how the counting of our laws can potentially be undertaken. In an open-access paper entitled “Complex Societies and the Growth of the Law,” an effort co-authored with researchers Corinna Coupette, Janis Beckedorf, and Dirk Hartung, they crafted a computer-based model that was used to estimate the size of federal laws for the United States and also a likewise counting for Germany.
I’ll focus herein on the U.S. counts.
They used twenty-five years of the US Code as found available from the Office of Law Revision Counsel of the US House Representatives and then shrewdly applied Data Science techniques to the law, covering the period from 1994 to 2018 (as an aside, I exhort that we pressingly require more Data Science savvy exertions to be applied to the field of law, which I mention to encourage up-and-coming budding lawyers and future law-oriented researchers to pursue).
We all know that laws consist of numerous sections and subsections, along with intertwining references to other associated laws, ultimately exhibiting a dense web-like network of documents and text. In brief, the computational model devised in this research study intended to examine and count the structural features of the legal corpora, focusing on counting the number of tokens (ostensibly, words of text), the number of structural elements, and the number of cross-references.
In a nutshell, the study indicates that the number of tokens in 1994 was about 14.0M and had risen to approximately 21.2M by 2018. The number of structural elements rose from 452.4K in 1994 to becoming 828.1K in 2018, and the number of cross-references went from 58.0K in 1994 to an estimated 88.6K by 2018. All told, based on the count of tokens, there was a nearly 1.5x increase over the 25 years of 1994 to 2018. Their analysis suggests that this substantial growth in volume, connectivity, and hierarchical structure can be potentially attributed to several factors including societal expansion in the welfare arena and the area of tax.
It is an important and fascinating study.
I’d like to shift gears and carry on a bit of an outside-the-box thought experiment if you’ll so indulge. Prepare yourself for an extraordinarily speculative journey (encompassing rickety assumptions underlying linearity, causation, etc.).
Lawyers And The Future
According to statistics by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), throughout America, there were approximately 656,000 lawyers in 1994 and nearly 1,342,000 lawyers in 2018. That represents about a 2x growth in the number of lawyers during that time.
The annual increase in the number of lawyers averages 27,400 lawyers per year. The number of tokens in terms of the counting of the federal laws was rising at an average of 288,000 per year. This suggests that on a per tokens growth basis and versus the growth in the number of lawyers, there were about 10.5 tokens per attorney.
If you are willing to assume, for sake of discussion, that the growth rate in the number of tokens will continue as is for the next ten years, this implies that by the year 2028 (that’s ten years after 2018), the number of tokens will be 24.0M. Let’s also assume that the growth rate in the number of attorneys continues over that ten years and thus we would have 1.616M lawyers in 2028. This is certainly a hopeful sign for attorneys that might be worried about the prospects of jobs in the legal profession.
In any case, some believe we will witness a bountiful increase in the number of laws as a result of the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it is applied to the law. This belief is bolstered by the idea that via the use of AI, it will be easier and more friction-free for the legislative bodies to pass laws and even be aware of the potentiality of needing new laws.
For details on this and other AI and law topics, including sample code excerpts and salient explanations, see my textbook entitled “AI and Legal Reasoning Essentials” at this link here: https://www.amazon.com/Legal-Reasoning-Essentials-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/1734601655
Suppose we were to alter the 10-year growth rate to reflect a boost via the use of AI as applied to the law. One such modeling exercise projects that we might have 29.4M tokens by 2028, and as such, assuming the prior ratio of tokens per attorneys, we would presumably have 2.8M lawyers, an astounding 2x increase over the 2018 count.
What a glorious time to be an attorney!
Such a version of the near-term future is uplifting for those in the legal profession. Before though getting overly gleeful, one must also consider the doom-and-gloom prophecies that suggest that there will be a lessening of the number of lawyers in the coming years. A counterbalancing argument is that AI will enable lawyers to do more than they can productively do today. The advent of AI and the law will enable attorneys to work as if armed with a backhoe rather than a hand trowel.
In that case, and as alluded to earlier in this discussion, whence each attorney can do more there is seemingly no need to have as many lawyers for any given quantum of legal work, everything else being equal. In which case, just as AI is perhaps boosting the number of laws, there might be an equally countervailing use of AI by attorneys that undercuts the spurred growth in the number of attorneys. It is conceivable that the growth in the number of attorneys would be stunted, possibly even start to unravel, and perhaps the number of attorneys might stagnate all told.
The other stay-awake-at-night consideration is that the AI Legal Reasoning (AILR) computer-based prowess improves sufficiently to no longer especially need human attorneys at all. That is the assuredly doomsday cataclysmic future for the legal profession, which, as a breather of relief, just does not seem to be in the cards within the short timeframe of ten years or so.
When considering what the future will hold, it seems fruitful to abide by the refrain that the future is not merely something that we fall into and instead something for which we are going to create. The manner and pace at which AI will advance and be utilized in all facets of the law are in our hands and one could assert that we are all going to invent the future thereof.
For the latest trends about AI & Law, visit our website www.ai-law.legal
Additional writings by Dr. Lance Eliot:
- For Dr. Eliot’s books, see: https://www.amazon.com/author/lanceeliot
- For his Forbes column, see: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/
- For his AI Trends column, see: www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/
- For his Medium column, see: https://lance-eliot.medium.com/
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