The First Amendment
We read the other day about how the First Amendment helped a tiny church worshipping an even smaller god escape a mega tort verdict for intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by it's picketing of military funerals. Regardless of the questionable merit of the Westboro Baptist Church's activities, its legal win - Snyder v. Phelps, No. 09–751, slip op. (U.S. Mar. 2, 2011) - is of interest to us because it reiterates that the First Amendment is a defense to a tort suit:
Slip op. at 5. For that proposition, the Court cited - probably with intentional irony - Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech” — can serve as a defense in state tort suits, including suitsfor intentional infliction of emotional distress.
We're looking forward to putting the Snyder precedent to better use, perhaps against some plaintiff seeking to hold one of our clients liable in tort for truthfully promoting off-label use.
We may be a little slow, but we saw the story that the online National Law Journal published a couple of weeks ago about how "Watson" - the computer that triumphed on Jeopardy - is, according to the general counsel of IBM (who built the thing), capable of replacing law firm associates, at least for performing legal research and other similar tasks. He asks us to imagine this scenario:
Just think of what this can mean for our profession. Imagine a new kind of legal research system that can gather much of the information you need to do your job — a digital associate, if you will. With the technology underlying Watson, called Deep QA, you could have a vast, self-contained database loaded with all of the internal and external information related to your daily tasks, whether you're preparing for litigation, protecting intellectual property, writing contracts or negotiating an acquisition. Pose a question and, in milliseconds, Deep QA can analyze hundreds of millions of pages of content and mine them for facts and conclusions — in about the time it takes to answer a question on a quiz show. At IBM, we're just starting to explore about how Deep QA can be harnessed by lawyers. (We're pretty sure it would do quite well in a multistate bar exam!)See Article.
At this moment, we're not keen on the idea of paying several million dollars to replace our associates, even if it might mean the end of associate bonus wars. We think we'll wait a few more years for Moore's Law to keep working its magic, but come the singularity, when the price of Deep QA gets down to where genome testing is now, we'll have to reconsider.
Who knows, by then, blogging also may be done by computers rather than by us.