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Gray Area: Computing the Impact of Technology on Ethics in the Legal Field

Ethics as it intersects with other areas of life has always interested me, and the interaction of ethics and the legal field is no exception. Technology is a huge factor in thinking about ethics and law – let alone ethics and lawyers – particularly since technological advances have been huge in the last couple of decades, let alone years. The advances in technology and in proportion to the advances in the human mind got me thinking about how changes in technology impact ethics in the legal field.
I found a couple of articles – cited below — that helped shed some light on this question, although they presented opposing viewpoints. The first one speculates on the direct effects of technological advancements on law firms. The author predicts that law firms will need to work with more collaboration and transparency, and mentions a few other benefits that might make law a much more efficient, less costly field. Even when ethics was not directly mentioned, I could see how new technology could lead to more ethical, safer practices: enhanced cyber-security, increased transparency, more cooperation in smaller spaces, and the like.
The second article I found had a broader focus of ethics regarding technology and man-made laws, but practicing law could easily fit into that thought process. The article talked about how technological advancements have made it much easier to invade others’ privacy and uncover sensitive information about them, which can be used in unfair, discriminatory ways. The author made a great point about how technology is advancing far faster than human perspective and laws are adapted, which has led to harmful impacts on others that could increase in magnitude proportional to the abilities of technology.
These dire predictions made me think about how technology could be used unethically in law. Litigators could dig up extremely sensitive information on the opposing party and use it to coerce or blackmail them. The increase in available information and capabilities could lead to more harm than good if lawyers possessed the necessary knowledge.
Of course, technology in itself is not evil; it is the intent and actions of the humans who use it that leads to unethical behavior. I see the amazing potential for technology in the legal field, and I anticipate increased efficiency and decreased cost. Still, I am wary of the temptations that technology might present to behave unethically, or even illegally.

-Emily Pennington