Mark Gould has written a very (very) interesting blog on the human bit of complex systems. His post is on what keeps (inefficient) law firms alive. It’s well worth reading.
The bit that caught my eye was this which is taken from Richard Cook’s work on comnplex systems:
12) Human practitioners are the adaptable element of complex systems.
Practitioners and first line management actively adapt the system to maximize production and minimize accidents.
17) People continuously create safety.
Failure free operations are the result of activities of people who work to keep the system within the boundaries of tolerable performance. These activities are, for the most part, part of normal operations and superficially straightforward. But because system operations are never trouble free, human practitioner adaptations to changing conditions actually create safety from moment to moment. These adaptations often amount to just the selection of a well-rehearsed routine from a store of available responses; sometimes, however, the adaptations are novel combinations or de novo creations of new approaches.
It struck me as very relevant to the debate about automation in law and the extent to which we can and should move towards systems and automation in law. The basic lesson I draw is: systems are (or can be) great, but they need human insight and engagement to keep them healthy.