A couple years ago, a colleague published her thoughts on how her experiences with fly fishing helped her become a better lawyer. Me? I play chess. Here are the two biggest lessons I have learned through my study of chess that has helped me be a better lawyer.

1. Leverage Technology

Ever since the IBM-developed Deep Blue computer defeated then-reigning World Champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, computers and technology have driven top-level chess. Deep Blue beat Kasparov using brute force, meaning that it could simply calculate positions many more moves ahead of Kasparov.

In 2017, Google developed AlphaZero, a machine learning system that only knew the rules of chess. It played against itself for only four hours and then absolutely demolished the best chess engine in the world and, in doing so, altered the game of chess forever.

AlphaZero played chess unlike any computer or human had ever played the game before. AlphaZero doesn’t know or care about chess theory, chess history, material advantage, endgame tables, or opening books. AlphaZero refuted several mainline chess openings, like the King’s Gambit. Now, top chess players use computer engines and analysis in their tournament preparation. One simply cannot be competitive at the elite level without leveraging chess technology. Full stop.

Machine learning is already here in the law, and lawyers ignore the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to their practice at their own peril. For example, litigators should understand how AI, machine learning, and discovery interconnect. Clients will no longer pay armies of associates to review documents by hand. Rather, document review in large-scale litigation is now performed by computers with attorney oversight. Therefore, attorneys that understand how document seed-sets work, and that have a working knowledge of fuzzy logic, are much better positioned to handle large-scale litigation than those who eschew technology.

2. Slow Down

Recently, Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen defended his FIDE Chess World Chess Championship against Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi (“Nepo”). Both players extensively prepared with chess engines. Most moves were planned out days in advance. But in Game 9 of the Championship, Nepo did the unthinkable. He blundered. That doesn’t mean that he played a bad move. It means he played a losing move.




Here, Nepo is winning this game, as he has a positional advantage and Magnus is heavily time pressured. White to move. Despite having 13:25 on his clock, Nepo takes only four minutes to play c5.  



Unfortunately for Nepo, c5 loses on the spot, as the pawn traps white’s bishop on b7, leaving it easy prey for black’s rooks. With one move, Nepo’s preparation was rendered worthless. A final review of threats on the board would have instantly revealed this blunder. This move was instantly seen by every chess commentator, and Nepo would have certainly seen it if he was not rushing.

As in chess, so too in the law. The best arguments, the most researched brief, and the most thought-out strategy can all be undone by carelessness. Take a step back, re-read that brief, double check those deadlines, and most of all, slow down!       

For more information on this article and this topic, or if you just want to talk chess, contact Christopher L. Harbin.