In this post, I briefly outline Richard Sussking’s background, elements from The End of Lawyers, and then turn to consider issues that Susskind is aware of but does not discuss in depth. These are issues which I believe are fundamental to how technology will impact legal practice such as the semantic web, textual information extraction, ontologies, and open source databases of legal documents.
Susskind specialises in how information and communication technology (ICT) is used by lawyers and public administrators. His website is:
Besides the important and general interest of his line of work, its prominence in the community of practicing legal professionals gives us a good indication of the sorts of technologies that community is and is not aware of.
Richard Susskind has been writing about ICT since publication of his PhD thesis Expert Systems in Law (1987, Oxford University Press). He is among the early researchers in Artificial Intelligence and the Law. His subsequent books — The Future of Law and Transforming the Law — developed themes about the relation of ICT and the legal profession, focusing on the ways ICT would change the practice of law and the interactions among lawyers, government administrators, and the public. In addition to the books, Susskind consults widely, is an editor of the journal International Journal of Law and Information Technology, and is a law columnist for The Times. He is very uniquely informed about the technologies that are available and how the legal community regards and uses them. This makes it all the more interesting to draw attention to what he does not discuss in depth.
His recent book The End of Lawyers has garnered a very significant amount of attention, and online excerpts along with comments can be found at:
The End of Lawyers
Legal Technology Tools
In this book, he develops and elaborates his main themes. He points out a range of technologies, briefly outlined below, which will contribute to changing the legal profession. As there is substantial information already on line about his proposals, I will not here repeat them in depth, but to say that by and large I agree with many of the overt points he makes about the applicability of technology to the legal profession as well as why the legal profession has been and remains slow to take up ICT solutions.
Among the key technologies Susskind outlines, we find:
Automated document assembly — structuring blocks of legal documents.
Connectivity — email, fax, cell phones, facebook, twitter, blogs.
Electronic legal marketplace — legal services advertised, rated, and traded.
E-learning — lawyers and members of the public having the opportunity to learn about the law online.
Online legal guidance — rather than face-to-face with individual lawyers, a chance to read, learn about the law, have questions addressed at different levels of formality.
Legal open-sourcing — user generated content, free and unrestricted legal information (e.g. BAILII), legal wikis.
Closed legal communities — collectives of lawyers, justices, or government officials exchange information.
Workflow and project management — using software and services to monitor and support the work of legal professionals. This includes case-management and electronic filing.
Embedded legal knowledge — legal information and knowledge is more readily transparent in daily interactions or prevents non-compliance.
E-disclosure — finding and processing documents and information relevant to the disclosure phase of a case.
Online dispute resolution — systems to mediate and support the resolution of disputes.
Courtroom annotation — transcribing and noting courtroom proceedings manually and automatically.
Improving access to law — giving citizens more information and advice.
Engineering and Managing Legal Knowledge
In the course of the book, he says that the engineering and management of legal knowledge is central to these technologies, where:
Legal knowledge management (p. 155) — the systematic organization, standardization, preservation, and exploitation of the collective knowledge of a firm. It is intended to maximize the firm’s return on the combined experience of its lawyers over time.
Legal knowledge engineer (p. 272): someone who carries out basic analysis, decomposition, standardization, and representation of legal knowledge in computer systems.
However, little is said about how the engineering and management is to be done other than that some of the technologies outlined above contribute to them.
What is said is largely by way of brief references or outlines to additional issues such as the semantic web (p. 68), wikis (but not semantic wikis), online dispute resolution (but little on current developments), and open source legal information (e.g. BAILII, but not WorldLii).
More to the point, there is no discussion of research on key technologies such as:
Legal ontologies by which legal knowledge is formalised, acquired, processed, and managed.
XML which underlies the semantic web
Web-based inference systems
Textual information extraction which is essential to make use of open source legal information
Rule-based systems such as provided by Oracle (previously known as Softlaw, RuleBurst, and Haley) which are prominently used by UK tax authorities
E-government services which go beyond providing information and submission of forms but also allow some interaction such as Parmenides and DEMO-net
These are all topics of central relevance to our blog and to the AI and Law community which organises around the International Conference on AI and Law or Jurix
We agree by and large with Susskind. However, there is much more which would be highly relevant and valuable to draw to the attention of the legal community. Moreover, it would be very valuable to the AI and Law community were his prominent and respected voice in the legal and governmental circles to be heard advocating further for research such as in AI and Law.
Copyright © 2009 Adam Wyner
I have a new article in Legal Technology:
Text-Mining Case Law
This article focuses on text-mining in the case base.
The Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) is an annual workshop on text retrieval from large text collections. It is sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is an agency of the US Commerce Department and started in 1992. In The goal of the legal track is to develop search technology that meets the needs of lawyers to engage in effective discovery in digital document collections. In 2006, a legal track was added to the conference, and there have been annual tracks the last three years.
The stated goal of the legal track is to develop text search technology to help lawyers discover information in digital document corpora. Papers from the track are published as part of the proceedings of TREC.
In the legal track, researchers are set a variety of tasks and topics among which they can choose to apply their search techniques. Let’s consider one, which was proposed in 2008 and continued in 2009, the Interactive Task, for which we have task guidelines and topics from 2008.
For 2008, the task is to search for documents that relate to topic, which is a single 16 page class action complaint that a tobacco company committed fraud, from among a document population of nearly 7 million documents of the Legacy Tobacco Document Library of legal case documents involving US tobacco companies. There are a wide range of document genres. The task is to realistically model the way that lawyers develop and refine their searches in the course of the discovery phase of litigation; that is, participants must retrieve a set of documents ‘relevant’ to what ought to be discovered concerning the topic. In the discovery phase, the parties to the suit request material (documents and evidence) concerning the case; e-discovery is the discovery phase involving electronic documents. The task is intended to be more ‘realistic’ in that it allows participants to engage an expert so as to better define the set of documents that are relevant to the topic. Here ‘relevant’ means that the participants recover the same set of documents (from the set of documents available) that a lead litigating attorneys would select; thus, the interaction with an expert who helps define relevance. The success of the participants searches are measured in terms of recall, precision, and a ‘summary measure of effectiveness’.
Discovery is a key phase of litigation, concerning the identification of information that is important to the litigators in arguing the case. However, we may consider whether it is central to legal argument itself; the evidence discovered is used in arguing the case as evidence for one claim or another, but it is unclear how distinct this is from any sort of argument where evidence is crucial. For example, in a scientific context, one might argue that a certain protein functions in a certain way to impede cancer growth, then search in the document space for supporting evidence. In other words, there are questions concerning how the task in the Legal Track bears on specifically legal reasoning such as case based reasoning, factor analysis, precedent, and grounding decisions in the law. This would be a rather different and very worthwhile task for the TREC Legal Track.
The TREC Legal Track is very closely related to workshops on e-discovery/e-disclosure DESI which are organised by many of the people involved in the TREC Legal Track.
Copyright © 2009 Adam Wyner
At Wired News, there is a long post about opening up government data under the Obama government. Among other topics, we find mentioned making legal information more accessible.
Open Up Government Data
The discussion here is almost entirely focused on gaining access to the data, not how information can be or will be extracted from the data. The website is in a wiki format, which means that various people can contribute to the development of the site.
In common law systems such as in the US and the UK, cases which have been decided by judges (precedents) play a critical role in determinations of current, undecided cases. One of the critical reasoning principles in case based reasoning is stare decisis, which is a principle of legal conservatism — current decisions should adhere to or abide by past decisions unless specifically overturned. It is critical then to be able to identify not only what precedents bear on the current case, but also whether those precedents still represent good law, that is, legal decisions which have not been overturned. The legal researcher must search through the case base identifying those good precedents.
Shepard’s Citations is a compilation of court opinions and the relationships among the cases. To examine a current case in light of precedents is called Shepardization. An online tutorial can be found at:
How to Shepardize
An article from the journal Artificial Intelligence bearing on aspects of automated shepardization is:
Information extraction from case law and retrieval of prior cases
In the 1990s, there was an coordinated effort by a spectrum of individuals and organisations such as Ralph Nader of the Consumer’s Union and Prof. Carole Hafner of Northeastern University to gain free access to legal information. This was called the Taxpayer Assets Project (TAP) (also referred to as the JURIS system or The Crown Jewels). An initial story is:
Taxpayer Assets Project
Two documents by Prof. Hafner on TAP:
Letter to Reno
Competition for Legal Information
And a summary of how the Clinton administration did not support the development of JURIS:
Decision not to support JURIS
Articles about recent efforts along the same lines can be found at News Media links.
On the news media page, I’ve added some links to newspaper stories about free access to legal information.
Held at the International Conference on AI and Law
June 8-12 2009, Barcelona, Spain
Workshop date: June 12, 2009
The aim of this workshop is to draw together researchers around the issues of the empirical analysis, formalisation, and implementation of legal argumentation in natural language. Such a system would be a decision-support tool which translates natural language arguments into and out of an argumentation framework or logic which supports reasoning and inference. As the interface is in natural language, the tool would be accessible to a wide range of end-users. The workshop builds on recent advances in natural language engineering and argumentation including: controlled languages, predictive editors, text mining and corpus analysis, natural language parsing, ontology construction, translation of natural language sentences into first order logic, logical inference, linguistic analysis of argumentation, and computational theories of argumentation. It draws on an interdisciplinary community in Computer Science, Linguistics, and the Law.
While argumentation can be addressed in a broad range of areas, the workshop focusses particularly on the language, logic, and computation of legal argumentation such as that found between lawyers arguing a case before a court or found in legal briefs and decisions where justifications are given for and against a decision.
For further information and submission, see NaLELA 09
The World Legal Information Institute makes available on its website LawCite, which supports searches in a range of global legal databases with respect to:
- Neutral citation
- Article title
- Cases considered
- Leglisation and section considered
The results are presented in a table.
Particularly interesting are extraction of parties and cases/legislation considered.
What is not clear is just how this information is indexed in the cases, whether manually or by some automated text analysis.
In addition to LawCite, WorldLII has a variety of categories among which one can search, including subjects, lawyers, parliaments.
The interesting part for me about the nature of the searches as well as the categories is that they express an informal legal ontology.
Yesterday, I had an interesting and informative discussion with Joe Ury, Executive Director of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute:
BAILII primarily makes legal information available over the web. The search terms are with respect to:
- Case name
- Word list (conjunctive)
- Exact phrase (using ” “)
- Word list (disjunctive)
- Advance Query with * (morphological variants), ? (single character wildcard), Boolean operators (and, or, not), proximity operators (/n/ for n terms and near (terms less than or equal to 50 terms)
- Unit processing with paretheses ( )
The results can highlight terms in the results.
By and large, these are the same sorts of search capabilities found in commerical legal case base systems.
He drew my attention to the various links for other legal institutes in the world which have a similar agenda of providing free access to the law. A world organisation links to all the available legal databases affiliated with the legal information institutes:
World Legal Information Institute
We discussed issues related to building and using the databases, for there are different issues of ownership in the different jurisdictions. Navigating these issues, addressing concerns, and adjusting to local circumstances are, apparently, a primary reason for the preeminence of commercial vendors. These issues may have to do with who claim copyright, how cases can be excluded, the role of legal professionals (from Supreme Court Justices or Law Lords, to transcribers, to councils on law reporting, to the court system, and on down to law students) in determining access. On the other hand, BAILII is funded by a wide consortium of legal professionals, which would appear to provide defacto support of distribution of legal information. This contrasts with the situation in the US, where the government assigned sole distribution of legal information to commercial vendors, and in this regard, the US has far less available publically (though see the efforts at public.resource.org.
These observations led into a wide-ranging discussion about the role of law in civil society along with the best means to distribute legal information. There are pros and cons on every side.
- Provide value added information such as Head Notes or Abstracts
- Provide a high level of service
- Allow widely distributed access
- Have quality control and assurance
- Preindex cases to faciliate search
- The public’s interest and right to know the operations of the legal system which governs their lives
- Free access (so wider distribution)
- Support for novel searches and applications
There are the interests of a range of stakeholders:
- Public administrations
- Judicial and legal professionals
- The public which is served by the application of the law
- Private firms with significant assets
Access to the law is not unlike access to other fundamental ‘resources’ where public and private interests mingle and compete.
My own view is that the more public the discussions are about the issues, the more productive the outcome will be for all concerned. For example, private interests certainly provide value added goods and services. However, one might argue that novel private interests could grow out of access to at least basic case decisions and legislation. Allowing access to legal information could, perhaps, make the legal system more transparent and efficient, at least to the extent that this is possible. One analogy Joe and I discussed was that allowing access to medical reports to those who wanted it encouraged a greater participation on the part of those being served by the medical system. Yet, it also exposed medical professionals to greater exposure and liability. In turn, this was followed by changes in how service was delivered. Overall, the medical system adapted and improved.
One point is very clear. The movement for free access to legal information is growing. It will be interesting to see how the various stakeholders adapt, compete, and collaborate over the coming years.