1988 Bill Moyers’ interview with Isaac Asimov, rather beautiful thoughts on learning and education.
After teaching legal information retrieval to first year law students for a few weeks, I started thinking about how we actually search for legal sources. Barbara Bintliff’s thoughts were very interesting in this regard:
Legal research no longer requires beginning with knowledge of the law because the emphasis of electronic research is on facts and keywords, not legal concepts. Research now is truly a mechanical process of entering factual words into a database or search engine and retrieving results. These research results appear to support the realists’ claims that law has no internal consistency.
Barbara Bintliff, Context and legal research, Law Library Journal, Volume 99, Issue 2, 2007, pp 249–266
I still believe that there is an inherent structure in law, though invisible and hidden. Or at least the quest for law as a coherent, linked and consistent framework of rules. As the trend for simple and fast search continues, however, we go straight for the treasure hunt, the easy picked keywords that come to mind. We expect search engines to suggest results for us, instead of trying to identify the most appropriate keywords first.
Thinking more about the concepts than the actual facts will be one of the main challenges of legal information retrieval in the next years. If human cannot translate concepts into keywords, maybe computers can?
See also the earlier quotes of the month:
Excellent post on The Plagiarism Perplex by Barbara Fister on plagiarism and the grey area between creativity and sharing, writing and reading:
There is an extraordinary tension in our culture between individual creativity and the creative community, between originality and a shared body of knowledge, between the acts of reading culture and writing culture. And our students are caught in the middle.
In reality, culture exists in that in-between space where things are shared. When we read, we inscribe what we read with our own meaning. When we write, we draw inspiration from all of the things we have read; they follow our words like shadows thrown behind us. When we come up with a new idea, we’ve built it on ideas that others have already had and hope our ideas become a platform for new construction. We are never entirely alone, and our ideas are never entirely original.
The tension between creativity and sharing, individual and group work sometimes confuses students:
I suspect a large part of the problem is that we send such mixed messages to students. You may hate group work, but it will prepare you for the reality of the workplace – but when we tell you to work alone, don’t discuss the test or homework problems with anybody else or face severe punishment. When you write a paper, your work must be original – but back up every point by quoting someone else who thought of it first. Develop your own voice as a writer – but try to sound as much like us as possible.
Highly recommended read for teachers and students alike. Complete post available at The Plagiarism Perplex | Inside Higher Ed.
As apps increasingly find their way into everyday life, they also accompany students, lawyers and teachers in their everyday tasks. The idea of Law as an App can certainly help to create better learning and professional environments if applied in the right way.
We identified three aspects that are currently lacking in legal education – namely identifying and managing risks, interaction between different areas of law, and proactive problem-based learning – and suggested three ways to tackle these challenges:
- Legal aspects of apps: by using apps as objects students have to work with different subject fields within law in order to ensure a particular app fulfils potential legal requirements, adding proactiveness and problem-based learning to their education.
- Law’s implementation in apps challenges the students to think about how law can be implemented into everyday life and how it could help users, citizens and consumers to avoid legal pitfalls, thereby tackling all three of the above mentioned aspects.
- Legal education as an app provides the students with a companion throughout their legal studies, allowing them to make connections between different areas of law and increases the interactiveness of law studies; depending on the design of the app elements of risk and proactiveness could also be included.
We should note here, that we understand the term app rather broadly and do not refer to a particular platform or technology. In order to ensure equal access for students and teachers alike, the app or service should of course be available on all – or at least the most common – platforms and devices.
Pam & I will further attempt the implementation of the first two approaches in the Master Programme in Law and IT this year. We will keep you up-to-date on our experience and successfulness.
You can read the full blog post here.
[NB]: If you are interested in the topic Law as an App, here are some more resources:
It seems context is not only a buzzword within information retrieval:
One of the hottest concepts in mobile right now is the idea of context.
The thought process goes something like this: because the modern smartphone comes equipped with all kinds of sensors, is always on, and tends to be touched by its owner quite frequently, mobile app developers have an opportunity to learn from all these implicit and explicit cues. Taken together, elements like location, time, velocity, behavior, etc. can begin to paint a picture of the exact context of the moment.
As a software developer, if you can establish context, you can do all kinds of cool things around delivering entertaining or useful content or functionality that will be appreciated by the user at that particular moment of time.
In a nutshell, this is the promise of mobile. You can provide experiences that were simply not possible when the desktop was the primary computing device.
The poster child example of this sort of interaction is called geofencing, and uses a location trigger.
While location as such already represents contextual information, the next step from geofencing is
“Chronofencing” – the delivery of contextually important information based on a time trigger. Chronofences differ from calendar alerts in that they don’t alert you to the event itself – crucially, they provide additional information, from beyond your calendar, that may be useful to you at that moment.
Chronofencing, properly executed, has the potential to fulfill the promise of delivering the right info to the right people at the right moment – in a way that geofencing never could.
Source: Context and the Calendar: An Introduction to Chronofencing http://tnw.to/d4QQ via @TNWinsider 9 September 2012
This development could certainly be of interest for legal information retrieval and delivery of legal services in general. We are talking law as an app nevertheless …..
Though there are different theories on why people search for information – suggesting uncertainty, satisfying a goal or simple curiosity – a gap in knowledge seems rather convincing in a legal setting. Assuming that lawyers generally search for legal sources in order to deal with a working task, the following statement is very persuasive:
Some descriptions of a […] task were more in the ‘puzzle piece’ mode, of filling a slot, but there was considerable indication of unspecified information need at the beginning of the process. A lawyer explained it this way: ‘You have an idea in your mind of what you are going to find out. You know there is a slot that needs to be filled and you know the name of that slot but you don’t know what goes into it’.
Carol C Kuhlthau, S L Tama; Information search process of lawyers: a call for ‘just for me’ information services; Journal of Documentation; 57:1; 2001; pp 25–43
What strikes me in this regard is that the lawyer is aware of the missing piece but does not know how to complete the puzzle. Identifying the slot is not the same as picking the appropriate search words. Keywords might not always successfully represent the missing puzzle piece. Maybe it would be more of value for a legal IR system to know the other pieces, in order to be able to fill the gap ……
context, here we are again ……..
[NB] See also the earlier quotes of the month: