Category Archives: research
1988 Bill Moyers’ interview with Isaac Asimov, rather beautiful thoughts on learning and education.
Two questions are of importance when discussing legal information retrieval:
- Where legal sources meet technology and their users and
- When legal sources meet technology and their users
In my opinion, the triad of these building blocks – legal theory, technology and users – has to be taken into consideration when one asks how legal information retrieval can be improved. Carol Kuhlthau said in 1991:
There appears to be a gap between the system’s traditional patterns of information provision and the user’s natural process of information use.
Unfortunately, this statement still holds true in 2010 and I will try to explain how. In order to show some of the inherent discrepancies between the triad of legal IR – as I will call it in the following – one could imagine a scale (of justice).
Considering that users on average use two search words and the amount of legal information is constantly growing, all the responsibility is put on the technology at the moment. In trying to show the possible risks with this scenario, I will – in the following – pinpoint three factors for each of the triad’s building blocks and – in concluding – try to combine these factors in order to show some possible paths for the future.
Generally, legal sources, have, inter alia, three characteristics:
- Legal sources are based on text, and therefore suffer from the ambiguities of language. Searching for “law” will not always lead you to legal matters but also to laws of nature, Moore’s law, etc.
- Legal sources are published as documents. Though legal professionals will rarely read through a complete act of legislation or collections of cases, it is documents that are retrieved, not smaller pieces of information.
- Legal sources are not a unified body of knowledge. Though legal sources commonly follow a certain structure – Act, Chapter, Section, Paragraph; Summary, Facts of the case, Conclusions, Legal Reasoning – this structure is not often taken advantage of. Combining references and links alone are not enough, though inbound links are definitely a start.
As legal sources, technology also builds upon, inter alia, three premises:
- Technology relies on mathematics and statistics. Many algorithms work on the basis of mathematical calculations and statistical probabilities.
- Technology focuses at information. Most IR systems judge relevance based on the information in the system not necessarily the situation of the user. Relevance is not static but dynamic as the user will learn more about a certain subject during the retrieval process.
- Technology likes lists. Most search results are presented in lists of decreasing relevance. Besides the previous point on the dynamics of relevance, certain information might be related in a network way and not necessarily in a hierarchical way.
If we mainly focus on legal professionals in this analysis, one can mention, inter alia, three characteristics:
- Users are lazy. Several studies – not the least The principle of least effort by George Zipf – have shown that users like to do as little as possible in order to retrieve the best possible information.
- Users are confused. Humans do not think in search words, but in concepts. Pressing all our confusion and knowledge into – on average – 2,5 search words, does not come natural to us.
- Users like pictures. Humans think in associations and memory can be improved by visual aids.
Starting with three factors for each part of the triad of legal IR, I would like to combine these nine factors into three possible paths that can either be taken combined or on their own. Hopefully, however, all paths can contribute to an improvement of legal IR, both for users, technology and legal theory.
text + focus on information + confusion = context
Taken the user’s situation more into account (e.g. what she is working with, her area of expertise) and using this information to affect relevance would not only lessen the ambiguity of the text, but also decrease the confusion of the user.
documents + mathematics/statistics + laziness = workflow
Using smaller information units instead of document units as the basis for statistical and mathematical calculations on how the user might be able to use the information would help the laziness of humans and increase their workflow.
structure + lists + visuality = visualisation
The inherent structure of legal information allows for information to be referenced and put into a larger knowledge base that could be visually presented and thereby serve as a visual tool for the user.
These combinations are only three possibilities out of several others, the pieces of the puzzle can be put together as one likes with possible different outcomes. The puzzle, however, remains. Many different factors come into play when legal sources meet technology and their users. The trick is to find a place where they can all meet.
One place like this is Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary. By combining lines, bubbles, colours and space the users meets a visually appealing and easy to understand structure of information that could facilitate her search for legal knowledge.
- Anne Aula, Rehan M. Khan and Zhiwei Guan, How does search behavior change as search becomes more difficult?, in Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2010
- Donald O Case, Looking for information: a survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior, 2nd edition; Academic Press; 2007
- Christine Kirchberger & Staffan Malmgren, Inbound links – picking the low hanging fruit from the semantic web, presented at Workshop on legislative XML 2008 (LXML–2008) – the Law in the Semantic Web and beyond, JURIX 2008, 21st International Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems
- Jon Kleinberg, The Mathematics of Algorithm Design, in T. Gowers and J. Barrow-Green (eds), Princeton Companion to Mathematics, Princeton Univ. Press, 2008
- Carol C. Kuhlthau, Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective, Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42 (5), 1991, pp 361–371
This blog post was inspired by a presentation at a workshop on advanced methods for legal information retrieval, held by the Trust for Legal Information on 26 April 2012. My presentation slides are available as pdf.
This post was originally written in preparation for a conference by the Trust for Legal Information (Stiftelsen för rättsinformation) on ‘Law as a Service’. Being inspired by last year’s VQ Forum, and an blog post titled ‘I Am Now an App™ by Jason Wilson, I would like to share some ideas and thoughts.
When we talk about law as a service or law as an app, we could start by discussing what law is. While legal theorists have done this for quite some time now, there is still no generally accepted answer. If we – more practically – assume that law is there for a purpose – the purpose of making society run smoothly and avoiding unbalance – one could assume that society should be aware of the law on a daily basis in order to allow it to run smoothly.
The ideal law app, therefore, tells a person in advance – proactively – if a legal problem is near and how to avoid it. This could be compared to a GPS navigator warning a car driver of a nearby traffic jam and suggesting alternative routes. Think about how many legal disputes could be prevented just by getting the right information/advice at the right time.
Though not many proactive apps exist in general, yet, a few allow proactive measures. Within the health sector programmes can facilitate living with diabetes allowing check-ups on insulin levels. Productivity apps remind the user of next actions depending on time and/or location.
Most currently available legal applications (Law, Legal ), provide users with legal information, not legal knowledge, however good the quality (e.g. Oxfords Dictionary on Law Enforcement). Some apps even provide networking and discussion functions and simple interactive legal advice.
The next step is to set statutes and cases in a context, in order to consider the situation the user is in, especially concerning private individuals. By utilising the context, geographic location, personal situation, family history, general interests, common shopping interests of a person, a legal app could offer a remedy before a legal issue arises and therefore be more effective than court proceedings taking place after the legal problem already occurred. Privacy issues are, of course, very important, here, and personal integrity has to be considered and protected.
Existing online legal services are on a good way to increase the proactiveness of law and make it less about law than organising one’s life in general. A constant legal health check could, for example, improve the general situation of a person or company and move the legal risk from the ambulance car to the fence on the cliff.
A few questions remain unanswered, however. Two of these are:
- Who should deliver theses services? This question is related to trust. As Apple™ succeeded in digital music, other organisations than law firms may play an important role in future legal services. In some countries, such as the UK, legislation, such as the Legal Services Act, facilitate this development. When developing these services, legal knowledge as well as technology and user friendliness are of importance and law firms might not necessarily be good in all of these areas.
- Should there be one supplier of legal services or several? While this is a question that the market will decide eventually, the current situation reflects a flora of different specialised legal services. One can imagine a mixture of a few suppliers close to the consumers that offer bundled services and a larger number of legal services that specialise in certain areas of law.
In conclusion, the legal industry might not always be the first to test new tools or strategies, but the future will sooner or later catch up and context and proactiveness will be the new buzzwords. One example of a legal app with a more futuristic approach is Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant, which offers very interesting and cool functionalities. While it does not provide a legal GPS for individuals yet, it might just prove that law firms are not necessarily the best to deliver useful proactive apps, though the importance of lawyers being involved during development should not be underestimated.
- Legal futures
- my presentation at the conference ‘Law as a Service’ at Prezi
- my earlier post on VoxPopuLII If the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet will go to the mountain.
In the course of writing my doctoral thesis, I come across various quotes from various decades that I find interesting and of great value to the research community. Due to the vast amount of research articles, some of them might have been forgotten or at least not remembered. In an attempt to revisit some of these quotes, I am intending to revive this blog and post some thoughts on a more regular basis from now on.
As I am writing on the chapter on information management at the moment, I found this quote from 1920
In substance our law is excellent, full of justice and good sense, but in form it is chaotic. It has no systematic arrangement which is generally recognized and used, a fact which greatly increases the labors of lawyers and causes unnecessary litigation.
Henry T. Terry, Arrangement of the Law, Illinois Law Review 15, 1920, p 60. (link)
Interestingly enough, though meant for the case law system, I claim the statement equally applies to civil law countries. In my opinion, however, law is chaotic in substance, not in form.
From a formal, procedural point of view, law is very structured. It is clear who enacts laws, who issues regulations and who decides court cases. But from a semantic, content related, point of view, law is chaotic and has no inherent topical structure.
Statutes and cases cite each other, refer to other legal sources, which creates relations between legal material, but not a clear structure of its meaning.
The network of networks has come a long way since its beginnings. Last week, the Economist wrote about “A virtual counter-revolution“. From being a “great unifier of people, companies and online networks”, the Internet is now developing in a slightly different direction:
Fifteen years after its first manifestation as a global, unifying network, it has entered its second phase: it appears to be balkanising, torn apart by three separate, but related forces.
First, governments are increasingly reasserting their sovereignty. Recently several countries have demanded that their law-enforcement agencies have access to e-mails sent from BlackBerry smart-phones. This week India, which had threatened to cut off BlackBerry service at the end of August, granted RIM, the device’s maker, an extra two months while authorities consider the firm’s proposal to comply. However, it has also said that it is going after other communication-service providers, notably Google and Skype.
Second, big IT companies are building their own digital territories, where they set the rules and control or limit connections to other parts of the internet. Third, network owners would like to treat different types of traffic differently, in effect creating faster and slower lanes on the internet.
Just a few weeks earlier, Wired Magazine declared: “The Web is Dead, Long Live the Internet“
Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting. Chris Anderson explains how this new paradigm reflects the inevitable course of capitalism. And Michael Wolff explains why the new breed of media titan is forsaking the Web for more promising (and profitable) pastures.
The truth is that the Web has always had two faces. On the one hand, the Internet has meant the breakdown of incumbent businesses and traditional power structures. On the other, it’s been a constant power struggle, with many companies banking their strategy on controlling all or large chunks of the TCP/IP-fueled universe.
The role of law as a tool enabling progress instead of building obstacles has sometimes been underestimated in the history of the Internet. Let’s hope that the future will hold more possibilities for law and its proactive role in society.
Sent from my iPad
PS: For those who want to discuss the future of the Internet more in detail, especially with regards to Jonathan Zittrain‘s book The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It, an online symposium is being held at the moment.
This post is also published at the blog of the Swedish Law and Informatics Research Institute – blawblaw.se.
This blog is supposed to facilitate my research on legal information retrieval. As I subscribe to several RSS feeds on search and legal information, I thought I could start commenting these articles as well and give you updates on news within the field.
Hope to see you around!