Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Data and Law: Two interesting new posts

What is the role of data in law?  I was trained as a scientist, so I have a tendency to look for evidence and falsifiable hypotheses in law and my daily life.  On this blog, I have discussed one aspect of data in law, the value of adding structure and metadata to legal texts.  In a similar vein, Grant Vergottini throws down the gauntlet, in his latest post,  for the creation of a uniform semantic web for legal documents.  He writes that current publishing practices provide "no uniformity between jurisdictions, minimal analysis capability (typically word search), and links connecting references and citations between documents are most often missing."

Grant asks a number of thought-provoking questions about creating a uniform semantic web for legal documents, which I think need to be addressed by the legal technology community, and the broader legal community:
What standards would be required? What services would be required?...Should the legal entities that are sources of law assume responsibility for publishing legal documents or should this be left to third party providers?
Edward Bryant takes a different approach in his post about using data in law, focusing on the value of using data to make policy decisions, which are then implemented in laws or regulations.  He discusses recommendations by the Ohio tax board to streamline processing of challenges to the state authority's valuations of residential property. The tax board apparently recommends streamlining challenges on residential property, but not commercial property, on the assumption that the residential claims will be less complex.  Bryant points out that the board's recommendation would be more credible if it used a little bit of data to correlate case complexity with the type or amount of claim.

I would expand Bryant's point to suggest that many of our leading decision-makers are not equipped to make data-driven decisions. Often, policy decisions like this are made with little or no relevant data-- or even in the face of contrary data.  Requiring some data-intensive technical training for lawyers would be a good start.  How about one semester of Evidence that focused, not on the FRE, but on how to gather and evaluate objective evidence in support of policy or legal decisions? I suspect that if lawyers, in general, were more data-literate, we'd have an easier time answering the questions that Grant poses above, on the way to create a uniform semantic web for law.