Today and tomorrow, the LII is hosting a standards-development workshop as part of the national law.gov initiative (#lawgov) The aim is to produce a body of work that will inform standards and practices for metadata and markup for bulk-delivered legal information.
This is geeky stuff, but it’s important. Standards lead to interoperability (a favorite blog topic of ours — see here and here). Interoperability, in turn, creates a much more favorable environment for the development of innovative, jurisdiction-spanning software applications. The workshop will focus on four specific activities:
- the creation of a general standard for caselaw
- exploration and adaptation of the CEN/Metalex interchange standard for statutes and regulations
- adaptation and illustration of the URN:lex standard for legal document addresses
- exploration of the “scaffolding” (such as metadata registries) needed to support authoritative, distributed systems
We’ve assembled a talented group to work on these problems, with representatives from the law schools and libraries at Cornell, Yale, Rutgers, Harvard, and Columbia; the Law Library of Congress; the US Government Printing Office; the Princeton Center for Information Technology and Policy; Lexis-Nexis; the National Center for State Courts; the Sunlight Foundation; and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction among others.
These words, from the CEN/Metalex Workshop Agreement, strike us as particularly meaningful:
Legislative documents are in a strange position with regard to standards. On the one hand, legislative drafting technique has a long tradition, and often its own standards of what legislative documents should look like. This makes descriptive markup combined with strict content models very tempting. On the other hand, there are so many exceptions that can be found in concrete examples throughout the legislative history of the average state that we sometimes just want to give up on precise description altogether and resort to incredibly generic elements, in particular because there should be not one iota of difference between the original expression of the legislator and the XML manifestation of that expression.
If we are too normative we end up preventing the markup of a possibly large range of documents, especially legacy documents. On the other hand, giving up on description of elements we end up preventing the analysis of the content of legislative documents, and permitting a chaotic and anarchist approach to legal document management that will prevent any further application of sophisticated automated assistance.
We’re expecting great things over the next couple of days. Follow us at hashtag #lawgov .