Recently I, like many law librarians (including Dean Richard Danner, James Donovan, and the panelists at the University of South Carolina School of Law's colloquium on "The Law Librarian’s Role in the Scholarly Enterprise" [scroll down & click on "Part 9: Roundtable"]), began to devote more thought to disintermediation in legal information services. One way that law librarians can adapt to disintermediation is by learning more about the study of legal information systems, that is, legal informatics. When I began looking closely at legal informatics scholarship last fall, I was dismayed at not being able to locate any single resource that aggregated all of the major scholarly information resources in the field. As a result, I decided to build one; it’s called Legal Information Systems & Legal Informatics Resources. To provide current information, the site has an accompanying blog , the Legal Informatics Blog, and a Twitter feed. Building these sites has allowed me to cast a novice’s eye on the field of legal informatics.
Here is what I’ve glimpsed in the past few months:
I. Surveying the Sources
My exploration of legal informatics has focused initially on information resources. A relatively circumscribed set of scholarly journals, other article sources, preprint services, indexing & abstracting services, blogs, and listservs regularly report research results in legal informatics. A small set of subject headings will retrieve most monographs and dissertations in the field. Accordingly, aggregating access to these resources has been relatively easy, and automating discovery and delivery of many of these sources seems feasible sooner rather than later.
Conferences are trickier. The number of conferences at which legal informatics issues are addressed is substantial, for several reasons: a large number of researchers from industry as well as academia (see, e.g., the lists of individuals compiled by Dr. Adam Wyner and the organizers of the DEON deontic logic conferences, and this list of departments & institutes), energetically engaged in applied as well as theoretical research, are producing a sizeable output; many of those researchers work in multiple fields; and the pace of technological change is accelerating the research and communication processes. Several Websites, such as those of the International Association for Artificial Intelligence and Law (IAAIL) and the DEON deontic logic conferences, monitor these meetings, however. Access to proceedings is available from several sources, including ACM’s Portal service, the other major information science indexing services, OCLC WorldCat, and the Legal Information Systems site. As a result, access to most legal informatics conference information and proceedings can be streamlined and hopefully largely automated before too long.
Projects have proven even trickier. Much legal informatics research takes the form of grant-funded projects, of which a great number, particularly in Europe, have been undertaken during the past decade. Political integration in Europe and democratization in many regions encouraged certain governments during the past two decades to fund applied research on legal information systems. Identifying and linking to all of these legal informatics projects seems important for enabling access to legal informatics scholarship. Such a process is quite labor intensive, however, because of the great number of such projects, the lack of a comprehensive list of them, and the many languages in which project documentation is written. A long-term goal of the Legal Information Systems site is to build a database of as many of these projects as can be identified, with links to project Websites, deliverables, and publications.
Since standards and protocols, such as those respecting descriptive metadata and knowledge representation, and data sets constitute additional key resources for legal informatics research, links to many of them have been collected on the Legal Information Systems site. Because many researchers in the field focus on a particular research topic or category of legal information, aggregations of resources on major topics in the field, such as e-rulemaking, evidence, and information behavior, to which the Legal Information Systems site has dedicated pages, and argumentation, to which Dr. Adam Wyner’s blog devotes several pages, may yield efficiencies for researchers. In addition, collections of resources on applied topics such as citation standards, computer-assisted legal research (CALR) services, court technology, the Free Access to Law movement (discussed here by Ginevra Peruginelli & Enrico Francesconi of ITTIG-CNR, with links to resources here), institutional repositories, instructional technology, law practice technology, and open access may be of use to researchers and practitioners alike.
II. Detecting a Communications Gap
From a preliminary scan of the field of legal informatics I’ve learned that legal informaticists and law librarians do not appear to be communicating to any significant extent. For example, law librarians seem to play little or no role at legal informatics conferences and are rarely published in legal informatics journals. (Sarah Rhodes & Dana Neacsu’s recent paper seems an exception.) This seems particularly odd, given that law libraries are developing some of today's most innovative digital legal information systems, such as the Chesapeake Project Legal Information Archive (a project of the Georgetown University Law Library, the Maryland State Law Library, the Virginia State Law Library, and the Legal Information Preservation Alliance), the Law Library of Congress’s Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), the Harvard Law School Library’s Digital Collections, the digital law libraries created by the Rutgers Camden and Rutgers Newark law libraries, and the USC Law Library’s English Medieval Legal Documents Wiki. Law library scholarship -- although it often addresses legal informatics topics such as legal citation (as in studies that reveal information resources utilized by courts), legal information behavior (as in the work of Dean Joan Howland & Nancy Lewis, Dr. Yolanda Jones, and Judith Lihosit ), and the functioning or design of legal information systems such as computer assisted legal research (CALR) services (as in recent studies by Julie Jones, John Doyle, and Dean Mason) -- rather infrequently refers to legal informatics scholarship. That is, two communities of experts respecting the same subject -- legal information systems -- seem for the most part to be talking past each other.
Yet information sharing between law librarians and legal informaticists would substantially benefit both groups. Law librarians would gain valuable insights into the functioning of the legal information systems they use every day and the likely direction of the legal information industry, as may be gleaned from recent monographs collecting conference papers in the field as well as from the program of the 2009 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (ICAIL 2009). Those works show that the primary topics of recent legal informatics scholarship include argumentation and deontic logic (as discussed, for example, in recent dissertations by Dr. Adam Wyner & Dr. Régis Riveret); agent/multi-agent systems; decision support systems; document modeling; several natural language processing issues including multi-language systems, text mining including automated classification and indexing, summarization, segmentation, and information retrieval, as, for example, discussed in proceedings of the TREC Legal Track, and notably in the context of electronic discovery; other applied research topics, particularly concerning e-rulemaking, online dispute resolution, negotiation systems, digital rights management, electronic commerce and contracts, and evidence; and the use of XML, ontologies, and the development of the Semantic Web respecting legal information.
By cooperating with law librarians, legal informaticists for their part would gain access to expert users of legal information systems, quality input respecting the contexts of legal information use (ranging from the information lifecycle to the information behavior of lawyers), and ideas for further research.
Here are some specific suggestions respecting how law librarians could make meaningful contributions to legal informatics research. First, law librarians could continue to perform legal information behavior research, building on the important recent activity in this area. Second, law librarians who are developing innovative legal information systems could present papers on those systems at legal informatics conferences and write articles about those systems for legal informatics journals.
Third, as expert users of legal information systems and close observers of lawyers, judges, law students, and lay users of legal information, law librarians could generate legal informatics research questions based on their experience and observations. For example, law librarians could recommend research on such little-studied but important legal information systems as conflict of interest control systems and bankruptcy claims agents’ Websites, or on the application of information science and computer science concepts to legal information systems errors, such as those arising from faulty legal drafting practices and overly complex statutory and regulatory schemes.
Fourth, law librarians could provide legal informaticists with expert practitioner and policy perspectives on issues that law librarians have prioritized as a profession, such as authentication, digital preservation, metadata content and management, and user interface design. Fifth, law librarians could furnish legal informatics researchers with input respecting system capabilities from the vantage of an “expert user,” as Dr. Stephann Makri recently did by including law librarians in his study of lawyers’ information behavior.
Sixth, law librarians engaged in developing innovative digital legal information systems could partner with legal informaticists to study those systems. Seventh, law librarians who are also lawyers could contribute their knowledge of substantive and procedural law to legal informatics research projects, particularly where not all of the legal informaticists involved have legal training.
Finally, law librarians could draw on their in-depth knowledge of legal information systems and users to partner with legal informaticists on the design of research studies. In particular, those law librarians with training in social science research methods could encourage legal informaticists to employ those methods in their studies of legal information systems, which might benefit from increased use of multiple methodologies.
III. Bright Prospects
Greater cooperation between legal informaticists and law librarians would benefit both communities. The Legal Information Systems site will be developed with an eye toward demonstrating and fostering that cooperation.
[NOTE: This post was updated on 22 August 2011 to reflect new URLs.]
Robert Richards edits Legal Information Systems & Legal Informatics Resources and its accompanying blog , the Legal Informatics Blog, and Twitter feed.
VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt.