Welcome to my new blog on Legal Informatics

Imagine that all the world’s laws are published electronically in an open and consistent manner. Imagine that you or your business can easily research the laws to which you are subject. Imagine an industry that caters to the needs of the legal profession based on open worldwide standards.

Of course, there are many reasons why this is just not possible. Every legislature or parliament has their own way of doing things. Every country has their own unique legal system.  Every jurisdiction has their own unique traditions. It simply isn’t possible that all these unique requirements could be harmonized to achieve that vision. Of course not… But it will happen. It might take 50 years, but eventually it will happen. We can debate endlessly why it won’t. We can argue over nuances that get in the way forever. That’s not why I am writing this blog.

I want to open the discussion to how it might happen. What steps can we can start taking right now that will lead us towards our eventual goal? We live in an era where there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way our governments pass laws. There are constant calls for better transparency into the workings of the legislative process. The dissatisfaction we all feel has created an opportunity for entrepreneurial startups. Their goals are most often to affect change in government. For those of us with existing experience in this field, how can we harness our knowledge and work with these emerging efforts to achieve a greater good for us all?

I’ve spent the past ten years in this field, working as a consultant and developer primarily to the State of California. See my About for more about me. Now, with that experience to draw upon, I am hoping to make this blog a useful tool to others that might learn from my past. I’m going to make this blog a regular part of my life – posting regularly, maybe weekly. With each post I want to raise a number of questions and open up thoughtful discussions. Some of the topics I have in mind:

  • How do we balance openness and transparency with business opportunity?
  • Do we need open standards? If not now, when?
  • When it comes to openness and transparency, what is the government’s responsibility?
  • Are there technologies we need to focus on?
  • Isn’t this a Semantic Web for law? What does that mean anyway?
  • And from time to time I will share some of the questions I get each week about how to model legislation in XML. I’ll try not to get bogged down in technical minutiae.

What else? Please leave me a comment with your suggestions. Rather than just being a blog, I would like to see this grow into more of a conversation about how legal informatics can be applied to achieve a truly beneficial semantic web for law.

What could your role be in all this? Are you a government agency, a not-for-profit, a fledgling startup, a publishing company, or even a technology supplier or consultant like myself? Regardless of who you are, I am asking for your participation in this blog. Together we can shape the future of how legal information is shared around the world.

So let’s get started… My next post will start with a question I have been wrestling with lately – How can we heed the call for better open source data without hindering the for-profit motive that will foster an industry?

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Welcome to my new blog on Legal Informatics

3 thoughts on “Welcome to my new blog on Legal Informatics

  1. François Yergeau says:

    “Imagine that all the world’s laws … or your business can easily research the laws to which you are subject.”

    Like the world’s people, the world’s laws come in a large diversity of languages. That simple fact should be worked into the equation early for anything resembling a semantic web to be feasible. I suppose this also bears on the for-profit/open source conumdrum: translation is not cheap, especially high-quality as required for much anything that touches law.

  2. This is great to see. I’ve been chipping away at the same issues from the user side for the past three years, as a volunteer developer to the Zotero project. I recently pulled the bits and pieces of the work together here:

    http://citationstylist.org/

    In this work (personal reference management and authoring), standardized (or at least normalized) metadata is a starting point, not an end point: some solution (even if provisional) needs to be in place before a working system can be built. Happily, Zotero offers some nice facilities for accomplishing this, even in the short run. The Zotero site “translation” infrastructure provides tools for remapping the metadata provide by a site (via screen scraping if necessary) to standard item fields. The standard field data can then be used to produce human-readable citations, or metadata in other exchange formats.

    Into the bargain, the multilingual variant of the Zotero client, also available via the CitationStylist site linked above, provides means of coping with cross-language reference management and citation formatting.

    I recently set up a forum on the CitationStylist site for discussion of technical issues related to legal styles cast in the Citation Style Language (CSL) used by the citation formatter embedded in Zotero. The forum discussions will center on that specific implementation, but participation by a broader circle of people involved in legal information systems would be very welcome and most helpful.

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