The Online Court and the digitisation of justice

By Nick Holmes on June 19, 2019
Leave a comment
Filed under Justice

In its Report to the Civil Justice Council in February 2015, Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims, the ODR Advisory Group, chaired by Prof Richard Susskind recommended the establishment by HMCTS of an online court for low value civil claims, called HM Online Court (HMOC). This would overcome the fact that current practice and procedures were “too costly, too slow, and too complex, especially for litigants in person.”

This court service would be in three “tiers”. The first, “online evaluation”, would help users identify their problem, be aware of their rights and obligations and understand the options available to them.

Next, “online facilitation” would involve online mediation and negotiation, supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing. Some “automated negotiation” might be involved.

If not resolved by mediation, “online judges” would decide suitable cases or parts of cases largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically, again supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing.

Although its terms of reference were restricted to civil claims under the value of £25,000, it suggested that the jurisdiction of HMOC “should also be extended to suitable family disputes and to appropriate cases that come before today’s tribunals.”

My recent article in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers looks at how this has panned out.

The Web at 30

By Nick Holmes on April 12, 2019
Comments Off on The Web at 30
Filed under Open web

12 March 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal envisioning a unifying structure for linking information across different computers using hypertext, which by 1991 had been developed and became known as the World Wide Web. The day was marked by three celebratory events around the world, all attended by Tim: at CERN in Switzerland, at the Science Museum in London, and in Lagos, Nigeria.

The first event at CERN was a series of three discussions with leading players in the development of the web.

The first discussion was amongst early developers. With TBL were:

  • Jean-François Groff, who helped Tim develop the web technology;
  • Robert Cailliau, a Belgian informatics engineer who proposed a hypertext system for CERN and collaborated with Tim on the development of the web; and
  • Lou Montulli, author of the Lynx browser, founding engineer at Netscape, best known as the creator of web cookies, but also responsible for several foundational web technologies and standards.

They were joined by Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, and a leading commentator and analyst on the state of the web.

TBL then engaged in conversation with Bruno Giussani, the Global Curator of the TED conferences, on how to fix the web before flying off to London for the second event.

The final discussion at CERN continued looking at the problems the web faces.

The full video of the event (at 2 hr 27 min) is worth watching by anyone concerned with understanding the web, its current challenges and how they might be addressed.

Continue reading on the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers …

The open web

By Nick Holmes on January 31, 2019
Comments Off on The open web • Tagged as:
Filed under Open web

My article in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers January 2018 issue:

The inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, and others advocated that the underlying code for the web should be made open – publicly available on a royalty-free basis, forever. His employer, CERN, concurred and announced this in April 1993, thus sparking a global wave of creativity, collaboration and innovation on a scale not seen before.

Open web principles

The revolutionary ideas that drove the early web included:

  • There should be no central control of the web.
  • Non-discrimination. The equitable principle, known as net neutrality, which holds that we are all entitled to the same level of service over the internet.
  • Bottom-up design. Code should be developed openly rather than by a small group of experts.
  • All computers on the web must speak the same language.
  • Consensus. Web standards must be settled and agreed by all.

These ideas gave rise to new approaches in diverse fields, including Open Data, Open Government, Open Access and Free Culture.

Although the term “open web” is frequently used, it appears that it is nowhere succinctly defined. Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation refers to it as “a sweeping term – it encompasses technical concepts like open-source code and open standards. It also encompasses democratic concepts like free expression and digital inclusion. But there’s a single underlying principle connecting all these ideas: An open web is a web by and for all its users, not select gatekeepers or governments.”

Carry on reading …

Image cc by World Wide Web Foundation.

Why blog?

By Nick Holmes on November 30, 2018
Comments Off on Why blog?
Filed under Blogging

I wrote this for the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers November 2018 issue:

Blogging is a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update time-sensitive information, particularly in constantly-changing fields such as the law. Blogging puts in your hands publishing power even greater than that which was the preserve of only large, established publishers with fat wallets not so long ago. Content management, feed generation, subscriber management, search engine optimisation: all is built in for free. That’s reason enough for almost everyone and every organisation to consider blogging.

Blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing. That’s how blogs started out – with the desire to share thoughts and “write out loud”.

Carry on reading …

Image: cc by Amy Gahran on Flickr.

Transforming access to justice

By Nick Holmes on November 19, 2018
Comments Off on Transforming access to justice
Filed under Justice

In November’s Legal Web Watch I look at three recent developments with access to justice tech:

  • HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s progress made over the last year with the court reform program, reviewed by Roger Smith who on his Law, Technology & Access to Justice blog;
  • Joshua Browder, whose DoNotPay “robot lawyer”, initially developed to challenge parking tickets, has been considerably extended with the recent release of the DoNotPay app in the iTunes appstore; and
  • the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Data-Driven Innovation in Legal Services project, which was one of the 15 winning bidders for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund.

Image: Justice cc by sa OpenDemocracy on Flickr.

Open data: free to use and republish

By Nick Holmes on September 26, 2018
Comments Off on Open data: free to use and republish
Filed under Public Sector Information

Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or similar. The philosophy behind it is long established, but the term “open data” itself was more recently coined. It appeared for the first time in 1995, in a document from an American scientific agency, and it gained traction with the rise of the internet and the web as the platform enabling its effective delivery.

Continue reading my article on open data in the September issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

Open law: digital common property

By Nick Holmes on July 25, 2018
Comments Off on Open law: digital common property
Filed under Access to law, Cases, Legislation

Open law is the idea that public legal information should be freely available to everyone to access, use and republish. The current position in the UK differs completely as between legislation and case law.

In the July issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I consider the state of open law in the UK. As to legislation, legislation.gov.uk is a model of open law publishing. As to case law in England and Wales, public provision from most courts has improved considerably, but it is inexcusable for HMCTS not to invest in the minimum publishing infrastructure necessary to deliver properly edited open case law.

Legal ebooks: who needs them?

By Nick Holmes on July 25, 2018
Comments Off on Legal ebooks: who needs them?
Filed under ebooks

In the July issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I look at the current state of the law publishers’ ebook offerings.

Image: Ebook cc by by Daniel Sancho on Flickr.

The role of technology in legal advice and assistance

By Nick Holmes on July 1, 2018
Comments Off on The role of technology in legal advice and assistance
Filed under Justice

In June’s Legal Web Watch I review two reports on the application of technology in delivering legal advice and assistance.

Image: Detail from the cover of the the Current State of Automated Legal Advice Tools (ALATs) in Australia. The report is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence.

Algorithms in law

By Nick Holmes on June 1, 2018
Comments Off on Algorithms in law
Filed under Algorithms

In the May issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I review recent analyses of the developing law relating to the application of algorithms.

Image: 1044 cc by x6e38 on Flickr.

Do I still need to use the www in URLs?

By Nick Holmes on March 26, 2018
Comments Off on Do I still need to use the www in URLs?
Filed under Linking

Website address by Descrier

In March’s Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

The answer to the question “Do I still need to use the www in URLs?” is, of course, “It depends.” It depends on the context.

Read on.

Big Tech and AI in 2017

By Nick Holmes on February 9, 2018
Comments Off on Big Tech and AI in 2017
Filed under Artificial intelligence, Big Internet, Twitter

Lollipop is coming by Guiseppe Milo

I recently posted a review of What we learned in 2017 on Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. Here are my bits from it and a few extracts from contributors.

It has been apparent for some time that the biggest tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, have grown too large for our collective good. 2017 was the year we finally started trying to figure out how to do something about that.

Trolling and fake news

Paul Bernal writes that 2017 was a year when trolling and fake news started to get serious attention:

“My key takeaway from 2017 [is that] both fake news and trolling, rather than being anomalies or abuses of social media, are pretty much inevitable results of the business models and practices of our social media companies. They’re using the systems as they’re intended to be used: creating and sharing stories and information, targeted at people who show interest in the subject (fake news), or interacting and discussing subjects of interest, in an open and emotional way (trolling).

If we want to seriously deal with either fake news or trolling, we would need to fundamentally reconstruct our social media. I don’t think anyone has the appetite for that.”

Free speech?

Zeynep Tufekci writes in Wired that the flow of the world’s attention is dominated by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and argues that our methods of media regulation are not sufficient.

“These companies – which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression – have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs.”

Zeynep argues that in reality social media posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen; mass discourse has become “a set of private conversations happening behind … everyone’s backs [which] invalidates much of what we think about free speech – conceptually, legally, and ethically.”

Read more in It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech by Zeynep Tufekci in Wired.

Too big to regulate

Roger McNamee writes in Washington Monthly, that thanks to the US government’s laissez-faire approach to regulation, the dominant internet platforms have been able to pursue business strategies that would not have been allowed in prior decades.

“No one stopped them from using free products to centralize the internet and then replace its core functions. No one stopped them from siphoning off the profits of content creators. No one stopped them from gathering data on every aspect of every user’s internet life. No one stopped them from amassing market share not seen since the days of Standard Oil. No one stopped them from running massive social and psychological experiments on their users. No one demanded that they police their platforms. It has been a sweet deal.”

Most of us would agree with McNamee that “Facebook and Google are now so large that traditional tools of regulation may no longer be effective.”

Read more in How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us by Roger McNamee in Washington Monthly.

Twitter v LinkedIn

Brian Inkster writes that in 2017 he grew to like LinkedIn a lot more:

“I felt it had evolved and come into its own. It is being used far more effectively as a networking/interaction tool than used to be the case. I notice that posts I put out on LinkedIn invariably get more traction and interaction than the same post on Twitter. The spam that used to come via Groups on LinkedIn is a thing of the past although LinkedIn have recently announced a focus on ‘re-integrating Groups back into the core LinkedIn experience’. Connections and referrals are being made on LinkedIn in a way that used to happen on Twitter but no longer seems to happen on there in the same way.”

Twitter matures

My own view is that Twitter’s purpose, other than to make a lot of money for its founders and investors, is very different from LinkedIn’s. It is very much geared towards reporting current developments and reacting to and analysing their importance. Of course, it does depend on which bubble you inhabit as to how deep or trivial are the issues under discussion and how useful or annoying are the replies. For professionals, and lawyers in particular, it offers rich seams of discussion and expert analysis of the sort we used to associate only with meatier articles and blog posts. Two recent developments on the platform have helped.

The maximum tweet length has been increased from 140 to 280 characters. The original restriction encouraged brevity and creativity, but it was so restrictive that it also encouraged less beneficial practices. The longer limit, whilst initially bemoaned by the old school, appears to have been well received.

Twitter “threads” have been officially adopted. Like a number of Twitter features, threads were an innovation by users rather than by Twitter itself. Linking together a sequence of tweets turns out to be a very effective way of developing an argument, telling a story and so on. Threads have very quickly established themselves as a literary form well deployed by lawyers.

Machine learning

By the end of the year we’d learned that much of what we term AI, and certainly much of the AI that is actually being implemented in legal practice, is principally based on machine learning. Give a machine a lot of data and it will learn from it and then apply that knowledge going forward in a virtuous cycle. For example, in the legal sphere we have machines taking over from overworked junior lawyers in conducting document review. So machines are doing the drudge work in an important but fairly narrow field. Is this really intelligence? They are also being used to predict the likely outcome of cases based on precedent. And in the US, AI is risk assessing offenders and even sentencing criminals. What could possibly go wrong?

Algorithms

We learned a fair bit about algorithms in the last year. “Algorithm” is really just a geeky word for “set of rules”. We were previously probably most familiar with the term in relation to Google; its PageRank algorithm was much talked about. In fact Google deploys thousands of algorithms in determining how to rank pages in its results.

Facebook and Twitter use algorithms to decide what to put in your news feed and what ads to show you. Uber uses algorithms to decide which driver to match to your ride and how much to charge when demand exceeds supply. These are all decisions made by powerful companies affecting many aspects of our lives and little is disclosed about how they are made.

Even where we know the rules, we may not appreciate their implications. Leave a decision to an AI machine trained with biased data (which is more than likely) and it will exhibit bias.

So we started worrying about algorithms. From Algorithms and the law on Legal Futures:

“Algorithms are rapidly emerging as artificial persons: a legal entity that is not a human being but for certain purposes is legally considered to be a natural person. Intelligent algorithms will increasingly require formal training, testing, verification, certification, regulation, insurance, and status in law.”

Robots taking jobs

There has been an awful lot of discussion about robots taking jobs. Which jobs, how many, by when? Nobody seems to be able to agree.

In Big Law, AI is doing the drudge work formerly occupying junior lawyers. They believe those jobs can be replaced with more valuable work to generate more profit. That begs the question what will happen to lawyers and paralegals further down the food chain.

Professor Richard Susskind addresses this question in the new edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, saying “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there will be much less need for conventional lawyers.” (For a review of the AI chapter, with extracts, by Ian Lopez, see Corporate Counsel.)

Image: Lollipop is coming (cropped) cc by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr.

Links in law and practice

By Nick Holmes on January 30, 2018
Comments Off on Links in law and practice
Filed under Linking

Links by Balrog Daemon

In January’s Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

Links are fundamental to the web; without them it would literally not exist. So, it is surprising that legal advice on linking usually starts by counselling the linker that they should first obtain permission. See, for example, Linking and Framing on Out-Law.com (admittedly, that was 2008) and Think before you link on Pitmans’ Insights (2017).

Not only is this impractical, but also most sites are in fact keen for others to link to them for the attendant “eyeballs” and the “Google juice”. So, whilst strictly in law permission is needed, in practice we can assume permission if we link responsibly.

Read on.

Robot lawyers (again)

By Nick Holmes on September 5, 2017
Comments Off on Robot lawyers (again)
Filed under Artificial intelligence

DoNotPay

In the July issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers Casey Flaherty forcefully makes the case against the hype surrounding AI and robots in legal, particularly by vendors talking up their own offerings. He is also somewhat sensitive to those who call their offerings “lawyers” when they clearly are not. One such, indeed the one who has claimed “the world’s first robot lawyer” is all-of-20 Joshua Browder, a British student at Stanford University, majoring in Economics and Computer Science. His DoNotPay robot lawyer started off challenging parking tickets for him and his friends and has now developed into a veritable bot-fest, with over 500 law bots planned in 300 areas of law across US, Canadian and UK jurisdictions.

Read more by me about DoNotPay.

Robots and the law

By Nick Holmes on April 30, 2017
Comments Off on Robots and the law
Filed under Artificial intelligence

My latest article for Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.