The legal web – a worthy mess

By Nick Holmes on September 24, 2010
4 comments
Filed under Access to law, Legal web

Jason Wilson is a law publisher with great insights. He has a nice clean minimalist blog with great pics accompanying each post. More importantly, he’s interested in the kind of questions I’m also trying to answer, such as:

Can we crowdsource reliable analytical legal content?

I have given considerable thought to this problem (and I have a greater interest in solving it than most), and I just don’t see how a Demand Media [sic?] or similar model could ever produce good or reliable analytical material.

But in the next breath he acknowledges that a lot of good stuff has indeed already been generated by the crowds and asks how we will organise that legal web. Actually the question is buried at the end of a dense post about “exploded data” (the value of analytical content).

My thought at this point is that the legal web is in an infancy that we can’t even fathom yet. There is cloud of associated information that our current computer assisted legal research vendors cannot give to us based on their algorithms, especially when they remain in walled-in gardens that don’t account for the vast and valuable information being created by users. The question is whether we will step up to organize this sea of data, or wait until a program can do it for us?

Moving on, in a more accessible post on Slaw he asks how we can effectively curate the legal web.

Curating this growing body of analytical content will be difficult. It suggests a person-machine process of locating and separating good content from bad, and categorizing, verifying, authenticating, and editorializing that content. It will undoubtedly require the creation of a rich taxonomy to help organize and manage the content for later discovery, clean metadata, and a good search engine, and raises issues from data permanency to copyrights to brand dilution. It’s a mess. But a worthy one I think.

and in the comments to that post:

I suppose the point to my post is whether we can wrap a wiki-like structure and interface around the legal web, and make it a destination for learning about both general topics and specific issues, rather than just a portal for all results that match search terms.

Yes we can! However clever the machine, these tasks – “locating and separating good content from bad, and categorizing, verifying, authenticating, and editorializing” – to a large degree require human intervention. But that intervention need only be light touch once we figure out how most effectively to harness the wisdom of the crowds.

4 comments

Thanks for the tips on Jason’s blog and Slaw – good stuff. I’ve been interested in this for a while. Maybe you’ve seen this… http://bit.ly/bgZaGY (research entitled “Making the law accessible to non-lawyers”). I haven’t bought it but it might be up your alley.
Tom

by Tom Hiskey on 26 September 2010 at 1:43 am. #

Tom – Thanks for commenting and good luck with The Law Wizard. The article you point to is way too academic for me!

by Nick Holmes on 27 September 2010 at 12:20 pm. #

Ha – me too!

Thanks for the well-wish, much appreciated. I’ll be working full time on The Law Wizard within a few weeks, with my partner. Exciting times for us. I’m a big fan of the concept behind FreeLegalWeb, and I wonder if there’s a way we could work together when TLW is fully underway next year? Two of our main aims are to make law accessible and provide free guides, so there’s some overlap. Anyway, would be great to stay in touch and best wishes with your projects.

Tom

by Tom Hiskey on 27 September 2010 at 7:35 pm. #

Hi Nick. Thanks for this. Good post. Although I’ve closed the doors on InsideoutLegal.co.nz (you’ll now see a holding page), I’m still very keen about all the internet holds in this space and am exploring new avenues. Perhaps there’s merit in our all setting up a shared space at some point – not too big – in which these sorts of issues can be discussed. I say not too big because LinkedIn groups, for example, can get too big. The bigger they get, the more unmanageable and more spam-prone they become.

by Richard Best on 8 October 2010 at 5:26 am. #