[NOTE: Updated on 8-1-2009 to include a reference to continuing legal education.]
A recent trend in legal information systems development & scholarship is the use of software to generate graphical representations, often referred to as “visualizations,” of quantitative law-related information.
Wolfram Research‘s Wolfram Demonstration Project currently features more than five dozen software applications that generate graphical depictions of various types of legal statistics. After downloading the free Mathematica 7 software, users can interact with each application by adjusting variables or other parameters, and then viewing the altered graphical display. Development of new applications utilizes crowdsourcing: Wolfram grants users free access to the software, with which users may develop new applications, provided the users agree to license those applications back to Wolfram, pursuant to Wolfram’s Submission Policy. Wolfram provides guidelines and free online seminars on authoring applications. HT to Jim McMillan of Court Technology Bulletin for notifying the legal community of this project.
Another example of innovation in the use of visualization techniques respecting legal information is the work of Daniel Martin Katz & Michael Bommarito, at the Computational Legal Studies blog. Both researchers are Ph.D. students in the University of Michigan’s Political Science Department and both are affiliated with the university’s Center for the Study of Complex Systems. At their blog, Katz & Bommarito highlight their recent work involving the graphical display of quantitative legal information, including visualizations of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code and of citations and semantic relationships in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The authors also discuss and provide examples of some of their code. Further, Katz & Bommarito frequently discuss interesting visualizations produced by others, such as Good’s interactive visualization of public corruption convictions and Dr. Will Lowe’s presentation on Computational Linguistics and Law.
The applications and techniques featured in the Wolfram Demonstration Project and the Computational Legal Studies blog appear to have a number of potential uses, including courtroom display, empirical legal research, law school instruction, continuing legal education, and public policy work. These projects also exemplify the current, fruitful interaction among scholars and programmers collaborating at the intersections of law, political science, computer science, information science, and linguistics.