Courts and the legal publishers that serve them, by necessity, are
creatures of habit. A case's fundamental structure hasn't changed
much, whether published early in the 19th century or during the COVID
pandemic. Even when publishers started taking their wares online, they
didn't stray far from their well-worn model. In many ways, that's a good
thing. I imagine legal research and writing would be much more arduous
if fundamental case elements were as inconsistent as citation schema over
But we think these cases have undiscovered uses beyond informing legal
arguments. We know that NLP (Natural Language Processing) folks have
already made use of the API and bulk download tools we built at
http://case.law. Still, the most frequently accessed pages on our
website are individual case pages from google visitors. What are their
needs? Historical research? Family history?
Even if the fundamental structure of a case is necessarily immutable,
are there opportunities for novel interfaces to bring these works to new
The first step I took was to assemble a list of actions that people
perform on collections of things.
Among these ideas, I was most interested in enhancing people's
ability to cut through the endless walls of text we serve up to
find what they're looking for. This is a more cut-and-dried topic
for an interface exploration, so I spent most of my time there.
I am also interested in humanizing the stories behind these
cases through narrative. Too often, the technical analysis of
these legal documents overshadows that they describe real events
in real people's lives. Not only have the subjects of these cases
often endured gruesome, traumatic events, but the trials
themselves are often traumatic. While I only lightly
touched on this direction here, I'd very much like to explore
it in the future.
Topic Explorer is a simple idea based on data or a data interface that
does not exist. What if you could find the number of cases that contain
a specific word and then get a list of the most frequently used
important words in those cases?
At that point, you could add that word to your search.
Or hide it to expose more words.
Exclude it from your search to go in a different direction.
Though based on the same interest in exploring a topic, this approach is
a bit different. The idea is that within a case, you could highlight a
word and then see how frequently that word appears in cases that cite to
the case you're reading and cases that cite to those cases. The idea is
that you could drill down from that topic into different usages within
The color of the case represents the relevance of the term in that search,
or whatever else you want it to be, really.
This completely different approach to digging into a specific topic
involves trying to facilitate conversation among readers. Maybe someone
could annotate a highlighted passage with an invitation to discuss it.
Enter the text:
Users see a symbol:
They click on it and get the invitation:
Ratings and Reviews
Maybe people have feelings about cases best expressed through star
ratings and reviews? Frankly, they probably don't, but it seemed like
too familiar an idiom to ignore.
If you haven't had a chance to check out our trends viewer, I highly
recommend you drop what you're doing and
play for a little while. Like
Google's Ngram viewer, it will tell you the frequency with which a word
appears in cases over time. You can even split it up by jurisdiction!
However, if you want to see how something trends in ALL jurisdictions,
it's a little tough to read.
Rather than having all years and jurisdictions visible, I represented
jurisdictions on a map and added a year scrubber control. You can get
the precise numbers for that year from the list on the right.
3D Timeline Explorer
Our developer Anastasia is working on a very cool legally-focused
storytelling interface we call Timeline. Its users can create
legally-focused timelines that include cases, important dates
and events, and narrative. Inspired by some of the new proximity
conferencing tools, such as gather.town, I designed an interface
with which someone could explore one of these timelines in a 3D
Users access different bits of media when moving their sprite over
different hot spots on the timeline.
Since we are primarily a caselaw database, court cases would probably
get special treatment. Each case could have a virtual courtroom with
different hot spots for different participants in the process.
Sound of an Opinion
Like Topic Explorer, Sound of an Opinion would require data we don't
yet have. Using pre-made or algorithmically-created sound clips, we
would convey the emotional tone and other measurable facets of an
opinion based on text sentiment analysis. In my simplistic demo, I
correlate positivity/negativity with instrumentation and scale, verb
density with the drumline volume, and adjective density with the
drumline complexity. The sound clips were created in Logic Pro X using
Apple Loops and their algorithmic drum beat creator.
Check out this live ProtoPie demo (that will not work in Safari.)
While few, if any of these ideas will be fully realized, unencumbered,
blue-skies thinking is time well spent around here. We've already
started investigating the feasibility of generating and serving
sentiment analysis data through our API. Do any of these ideas excite
you? Do you have any ideas of your own you think belong here? Reach out
and let us know!