It gives me great pleasure to launch ICLR&D, ICLR’s legal information lab. The development of the lab has been about eight months in the making and I want explain at outset what we’re trying to do and why.
Open innovation with primary law needs a jumpstart in England and Wales
Whether you want to call it #legaltech or #lawtech, the explosion of interest in the intersection between law and technology isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The problem, at least as we see it, is that the energy in the legal innovation field is struggling to spread to open projects that focus on improving the way we access, utilise and interact with primary legal materials, such as case law and legislation.
Two of the major factors slowing the spread of innovation in the primary law space is a lack of open data to experiment with (particularly case law) and the absence of a coordinated and collaborative environment to serve as an open rallying point.
It is important to set expectations at a realistic level for the word go: ICLR is not in a position to open its case law archive up via a public API for experimentation. But, we are able to facilitate carefully managed experimentation with our data and to make the insights that experimentation delivers available on an open source basis.
What is ICLR&D?
ICLR&D is fundamentally a legal information research and development space. The idea is to couple ICLR’s considerable archive of case law data and our traditional expertise in understanding how the common law works with a multi-disciplinary approach that draws in legal scholarship, design and technology from within and outside ICLR.
The lab’s work is concentrated on Projects: significant and long-term research and development campaigns that focus on discrete problem spaces. Our work and findings will be made available on an open source basis.
We are launching with four separate, but related Projects:
Automatic enrichment of unstructured legal text using rules-based and predictive techniques.
The promotion of open access to case law by analysing and mapping the judgment supply chain.
The emphasis of Raconteur is on exploring ways to accurately impart the significance and meaning of legal materials to the public.
A conceptual project focused on modelling the connections between the various sources of English law.
Our mission and values
We want ICLR&D to be in a position to make a powerful and longstanding contribution to innovation in the legal information space. To that end, we’ve taken care to be clear about what our intentions are and what we want to achieve:
- The promotion of improved accessibility of primary legal materials, both in terms of their dissemination and their intellectual accessibility.
- The promotion of research that seeks to utilise primary law corpora as a source of data and insight, particularly where the research aims to deliver benefit to society as a whole.
- The promotion of a more coherent and collaborative approach to solving problems that sit at the junction of legal scholarship, design and technology.
- To provide support for external projects where those projects engage ICLR’s traditional spheres of expertise.
- The construction of a self-sustaining space to think, debate, test ideas and build.
- The development of long-standing partnerships with governmental, private and third-sector organisations.
Hype, in our view, has a tendency to get in the way of progress. It’s an easy trap to fall into and we have crafted the following values to guide our work:
- Simplicity is almost always better than complexity.
- A boring thing that works is better than an over-hyped “solution” that doesn’t.
- Open is better than closed. So long as a project doesn’t involve confidential or other sensitive material or concerns, our work should be open by default.
- Small, frequent steps are better than giant leaps that notoriously fail to deliver.
- Collaboration is good. The more the merrier.
- Is that an assumption? Challenge it!
It’s worth point out that in constructing ICLR&D, we have drawn considerable inspiration from three well-established innovation labs in the USA. The first is the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard University (directed by Adam Ziegler), which last year launched the phenomenal Case Law Access Project. The second is the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School (directed by Margaret Hagan). Finally, the third is the Legal Information and Technology Lab at Suffolk Law School (directed by David Colarusso).
A final word
The driving philosophy of the lab is that open is better than closed. We want to work with others rather than pursue these projects in isolation inside a vacuum. So, if you have the urge to get involved with the lab or have an idea you’re interested in that you feel fits with our mission, we’d strongly encourage you to make contact with us.