The legal industry has not fully embrace the potential of legal data. Legal data represents various data included in different sources of law, from legal theory data to data generated through legal practice. Legal documents, legal knowledge base, spreadsheets, billing systems, policies, emails and external data sources such as case law and legislation are stored in multiple formats. Machine readable and interlined legal data can be used to train and refine machine learning algorithms while supporting better decision making process through more effective and efficient task performance while creating value for an end user.
For example different data analyses based on previous experience with legal experts such as data based on law firm complaints may help a customer to choose the right lawyer for his or hers matter. On the other hand, legal service provider performance data may empower legal experts to evaluate their own performance and increase quality of their services. Data from different commercial agreements may be useful for future contract review used in small business. A lists of common legal services with descriptions would help to evaluate how much should certain legal service costs. Later could not only build transparency and trust between legal experts and clients on one hand, but also help to develop systems for repeatable legal processes and technology to streamline services on the other.
If we want to fully profit from legal data and unlock the power of it, certain pre-conditions must be met:
- high-quality usable data;
- appreciation for and capability with data;
- data use and access.
Merely structuring and linking legal data together without proper presentation may not fully unleash the legal data potential. Data visualisation is the graphic representation of information. Being more specific, legal data visualisation is the practice of translating legal data, information and knowledge into a visual context while making more or less complex legal data more understandable. Moreover, it is important to identify most appropriate way to visualize information and communicate the message. In medicine for example, studies have demonstrated positive effect of visualisation on patients when explaining medical risks through graphic representation. Legal data visualisation may overcome misunderstandings and reduce confusion through:
- allowing the user to understand patterns and relationships not clearly visible within legal data, information and knowledge;
- enhancing communication of risk to a generic audience, especially one with low-numeracy skills;
- helping legal and non-legal professionals to focus on, assimilate and recall issue-relevant aspects;
- improving legal problem solving and decision making abilities.
There exists several different methods of legal data visualisation which are presented and described in below table (according to Scott McLachlan, Lisa C Webley):
The concept flow is one of the most widely used legal data visualisation method. Some visualisations are more basic like presenting contract timeline, while others are more mature, like criminal sentencing decision-making process. What is relevant is that both examples present more or less complex legal data more vividly.
Legal data visualisation can also improve access to justice and general legal services. The visualisation, in combination with simple language explanation may increase overall comprehension and enhance untrained person’s ability to raise valid legal arguments (SketchLex). In business, concept flows may be used in proactive compliance monitoring, since most compliance functions still rely on different monitoring systems and controls to cover all of the key risk areas. In academia, legal data visualisation can explain in simple terms how certain legal concept has been developing through the past and predict upcoming trends.
Legal data visualisation definitely facilitate better decision making and more timely, strategic, operational and tactical execution. However, with all that being mentioned, there is still a long way before legal data visualisation will be more widely implemented in practice.