Discussion Questions (2002)


Please read The Rules for the class discussion lists, before sending answers to any of these questions to the list.

1. Text Retrieval and Hypertext in Legal Applications

1.1 Hypertext History, Features and Design

1.1.1 As We May Think

Dr Vannevar Bush wrote an article called "As We May Think" in 1945, setting out his specifications for a "MEMEX". Briefly describe the MEMEX, especially those elements of it that relate to hypertext theory. Comment on how much of this is now available today.

1.1.2 Project Xanadu

Ted Nelson proposed a number of features for a large scale hypertext system. To what extent does the WWW fulfil his vision? What is missing?

1.1.3 Hypertext and WWW

Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper in 1989 called 'Information Management: A Proposal'. In it he lists a number of requirements for a system which later became the WWW. Have those requirement been fulfilled?

1.2 Usability on the WWW

Questions 1.2.1 - 1.2.5

The following websites in Q1.2.1 - Q1.2.5 should be evaluated (briefly) according to:

(i) The hypertext and search facilities they offer; and

(ii) Whether they employ good principles of hypertext design. You should consider the criteria suggested by Nielsen and by Chung in their articles, but you are welcome to use your own criteria as well.

1.2.1 Evaluation - Cornell LII

The Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell

1.2.2 Evaluation - Scale+


1.2.3 Evaluation - Gilbert + Tobin

Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers

1.2.4 Evaluation - Tasmanian legislation

Tasmanian legislation

1.2.5 Evaluation - Law 4 U

Law 4 U

1.2.6 Web design and commercial factors

If you were designing a web site for a law firm, would you take a different view than Nielsen of some of the factors he discusses in his articles in mistakes in web design?

1.2.7 Jacob Nielson

Jakob Nielson has been mentioned several times in the materials. However not everyone agrees with his design approach. Read "Jakob Nielson, Slick and Wrong", and comment on the arguments made.

1.3 Text Retrieval

1.3.1 Concordances

If I have a retrieval system that creates a concordance of a set of documents so that it records (for each word) the document in which the word occurs, the location of the sentence in which the word occurs, and the location of each word within the sentence, which of the following search operators (connectors) could be created in that retrieval system?: If the retrieval system was changed so that it no longer recorded the location of the sentence in which the word occurs, or the location of each word within the sentence, but instead only recorded the location of the paragraph in which the word occurs, how would your answer change (if at all)?

1.3.2 Differences between search engines

Search Engine Watch's Major Search Engines page lists and describes the top 24 web-wide search engines. From this page (and by looking at some of the search engines), list 10 things that differentiate some major search engines from others. Give at least one example of a search engine that has the feature you mention.

 Example: "Relevance ranking based in part on 'link popularity' or number of sites linking to a page (eg Google)"

1.3.3 Precision, recall, and relevance ranking

One of the problems of retrieval systems was supposed to be that there was an inverse relationship between precision and recall. What effect does the use of relevance ranking to display search results have on this 'problem'?

Are 'precision' and 'recall' still relevant to measure the performance of systems that use relevance ranking?

1.3.4 Integration of hypertext with text retrieval

By combining hypertext and text retrieval, what advantages can you get from the combination that is not found in either of the technologies when used in a 'stand alone' way?

1.4 Applications to law of hypertext and text retrieval

1.4.1 Point-in-time legislation

Why is it important to have 'point in time' legislation, and to whom is it important?

 Do you have any criticisms of how it has been implemented by the Tasmanian government (see Tasmanian legislation)? How does this compare to the TimeBase system?

1.4.2 Improvements to case-law systems

Taking as a starting point how case-law is presented in AustLII and SCALEplus, what improvements are needed? How feasible is it that these improvements will be developed?

1.4.3 Internet-wide search engines

What more do we need to know to evaluate the effectiveness of internet-wide search engines? Is it important to legal research that we can evaluate their effectiveness?

1.4.4 Directories and search engines for law

What are the principal points of difference between AustLII's World Law and the SOSIG Law Gateway?

 Are developments like these likely to provide any significant long-term benefits over internet-wide search engines?

1.4.5 Contributing editors

The Open Directory Project says it 'provides the opportunity for everyone to contribute'. After examining the Law sub-directories of ODP, and ODPs editorial policies, comment on whether this approach is working effectively for law. What alternative approaches are possible?

 Are developments like ODP likely to provide any significant long-term benefits over internet-wide search engines?

1.4.6 WorldLII?

A distributed free access World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) is under development. Some brief details are available at <http://www2.austlii.edu.au/~graham/Slides/Dublin/worldlii.html> .

A beta version of this site is now online at <http://www.worldlii.org>.

 To what extent (if at all) would a development like this provide any alternative to the emerging global legal publishing empires of which Lexis, WestLaw and Kluwer are part?

2. Inferencing Systems

2.1. Automating legal skills and tasks

Of the various skills that lawyers apply to their work, which ones (if any) are likely to be able to be automated? In light of these conclusions, how would you describe briefly the proper (ie achievable) role of a 'legal expert system'?

2.2. Are rule-based determinations possible?

Softlaw's Peter Johnson argues that the rule-based systems now being implemented in Commonwealth agencies can, if properly implemented, lead to a revolution in the provision of determinative processes, including the replacement of 'stove piping' with one stop shops, and outsourcing and self-service.

Are rule-based systems of the type SoftLaw is developing capable of delivering these changes? What factors in SoftLaw's approach would help to make such a result achievable? (whether or not it can ultimately be achieved)

2.3. Consumer pros and cons of rule-based determinations?

From the perspective of a consumer of government services, what would you identify as the advantages and disadvantages of the rule-based systems advocated by SoftLaw.

2.4. Rule-based systems and private legal practice

If you tried to implement across the whole range of private legal practice the types of rule-based systems that SoftLaw is implementing in government, what are the main factors that would make this difficult?

2.5. Isomorphism

What is meant by 'isomorphism' in the development of rule-based computerised legal systems? Explain why it is or is not important.

2.6. Case-based reasoning systems

What are the principal impediments to the development of inferencing systems based on case law? How likely is it that they can be overcome to produce useful systems?

2.7. Automated document generation - what's needed?

What are the desirable features of an automated document generation system?

2.8. Automated document generation - why not?

Why doesn't the legal profession make more use of automated document generation?

(i) Litigation Support and Court Technologies
(ii) Legal practice technologies
(iii) Public policy and standards for legal information

25 The Internet and standards for court technologies

The Complex Trials Report (1993) made a lot of recommendations about the need for standards. To what extent does the use of the Internet provide an answer to this need?

26 Electronic Appeals Book recommendations

The Electronic Appeals Book Report (1998) made thirteen recommendations to the Council of Chief Justices. To what extent do they differ from the recommendations made in the Complex Trials Report (1993)? What accounts for the differences?

27 Electronic filing

What is the significance of electronic filing of Court process for the development of court technologies? (See the Electronic Appeals Book Report (1998) Recommendation 13 among other sources.) Why i s the use of XML significant for Court filing systems?

28 Encryption technologies

How significance are encryption technologies (including digital signatures) for the development of computerised court processes and litigation? Include a list of different ways in which you think they can be significant, and note whether there might be alternatives. [This question may be difficult for anyone without a background in the basic techniques of public key cryptography. See Peter van Dijk - 'PKI and the Legal Sector' for an introduction.]

29 Cooperation between the parties

If the parties won't agree about the use of technology, what can or should the court or tribunal be able to do? See the Complex Trials Report (1993) for some suggestions. To what extent does the Supreme Court of New South Wales Practice Note No. 105: Use of Technology in Civil Litigation address the problem generally, and the recommendations made in the Complex Trials Report?

30 Dangers of presentation graphics?

Are there any serious dangers to just outcomes of trials and litigation which can arise from the use of presentation graphics in trials? How can they be overcome? Does the Supreme Court of New South Wales Practice Note No. 105: Use of Technology in Civil Litigation address these problems?

31 Evidence law and presentation graphics

Does the Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995 or the NSW Evidence Act 1995 now make adequate provision for the admission of graphical presentation of evidence? (See the Complex Trials Report (1993) for some of the issues)

32 Gopher - Presentation graphics

What are the different types of presentation graphics? Find at least one Australian or overseas site in addition to those in the Reading Guide that is doing interesting things with presentation graphics for litigation support, and explain why it is interesting.

33 Mudmap of the future

Comment on the The Justice Trevor Olsson and Ian Rohde Mud Map (as used in a presentation at the AIJA Technology for Justice 2000 Conference). It gives a 'confidence factor' measurement for a set of predictions, as at 1998 and then as at 2000.

34 Courtroom 21

Courtroom 21 at the College of William & Mary and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Virginia, USA claims to be 'The most technologically advanced courtroom in the world'. What evidence is there, from the Courtroom 21 site, and from other computerised courtrooms, that this claim is correct?

35 Susskind's future of legal practice

Richard Susskind in the Introduction to The Future of Law: Facing the Challenges of Information Technology, says

I envisage that legal work will shift from being an advisory service to becoming, in large part, a form of information service, a kind of legal service which might meet most of the needs of individual citizens and businesses and yet differ markedly from the traditional means by which legal counsel has been imparted. A vast, latent, legal market will emerge on the so-called information superhighway, giving everyone (and not just lawyers) ready and inexpensive access to legal products and information services. The focus of these services will be dispute pre-emption based on readily available legal guidance rather than dispute resolution in the courts; and legal risk management instead of legal problem solving. In the global information society, I claim, IT will help integrate the law with business and domestic life.

Is the type of service Susskind suggests likely to become the main way in which lawyers provide services via the Internet? What factors are for and against this?

36 Is free access justified?

AustLII has argued that public policy should maximise access to public legal information because it supports access to justice, the rule of law, and democratic institutions, and it assists business efficiency and international transparency. It argues that there are six obligations of public bodies to facilitate this.

Should courts and other public bodies have such obligations, or is this a waste of public money and an impediment to competitive commercial legal publishing?

37 Why is XML useful for legal documents?

What are the potential advantages of Extensible Markup Language (XML) for the creation of legal documents? What possible disadvantages are there? Is it necessary to have standards for XML to be of use?

38 Is Legal XML safe?

Are there any reasons why a commercial legal publisher, or a non-commercial publisher such as AustLII, might be cautious about participating in the standards-setting activities of Legal XML?

39 Court-designated citations

What are the advantages of Court-designated citations? Are there any disadvantages?

40 Use of Internet decisions in Court

The Supreme Court of NSW has issued Guidelines on Judgments in Electronic Form. What changes or additions to these guidelines would be needed before copies of decisions derived from Internet sources such as AustLII were able to be used in Court for all purposes? Would these changes be desirable?

41 Coordination or standards?

Is there still (or was there ever) a need for some central body (or bodies) to coordinate the use of information technology in Australian courts? (See the recommendations made in the Complex Trials Report and in the Electronic Appeals Book Report as starting points.)