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Navigating ‘Legal Data Infrastructure’ — you need a guide

Data help us navigate to a decision

Strengthening our Legal Data Infrastructure

Thomson Reuters and the Open Data Institute explore the concept of Strengthening our Legal Data Infrastructure.

By Andrew Fletcher, Thomson Reuters

What do we mean when we talk about data as infrastructure? A few years ago, when I first heard the Open Data Institute (ODI) introduce this concept, they did so using a slide that said: “Roads help us navigate to a location. Data helps us navigate to a decision”. When we think about Legal Data Infrastructure, that seems a very apt analogy. The law is all about decisions, and the data infrastructure in the legal sector is about supporting that decision-making process.

The legal sector represents an extremely large amount of information. Traditionally this has been locked away in documents, but as more and more of it is stored and accessed digitally, we really should be thinking about this as data.

Another concept from the ODI is the data spectrum, which shows the continuum between closed, shared and open data. Previously, Thomson Reuters has worked with the ODI on what it means for data to be Shareable by Default, so that we can take advantage of data wherever it is on the data spectrum, provided we have permission to access and use it.

Across Legal Data Infrastructure there are examples of closed, shared and open data. It is not appropriate for all legal data to be open, for example, addresses of defendants in a criminal case. Legal decisions have far reaching consequences and the data should always be handled sensitively.

In a new report released jointly by Thomson Reuters and the ODI, we explore the concept of Strengthening our Legal Data Infrastructure. This includes five case studies that outline different areas of that infrastructure:

  1. Case law and relevant data from the courts
  2. Court listings
  3. Case transcription data
  4. Legislation
  5. Other data assets for the legal profession, e.g. land registry

As well as a number of opinion pieces from various stakeholders in the legal sector. The paper also touches upon several concepts that both benefit from, and help support a Strengthened Legal Data Infrastructure.

Data interoperability

As already introduced, the data spectrum is a worthwhile guide when thinking about how all the data that flows through the legal data infrastructure is connected. But the topic of interoperability does not imply one joined up legal data ‘platform’ to consume all that data, but rather the way in which data sources can, and will be combined, in commercial and not-for-profit initiatives in the future.

Legal innovation

Innovation is not the exclusive domain of start-ups, but it is a useful way to look at the trends and opportunities from doing things differently. An ecosystem of legal start-ups has already emerged, with innovators tackling risk and compliance, practice management, law for good, analytics and search, contracts and market places. Three years ago, Thomson Reuters started working with an organisation called Legal Geek and together we produce the Legal Tech start-up map, which is shown here, and is a useful way to look at the various ways the legal sector is embracing innovation.

Legal interpretation – your navigation guide

Access to data is not the same as access to justice. More than two thirds (68 percent) of people would not know whether to proceed with a legal matter if they could not talk to a lawyer for advice. If government has a clear role in providing access to data then its role in providing interpretation of the law is less clear cut. Government encourages and supports third sector and private sector organisations to provide interpretation of the law and value-added services for various groups of people with their own needs.

And that is a useful way to take us right back to where we started. Data does help us navigate to a decision – which is why a strong legal data infrastructure is so important, as set out in our new report – but the legal sector in particular shows us that interpretation also underpins that decision-making process. For journeys where the path is unclear, you would not set out without a guide, even if you had access to the best data about the terrain through a map or GPS. So, we need a ‘Strengthened Legal Data Infrastructure’, but the business models of the future won’t throw away the base of expertise that we already have, and will continue to need.