Saturday: in Bologna for attending Spaghetti Open Data, Italic meeting of open data people and civic hackers. You know, one of those meetings where everyone seems to know everyone else. In particular, I attended the Law4OpenData Unhackaton, one of the 1.001 events unfailingly run by great Monica Palmirani (hey, she was on ABA journal this month) where I had the pleasure of meeting Monica and other passionate students, lawyers, civic hackers and civil servants, academics, hybrid people (myself).
Many datasets are not open. There are some laws which establish they should be. But these laws, at best, are not clear. We started analyzing the laws, then we moved to a full stack analysis, where we played with policy, business and legal issues. You name it, brainstorming.
Monica Palmirani, Michele Martoni, Ilaria Bianchi, Dino Girardi, Patrizia Saggini, Angelo Biolcati, Diego Maranini, Giovanni Battista Gallus, Tommaso di Noia, Gerlando Gibilaro, Chiarida Gherri, yours truly. If I missed someone -it could be possible, given that people came and went, in a very freestyle mood- write your name down in comments field and I’ll add you.
The cases we worked on
pictures courtesy of Ilaria Bianchi and Dino Girardi
Btw: after reading this post you grew an uncontrollable interest toward open data in libraries and pharmacies? Get in touch - suggest solutions to the cases above!
I had a chat with Seamus Kraft of America Decoded last week.
What it is. America Decoded is a massive project to open US’s laws. Many laws are currently not accessible, for a number of copyright and technical reasons explained here. America Decoded wants to provide local, state and federal laws for free. To everyone.
Why it’s cool. Because it’s giving back the law to the people.
What’s in there. They are starting to free local and state codes. As I write, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco, Philadelphia, DC, Maryland, Virginia and Florida codes are already there, Miami and Raleigh coming soon. All the laws are in State Decoded’s XML format.
Who provides the law. The cities and states which joined the project. No scraping, said Kraft, because although sometimes possible, it would look like ‘smuggling’. Citizens are also asked to collaborate, by contacting their elected officials and ask them to join the project.
Who funds it. Donations. The Open Gov foundation is a no-profit entity.
What I like. The UX is cool. The special XML format makes thing easy to read. The inline definitions (i.e. in the Virginia Code) for explaining legalese are cool. Different bulk download options (JSON, plain text) are cool. Finally, the crowd-sourcing thing is cool: they ask people to collaborate, by contacting their officials but also by naming the titles (i.e. in the Code of Maryland) and by telling developers to come build things on their software: the State decoded software is open to developers to modify and create things on it.
Law has always been a crowdsourced experience. I’m thinking about the law of contracts in Europe, before the codification age began (early XIX century), for instance. Contract law was developed by people bargaining among them and building legal solutions to fit their business needs. Law has always been crowdsourced. Then, gradually, the State walked in. The first way to alienate the law from the people was using a complicated language: I’m not saying it was intentional. But it gradually happened. State enacted laws which were not understandable by normal people. (By the way, it happened long before the codification age. But the codification age was a definitive step into locking the law into the books).
Ok, well, recently I heard of some legal projects which have to do with crowdsourcing of legal terminology, in many different ways. That is, they deal with people’ understanding of legal language, use of non legal terms for building legal terminology, rewriting of legal terms by people..you name it. I’ll list them here.
Let’s start by this project by Cornell LII, Michael Curtotti and Eric McCreath, How do you read me, to test readability of legal text. So clearly the hypothesis to test and measure is that legal text is not clear for normal people (non lawyers), which, on the other hand, are the very subjects of every legal text.
The Fuzzy Law project by Cardiff University, aka an online collection of lay citizens’ understanding of legal concepts. Lay citizens = normal people.
Not very rigourous, but our project What’s on a Lawyer’s mind is worth a mention too. How do normal people order legal terms in categories?
This project by Amy Taylor, Building a Legal Ontology, partly deals with crowdsourcing because, well yes, she’s building an ontology (a top down thing), but she’s also using Fastcase search results to build up the legal terminology. That is, using what people looked for to create the legal vocabulary.
The Legal Design Jam where normal people are asked to rewrite and give a massive make over of a legal text to make it understandable by its very target: again, normal people.
This paper by Robert Richards and John Gastil Legislation by amateurs, is about ballot initiatives and citizens’ understanding of legal terminology. In the words of the authors “Plain legal language research suggests that citizens’ understanding of legal information increases to the extent that the communication of such information accords with citizens’ own legal communicative practices. Yet we know little about such practices. The goal of this study is to increase our understanding of those practices”.
DoAgree will be a crowdsourced template service, to include ” whatever terminology author wants”, so also plain language. Curious to know how it goes.
If you happen to hear about other stuff, let me know!
Peppercorn, one of the legal innovation projects I’m working into, is now live with the beta. It’s a place where you can make your contracts, in languages.
From the Peppercorn’s blog announcement:
"We started with a bunch of contracts forSMEs, coders and designers. More to come!
Create, translate, download. All the contracts are free. We just ask for your harsh feedback back, and don’t be too kind!
Here’s the list (more contracts will be ready in a few days: the elfs are still crafting them):
Enjoy, share, tell your freelancer friend. And drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Yesterday the Legal Design Jam held in Milan was a great time. Info designers and legal innovators together, for the first time in Italy.
What we did
The four groups at work transformed that nightmare of a law into:
All of this. Really.
All the results were minimum viable products which were in practice already usable. Have a look here.
It took us 9 hours to turn something ugly into something beautiful and fun.
Tweets from the event here, storified by Robert Richards.
Update: a report of the Legal Design Jam by Stefania. Plenty of videos and pics, beautiful like a story.
Other than writing on this blog, being involved in too many projects and being incredibly hot, I’m also the social media sociable person for [maybe] the first Italian legal startup, Peppercorn.
Peppercorn is the place for creating your contracts, in a few steps and in multiple languages.
You have 3,5 minutes? Read it.
You have 1 minute? Then just sign up for the beta.
You just have 30 seconds? Then just read this list:
They make a legal design jam.
A legal design jam is an event where lawyers meet non lawyers and they together work on a legal document to make it over. Massively.
That’s not my usual habit and that’s a reason for it. No, wait, at least 3.
3 reasons why you should go either you are a lawyer or an information architect, a designer, a UX person.
A legal design jam is a battle against legalese. No one -not even lawyers- understands this convulse mixture of jargon and convoluted syntax. And well, maybe everyone is free to use whatever the ugliest jargon he wants to (although I contend also this - startup people have their jargon too and it gets on my nerves). But at least this is out of question when it comes to the Law. Law _must _be clear. Period.
Design is not only about the nice frills and colors you put around. Visualization is not only something that makes information clearer. Visualization is information. Said another way, some information could never possibly be read and understood without savvy visualization (think about big data).
The Legal Design Jam is in Milan. That would be a chance to gather the small Italian legal-tech community. All together in one place, think of it. We would make an easy target for old school lawyers, if they ever decided to clear us out.
Well, I’m taking the risk. Are you meeting me there?
The dynamic duo is now touring the U.S. and organizing their next little bit of magic: WeHave the Future, a summer camp on Law & Economics in northern Italy, where 60 lucky students will meet 25 prestigious teachers.
The project is big and only growing bigger! Marco and Francesca are continuously involving people like Roland Vogl (Stanford), Bill Emmott (formerly of The Economist), and Luigi Zingales (Chicago Booth School of Business). They explain the whole thing here. Read it, get excited, inquire, get involved!
**Law and Economics are intertwined, but we often forget. **
There is a visceral and natural link between law and economics. We need law to make business; we need law to drive economics; we need economic methods to measure law. But the Law and Economics School had little success within European academia in the last century.
We were too busy saying that the Law must be obeyed because it is the Law. Students forgot to ask why the Law was the way it was. What were its objectives? Did it manage to attain them? What were its effects? We forgot to ask the reason behind the laws until the reason vanished. The law became a moral/political opinion, something which, like opinions, is neither right nor wrong, but nonetheless must be obeyed.
**We need to be as precise as possible when it comes to Law. **
But Law is not opinion. If Law and Economics can teach us anything, it is that the law is – to a certain extent – measurable, and its impacts are quantifiable. We can do math with law. We can answer questions like: _ What will be the impact of this statute? Did it achieve the effect we wanted it to have? What do we need to enact to have effect X on the economy? What are the best provisions to boost economic life? How are judges going to settle that matter? _
We, the Europeans, have forgotten how to answer these questions. We, the lawyers, have too often applied the non scientific - humanist approach to the legal field. After all, we have chosen to go to Law School also because we loathed math.
Now WeHave the Future is taking Law & Economics to Europe. They are giving it back to the people, and they are making it simple, practical, and usable. And they didn’t wait for Academia.
I warned you, I like lists. So I made another list. I called it Big Data & Law*. It gathers articles, posts and other stuff about Law and Data: Data Science applied to Law. How can data be used to forecast legal decisions? How can big data be exploited for legal research?
These and other exciting questions try to be answered there.
It’s a list in progress made through [Urlist] (http://urli.st) and the cool thing is that you can collaborate to it. Add links. Let’s make it grow larger.
11 Links from: big data and law—Serena Manzoli, via Urlist