One of the realities for legal consumers has been the dearth of public information available to help them understand the law, their legal rights and responsibilities, and their lawyers. Now the information age may finally be catching up.
Enter Michael Poulshock whose brainchild, the Hammurabi Project, seeks to computerize the rule-based part of the law, much like Turbo Tax:
There are millions of pages of law – constitutions, statutes, regulations, case law, and interpretive decisions – with which Americans are expected to comply. This mass of material is logically complicated, referentially byzantine, terminologically inaccessible, and difficult to contextualize.
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Though not often thought of this way, law is inherently computational. It is a set of algorithms that prescribe how various computations are to be carried out. What is my standard (tax) deduction? Am I eligible for family and medical leave? On what day did I become liable for unemployment taxes? Determinations such as these are like mathematical functions: given various inputs, they produce corresponding outputs.
Mr. Poulshock explains in his Cornell University Law School blogpost that legal information systems have the potential “to expand public access to law”:
Rule-based systems are ideal for encoding legal principles found in statutes, regulations, and agency decisions — that is, law that’s explicit and knowable, but logically complicated. And there are millions of pages of such law, across thousands of jurisdictions around the world, just waiting to be embedded in rule-based systems.
For legal consumers, the development of this publicly available, easy-to-use system would allow access to information about many simple legal questions without having to hire a lawyer. It would also allow legal consumers to “brush up” on issues to form a basis of knowledge so that when they speak with their lawyers, they can understand the basic legal concepts at issue and formulate probing questions. We at LPR applaud Mr. Poulshock’s efforts and look forward to the time when legal consumers can access this system.