In an important step forward for legal data sharing to help drive innovation in the key UK market the ICLR (the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting) has launched ICLR&D – a new ‘research and development space’ that will work with tech companies and other third parties by opening up access to legal data.
Unlike in some markets – and perhaps surprisingly – access to case law in the UK is not that easy. This creates a serious barrier for startups that need, for example, to train NLP algorithms on past cases so that their platform can make predictions on potential outcomes.
So, given that the ICLR has tonnes of this legal case data and legislation data as well, they have sought to open up part of their trove to allow experimentation and to help drive innovation and tool building.
One of the four strands to this initiative that may be of interest to many readers of Artificial Lawyer in particular is Blackstone – which is going to explore the ‘automatic enrichment of unstructured legal text using rules-based and predictive techniques’. Please see below. There is also a link dedicated to that project.
Here is a sample of what it says:
‘There is an ocean of untapped insight lurking in unstructured legal writing, such as judgments, reports and journal articles. The extraction of insight at scale requires the ability to impose structure at scale. Blackstone is an experiment directed towards the development of an open-source model capable of automatically enriching unstructured legal texts at scale.’
Blackstone – Project Description
‘There is no shortage of commercial, closed-source software that uses natural language processing and computational linguists to provide insight into unstructured legal texts, such as contracts, credit agreements and leases.
The purpose of Blackstone is to apply similar techniques, technologies and strategies to other types of unstructured legal texts, particularly judgments, in order to generate an open-source model that can be used and extended by others.’
‘The initial focus of the project will be to develop a model that is capable of automatically identifying the following fundamental entity types that are peculiar to legal writing:
- Case titles – e.g.
Regina v Smith
- Neutral citations – e.g.
 EWCA Crim 345
- Regular citations – e.g.
 AC 345or
 2 Cr App R 7
- Primary legislation – e.g.
Criminal Justice Act 2003
- Secondary legislation – e.g.
The Wine (Amendment) Regulations 2019
- Regnal years – e.g.
8 & 9 Geo. 6, c. 4
The second phase of the project will focus on extending the model developed in
Phase 1 to identify the following:
- Instances in which the author appears to postulate an axiom of the law (e.g. It is a well-established principle that…)
- Instances of ratio in judgments
- Instances in which earlier authority is being subjected to “judicial consideration” going beyond mere citation (e.g. where an earlier authority is subject to positive or negative judicial consideration)’
And, let’s allow the new ICLR&D to explain itself in more detail. Below is part of a blog post where they set out what they are going to do.
The ICLR is not in a position to open its case law archive up via a public API for experimentation. But, we are able to facilitate carefully managed experimentation with our data and to make the insights that experimentation delivers available on an open source basis.
What is ICLR&D?
ICLR&D is fundamentally a legal information research and development space. The idea is to couple ICLR’s considerable archive of case law data and our traditional expertise in understanding how the common law works with a multi-disciplinary approach that draws in legal scholarship, design and technology from within and outside ICLR.
The lab’s work is concentrated on Projects: significant and long-term research and development campaigns that focus on discrete problem spaces. Our work and findings will be made available on an open source basis.
We are launching with four separate, but related Projects:
Automatic enrichment of unstructured legal text using rules-based and predictive techniques.
The promotion of open access to case law by analysing and mapping the judgment supply chain.
The emphasis of Raconteur is on exploring ways to accurately impart the significance and meaning of legal materials to the public.
A conceptual project focused on modelling the connections between the various sources of English law.
Our mission and values
We want ICLR&D to be in a position to make a powerful and longstanding contribution to innovation in the legal information space. To that end, we’ve taken care to be clear about what our intentions are and what we want to achieve:
- The promotion of improved accessibility of primary legal materials, both in terms of their dissemination and their intellectual accessibility.
- The promotion of research that seeks to utilise primary law corpora as a source of data and insight, particularly where the research aims to deliver benefit to society as a whole.
- The promotion of a more coherent and collaborative approach to solving problems that sit at the junction of legal scholarship, design and technology.
- To provide support for external projects where those projects engage ICLR’s traditional spheres of expertise.
- The construction of a self-sustaining space to think, debate, test ideas and build.
- The development of long-standing partnerships with governmental, private and third-sector organisations
It’s worth pointing out that in constructing ICLR&D, we have drawn considerable inspiration from three well-established innovation labs in the USA. The first is the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard University (directed by Adam Ziegler), which last year launched the phenomenal Case Law Access Project.
Finally, the third is the Legal Information and Technology Lab at Suffolk Law School (directed by David Colarusso).
A final word
The driving philosophy of the lab is that open is better than closed. We want to work with others rather than pursue these projects in isolation inside a vacuum. So, if you have the urge to get involved with the lab or have an idea you’re interested in that you feel fits with our mission, we’d strongly encourage you to make contact with us.
Readers with an interest in getting involved are especially recommended to contact Daniel Hoadley, Head of Design & Research at ICLR: